How thoughtful UX design unlocks customer growth and investment potential

In today's digital landscape, where competition is fierce and user expectations are constantly evolving, the importance of thoughtfully designed user experiences and user interfaces cannot be overstated.
Christina Boothe
June 2023

As startups fight with incumbents or other entrants in a competitive space, UX/UI can make or break their staying power. In the early years of a startup, investors heavily rely on market traction before making a capital investment. Only one part of that equation is attracting customers — another, equally important part (or more important in terms of the income statement) is keeping customers over a long lifetime. In a world where prices change daily and product offerings are constantly evolving, there’s only one way to do this: customer experience, from support to product and everything in between.

In this article, we’re going to be focusing on the product side of this, honing in on the importance of a well-crafted UX/UI, and why it’s pivotal to the success of your startup.

User-Centric Approach

No matter how great a concept might be, it falls flat if it isn’t built in a way that is intuitive and simple for the customer to use. Platforms that are thoughtfully designed and make it easy for a customer to quickly adopt are known for their sticking power — while clunky or arduous tools typically experience a high switching cost. 86% of customers would pay more for a better product experience, and 80% switch to a competitor because of a bad customer experience with a business. When users have a positive experience with a product, their staying power exponentially increases, and they’re far more likely to become loyal advocates of your product in the process. However, as the data shows above, a bad product or customer experience practically hands a customer over to your competition — a price you can’t afford to pay when you’re in the early years of establishing key market traction.

It’s important to understand who you’re building for as you design a product. A thoughtfully designed UX/UI puts your users at the forefront of your product. A platform built for developers will have very different needs than one built for the typical consumer — developers typically require a highly customizable interface, while a consumer wants a simpler, less customizable interface. By understanding your consumers’ needs and pain points, you can create an intuitive and enjoyable experience that exceeds their expectations for the platform.

Worth noting, however, is that every consumer will say something different if you ask them what they want. In the words of Henry Ford, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s more important, then, to focus on what a consumer needs, and build a product that is tailored to common pain points. Common desires can be used to optimize, but a functional product focuses on solving the problem at hand — not just building what people think would be engaging.

Differentiation in a Crowded Market

In today's crowded startup ecosystem, having a unique value proposition is crucial. A well-designed user interface can set your product apart from the competition. It helps you deliver a memorable and delightful experience that resonates with your target audience. By considering the visual aesthetics, usability, and overall feel of your product, you can create a distinct brand identity that attracts and retains users.

An idea is rarely new, and more often than not, startups are building a product that’s either an iteration or an improvement on existing offerings. If you’re truly operating in a new space, odds are someone else is building something similar, and you’re in a race to the top of the mountain. To win, it’s imperative to have a unique value proposition — and a thoughtfully designed user interface (one that meets customer needs and can be navigated with simplicity) can be the thing that sets your product apart from the competition.

Aesthetics and user flow do more than just make people smile — these traits often help users stay, especially when specific product offerings might be marginally different from other tools in the marketplace. A platform that is easy and simple to use, paired with visuals that are attractive or even psychologically designed to lift someone’s mood, can make all the difference when a decision maker is weighing their options — because in the end, it’s often the little details that put you over the edge or cater to someone’s unconscious preferences.

Strong UX/UI can help you deliver a memorable and delightful experience that resonates with your target audience. By considering the visual aesthetics, usability, and overall feel of your product, you can create a distinct brand identity that attracts and retains users, catches the eye of investors, and helps you become the market leader in any market.

Increased User Engagement and Retention

A strong user experience (simplified platform flow that is easy to follow) directly translates to added screen time and increased retention, as well as driving stronger conversion rates. All of these factors impact return on investment (ROI), which startup founders know is one of the most significant metrics that impact the financial statements and, consequently, commands (or loses) the attention of prospective investors.

