In today’s startup, design is what matters

Whether B2C or B2B all successful innovation-led companies are design driven. Apple, AirBNB, Dropbox, Slack and GitHub are changing the world of today. Not only due to technological superiority but thanks to beautiful aesthetics, considered user experience and a human-first approach to development. They’ve championed design within their business and in doing so have demonstrated its importance to the next generation of start ups. So how (and why) can you apply their design discoveries to your own startup strategy?

As our agency focuses on startup branding this post will view design through the lens of visual language: logo, typography, colors, website, UX, marketing collateral and so on. 

Why is startup design so important?

A well designed visual language helps you immediately convey your history and values to the world - oftentimes without the need for words. 

In established businesses design is the foundation of all consumer touch points: marketing, advertising, packaging, website and app, retail and office space. It is a key voice in every organization’s decision making. 

In startups design is just as (if not more) important. Why? Because young companies need a bold and memorable visual language to make up for a lack of history and reputation. It goes without saying in most startups good design is often not the primary focus of founders, especially given the shoestring budget available after building and testing the MVP. However, startup brands can still rise to the top, outshining established companies and earning recognition and mindshare.

Investing in design early on

In young technology companies it is often down to product to do the heavy lifting, using features and innovation to attract attention rather than being forced on uninterested consumers. Yet shareable, design-led content is equally important when it comes to promoting a young business. 

Pull in, not push: if you can’t afford to spend money on TV commercials to promote your product, your product and content must be memorable and appealing enough for people to spot your brand between the mass of ads and familiar names. For newcomers it’s all about using a striking and memorable visual language to gain and retain consumer attention when they weren’t even looking for you in the first place. Your brand must be instantly recognisable whether on a supermarket shelf or in a social feed. You have a blink of an eye to stand out and demonstrate to consumers how you are different and why you’re what they need.

On top of being memorable, your visual language should be polished to convey great quality -- it’s a proof of reliability, especially in times when you have not got the track record to prove otherwise. 

Differentiating independently of sector

A dedication to design will help you stand out, especially in industries where it is still a rarity. For years B2B companies relied on sales teams to do the heavy lifting, but we now live in an age where consumers receive over 4,000 brand messages a day. A massive competition for mindshare has forced B2Bs to acknowledge their audience are human and standout B2B design is now a contributing factor in achieving corporate goals. Take our recent clients for example: Nairobi-based B2B fin tech startup Aza. Their rebranding helped them close their $15M round. Bookkeeping system for SMB’s Zeitgold. Their refresh played a major role in helping secure their Series B. 

Getting noticed is not about being over the top - often it’s about being different enough to stand out, especially when operating in traditional sectors. Even the smallest of changes to your visual language - fonts, colors, or photography - can make significant and long lasting differences. We often advise our clients to strive for an image that will stand out in the room, but is in keeping with industry expectations. 

Leveraging your authenticity

As a startup and authenticity is your USP -- in the way you tackle a problem differently from others; in the way you speak free of prejudices; in the way you look fresh and authentic. The goal of great startup design is to bring your vision and authenticity to life, not to come up with a completely new version of you.

Your visual language has to be influenced by the brands you aspire to become, by your audience’s passions and by your founding team’s principles. Your design should create an emotional connection between your brand and it’s partners and clients. Why? Because the goal of design is to convey your values, your identity and your spirit. Don’t forget: your brand is a combination of experiences and touch points. Whether online or IRL the experience you offer consumers must reflect the values upon which your design is based. 

Break your category, not your company

As creatives love to say, “design can make or break your business”. A poorly thought out visual language has the potential to seriously damage your startup. For that reason it is vital you present consumers with the best version of yourself - as soon as you are able to do so. Delaying your design investment for “when you have customers at scale” is unwise. By then customers and partners will expect a complete and relatable identity. Well designed, beautiful and easy to use.

As you scale it will be impossible to put other activities on hold to define your brand and visual language. Prioritizing it early reduces disruption in the long term and demonstrates a commitment to all stakeholders within the business. 

Design is about evolution - not revolution 

There are many different ways to define startup design efforts. Some prefer to hire an agency taking the task out-of-house; some onboard consultants and work together to define their brand; others have the capacity and desire to develop designs in-house. It doesn’t matter how you start your design efforts, all that matters is you start and they pivot and that your visual language pivots when your business does. 

Many businesses only truly appreciate the value of design when it is too late to make the change, and often these businesses fail to reach the heights they were once destined for. Design is now one of the foundations on which successful businesses are built. Why? Because it is present in every single customer interaction - whether you realize it or not. Look at almost all successful start ups and you will see the three pillars of business, technology and design converging to create something unforgettable. If you are just starting on your journey and considering whether or not to invest in your brand, pause to think of a modern business you admire. Chances are their visual language will be one of the first things that come to mind. This should tell you all you need to know about the real value of design.


