Designing for startups
Startups face the challenge of establishing a compelling market presence after their initial funding round while also managing the demands of their core business. Competent design support can help avoid typical mistakes and reduce stress. Three examples from our practice illustrate how an early design strategy can support startups in their initial market entry.
Founders usually approach us with a very specific request for industrial design or UX & UI design of a future product or digital solution. Especially in technology-driven startups, their focus and resource allocation are aimed at getting the technology market-ready as quickly as possible. Branding and marketing aspects may appear secondary or less significant in these cases.
However, any integrated design process needs to be informed by a strategic brand vision and is based on the future context of use. As a result, strategic questions concerning the market and the brand arise even in the case of projects that are very technically oriented. For example, the industrial design of a technology carrier necessitates at the very least a rudimentarily designed visual identity when it comes to the shape and color scheme or the integration of the logo. The design of a graphic user interface or app also inevitably is preceded by a discussion about the way and format of addressing the target group.
If a branding foundation for the go-to-market approach has not already been laid by the startup, these basics must be created "on the run," so to speak. Ideally, however, these relevant contextual conditions should be discussed at the beginning of the project and their creation, if necessary, recorded in the collaborative design brief. Fortunately, the basics of making a professional market appearance are more or less the same for all startups, regardless of the industry. In addition to designing the key physical or digital products, every startup needs these 6 fundamental operational tools and resources sooner rather than later.
6 Essential resources for startups' market entry:
- Brand identity and brand message
- Logo, corporate colors and typography
- Image concept including photorealistic renderings, packshots and still lifes
- Website and digital communication collateral for social media channels
- Marketing materials such as flyers, banners, posters
- Trade fair and exhibition appearances
Startups like the ETH spin-off NematX, the premium audio manufacturer Zeiler Audio from Kilchberg or the biometrics specialist Touchless Biometric Systems have traveled this journey from an initial product design to a coordinated and consistent appearance of all relevant touchpoints with us. When the product, the brand and the communication are in alignment, credibility and professionalism result. This promotes trust in the startup and its ability to offer high-quality solutions with potential users and investors alike.
NematX – Precision, Performance and Objectivity
For tech startup NematX, the initial focus was limited to the industrial design for their first commercial 3D printer. Nevertheless, two workshops on market presence and functionality defined the conceptual scope and formal design drivers for the machine design. The goal was to create an industrial look and feel that combines classic Swiss values such as quality, matter-of-factness and precision with a high degree of user friendliness.
The existing NematX logo and color concept were revised to establish a consistent brand presence. We made sure that this visual identity of NematX works across different communication channels. Therefore, it was important to have a logo for the machine branding that could be easily laser-cut, milled, or embossed. For integration into the interface and printed marketing materials, legibility as a small application was emphasized, while ensuring long-distance recognition in the trade fair context.
We implemented this brand message into a spatial context for the design of the trade fair booth at Formnext 2022 in Frankfurt. Despite a limited budget, it was important for us to achieve maximum attention and differentiation within the trade fair context. This extremely minimalist approach necessitates careful design, positioning, and materialization of all visual elements in three-dimensional space. By consistently adhering to the brand's identity across all touchpoints, from the machine to the interface, brochures, digital communication, and the trade fair booth, we were able to support NematX in creating a professional market presence with significant impact.
TBS – Safety, Quality and Hospitality
For Touchless Biometric Systems (TBS), a leading Swiss manufacturer of biometric solutions, we created a distinctive brand, a family of biometric devices, UX & UI design, marketing collaterals and a trade show concept that combines Swissness, technology and security. Through a consistent design process across all relevant touchpoints, we designed a coherent brand image that builds consumer recognition and trust.
The starting point with TBS was the desire for a consistently designed product family. Several strategic and conceptual workshops initially provided the basis for the development of a consistent brand message and the briefing for all assets to be designed. A strong Swiss reference based on classic Swiss design maxims and an unconventionally depicted Alpine world communicate the core values of the TBS brand: safety, quality and hospitality.
In the design of the visual identity, the logo, which is executed as a combined wordmark and symbol, was at the center. Strict Swiss typography and a grid layout shape the design of all graphic communication materials. The industrial design developed in parallel adopts these graphic characteristics and materializes as a consistent product family that exudes confident restraint and competence.
TBS approached us over 10 years ago to establish itself as a Swiss premium brand on the international stage. In designing the trade fair concept, we opted for an elitist approach that conveys the core values of safety, quality, and hospitality in a contemporary manner. The trade fair booth is designed as a minimalist white cube.
The products are staged as solitary objects in a gallery-like context next to large-format landscape photographs of an overpowering Swiss mountainscape. Generous white and empty space plays an important role in both the visual communication media and the spatial design to convey structure, clarity and a sense of quiet. TBS thus communicates its premium claim and clearly differentiates itself from the competition at international trade fairs from Birmingham to Frankfurt to Dubai or Las Vegas.
Zeiler Audio – Purism, Sensuality and Craftsmenship
The Zeiler Audio brand is built around the person and vision of Ralf Zeiler. His claim is to create the ultimate listening experience - to move his listeners emotionally. Purism and minimalism, coupled with great sensuality, that is what the premium brand should radiate. The focus should always be on the music, never on the technology.
For brand communication and marketing, we initially relied exclusively on hypernaturalistic digital renderings based on the 3D design data. In this way, we were able to launch the products on the market even before a single one had been built. A consistently digitized design process allows the data to be used very efficiently and cost-effectively from design, prototyping and manufacturing to the creation of high-quality collateral for the website, social media and communication with investors and potential customers. Especially for small startups, this results in very interesting options to make a market entry with a first product quickly and with a limited financial risk.
For the product presentations and audio shows, we adopted an "opportunistic" exhibition concept based on the brand identity. Depending on the context, Zeiler's purism is reinterpreted and adapted. The focus is always on the acoustic and spatial experience of the listeners.
For the first product presentation at the High End Audio trade fair in Munich, we designed a "bare" booth. Where the amplifiers are matched only by extremely factual photographs showing the CNC manufacturing process. This concept allowed us to communicate Zeiler's purist brand message while at the same time using resources as efficiently as possible in furniture and booth construction.
Formally rather different, but just as much in line with the brand message, we designed the interior of a very intimate audio show in a medieval castle. In collaboration with Danish furniture brand Muuto, the Zeiler amplifiers were displayed in a very homely atmosphere. Both brands share the same values of enduring aesthetics, functionality, craftsmanship and honesty and showed how their products complement modern lifestyles.
Designing startup market success
In summary, design support plays a crucial role in helping startups establish a consistent market presence. By incorporating branding and marketing considerations early in the design process, startups can create a strong market image. When startups align their brand message with their visual identity, product portfolio, trade show appearances, and customer communications, they build credibility and trust among users and investors. This ultimately enhances their chances of success and goal achievement in the market. The three cases from our practice demonstrate that achieving this can be done in a short time and with a limited budget, highlighting the significance of branding investment and collaboration with a reliable design provider.