Your goal is to keep users engaged with your product. Thoughtfully designed UX/UI plays a pivotal role in achieving this objective. By streamlining user flows, simplifying complex processes, and employing intuitive navigation, you can create an immersive experience that encourages users to explore and interact with your product more. When users find value in your product and enjoy using it, they are more likely to remain loyal and become advocates for your brand.

Enhanced Brand Perception

Customers stay for your product — but they come because of your brand. Brand perception is closely linked with your product’s user experience. People are going to talk about your product and their experiences. “All press is good press” doesn’t apply here. If your users are chattering in the industry ecosystem about how complicated or subpar your product is (be it bugs, a complicated or lengthy experience, poor customer service, multiple errors, etc), it might as well be the kiss of death for your scale strategy.

When your user experience falls short, your customers may start to believe you aren’t listening to them, and that your product isn’t built to suit their needs. As a result, their dissatisfaction grows, and when they leave, they’re likely to tell everyone they know how frustrated and disappointed they were by your product. A great example of this is Digg, a social bookmarking platform that initially worked as a social bookmarking system — and successfully established a nine-figure valuation by 2008. With the rise of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Digg shifted its strategy and became a social networking platform, aiming to make it easier for users to follow others and share content. The strategy and its subsequent execution were poorly thought out (massive changes to the user interface overnight without any market testing or customer feedback) and backfired tremendously. Digg ended up selling for less than $1 million by 2012. Talk about a mighty fall.

However, if your ecosystem is filled with advocates singing the praises of your product, growing your customer base just became significantly easier. It’s important to harness chatter for good, and creating a polished user experience pays dividends in your brand perception. Users associate a visually appealing experience with a company that cares about its customers and pays attention to detail and are more likely to be tolerant of minor problems as a result — a phenomenon known as usability bias. By investing in a thoughtfully designed product, you can create a positive brand image that fosters trust and credibility.

A chart outlining the what Digg did, and a better way to approach it.

Scalability and Adaptability

One of the biggest benefits of operating as a startup is the ability to move with increased agility. It’s a necessary function, especially when you’re attempting to establish traction in an ever-changing market. A good UX/UI design incorporates flexibility and scalability, allowing you to make updates and improvements seamlessly and iterate quickly — staying on top of the necessary trends that your customers are looking for (or maybe even the ones that they don’t know they need yet).

When paired with thorough user testing and an outside-in feedback loop, a scalable UI strategy can amplify the impact of a startup in the market, quickly building (and continuing to grow) the perfect solution for the majority of users’ needs. This foundation is ideal for future growth and helps a business to reach their overall business goals faster and with significantly less lift and cost. Strategic changes are met without a challenge, and the C-suite isn’t caught up in a waiting game as the design team struggles to design a platform that reflects a new direction.

It’s a Race to the Top… And You’re Going to Win

In today's competitive startup landscape, having a thoughtfully designed product user experience/interface is no longer a luxury — but a necessity. Your users expect it — much like they expect hot water in a hotel bathroom. You won’t get lauded for your efforts; your customers view it as the bare minimum. A thoughtfully-designed user experience can be the difference between a thriving startup and one that struggles to gain traction. In today’s fast-paced environment, you benefit from building the right platform the first time: a well-designed and thought-out user experience and interface that is scalable and shiftable, and a feedback loop that closely listens to your customers’ needs. With this combination, you’ll quickly become the hallmark of your industry. Companies like AirBnb, Uber, and other category leaders became what they are today because they started by listening to their customers’ preferences, prioritizing the ones that matter and discarding niche requests that won’t impact the app at scale, and building a simple, easy-to-use platform that reflected them.

Friendly is invested in the success of our customers, and committed to helping each of them build a product that secures market leadership in their respective spaces. Our vast experience across FinTech, AI, media, education, SaaS, and other key industries has given us insight into the needs of customers across all of these spaces — and it’s by that insight we’re able to design seamless user interfaces that help companies scale and make customers stay. We’re ready to invest in your startup’s future and build a platform that wins customers and investors alike. Reach out to us today. We’re happy to help.

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