How do vision and mission statements impact a company's long-term direction?

Effective vision and mission statements should ideally constitute important tools in formulating a company’s strategy. They should largely remain unchanged through the years, though a significant pivot may bring about new vision and mission statements. Together, they work to define the focus of the business and how it impacts the world. 

The vision statement is a representation of your company’s view of a better world. The mission statement reflects how it sets about to achieve this vision. They work together to create internal alignment and help with strategic decision making. When planning for the future, developing new products, or experimenting with new strategies, teams can perform a quick check against the vision and mission statements to ensure that these initiatives are aligned with the essence of the brand. 

In short, the vision and mission statements are powerful tools which can and should impact decisions across the organizations, making them important factors in a company’s long-term direction.

How does brand strategy influence the overall success of a business?

Your brand strategy reflects how your brand sees the world and its role within it. It is the framework that, ideally, should guide all your communications (both external and internal) and audience touchpoints, i.e. each interaction an audience member has with your business. 

Having standardized communication across all channels and touchpoints makes business processes smoother and positively influences your client relationships, ensuring you develop strong, long-term connections with your customers. It also simplifies strategic decision-making and aligns your team. All these factors are vital to the success of a business.

How do messaging frameworks help communicate your brand message effectively?

Messaging frameworks are structured guides that outline the core messages, value propositions, and differentiators of a brand. They ensure consistency across all communications, from marketing materials and social media posts to customer service interactions. By defining key messages that resonate with the brand's target audiences, messaging frameworks help ensure that a brand’s communications are clear and memorable. 

They also help organizations stay aligned internally and ensure that each member, regardless of their role, understands what the brand’s key message is and how to communicate it effectively. This internal alignment is crucial for presenting a unified brand image to the outside world.

What specific elements contribute to a brand's verbal identity?

A brand’s verbal identity should align your team on how your brand communicates and how this communication changes depending on the situation. It defines a specific and recognizable language through which your brand can deliver its message to your audience or audiences.

Typically, a verbal identity includes some, or all, of the following elements:

Brand personality: This captures the human traits or characteristics that your brand embodies, such as being adventurous, sophisticated, or reliable, which help shape how your brand is perceived.

Brand voice: The brand voice reflects how your brand reflects its personality across all communication channels.

Brand tone: While the brand voice remains consistent, the brand tone can change depending on the context of the message and the audience being addressed, ranging from formal and professional to informal and friendly.

Messaging frameworks: These are strategic tools that outline the key messages your brand intends to communicate to its different target audiences, ensuring that all messaging is aligned with your brand's mission, vision, and value propositions.

Messaging examples: These provide specific examples of how your brand's messaging might be applied in various scenarios.

Style and grammar guidelines: These outline your preferred spelling, grammar, and style, ensuring that your communication is consistent across the board. 

What are some key considerations when developing a tone of voice for a brand?

The first and most important consideration is the brand’s personality. While businesses are functional, they still communicate with people – and people primarily connect with stories and personas. Your brand’s personality will define a set of human characteristics which reflect how it sees itself in the world. By giving your brand these human attributes, you are making it both distinctive and easier to identify with. The tone of voice should reflect your brand’s personality.

It’s also important to consider your target market and your audience’s expectations. While having a distinctive tone of voice is important for memorability, there is such a thing as being too different. If all brands in your segment adopt a serious, professional tone, and you would like to be fun and playful, there is certainly space for that, but consider very carefully why you are doing it.


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How do brand guidelines ensure consistency in visual identity across different platforms?

Brand guidelines are a key tool for maintaining a consistent visual presentation across various platforms. These guidelines typically outline the main use cases where the brand's visual identity will appear and provide comprehensive rules and standards.

The guidelines include detailed instructions on how to use the brand’s assets, such as logos, color palettes, typography, and imagery. This ensures that anyone using these assets, whether they're designers, marketers, or external partners, can apply them correctly and consistently. 

It’s crucial that the entire team is familiar with these guidelines. It’s important to get team buy-in on the visual identity and ensure that the guidelines are easily accessible. When the whole team understands and follows the guidelines, the brand's visual identity remains unified across all touchpoints, enhancing brand recognition and trust.

How does visual identity differ across industries, and how can a brand ensure it stands out while remaining authentic?

Visual identity varies significantly across industries, shaped by both the industry norms and the unique aspects of each brand. Understanding where your brand stands in the competitive market is essential when crafting a visual identity that both stands out and remains authentic.

Industries have distinct visual trends that are often expected by consumers. For instance, financial services brands typically adopt a reserved, traditional look with a color palette dominated by blues and greys. In contrast, skincare brands often go for a lighter, more colorful approach with pastels. Being aware of these industry-specific trends is important because it helps to decide how much your brand should differentiate itself from these norms. This differentiation should be based on your audience's expectations and your brand's unique value propositions.

For example, a financial services brand that emphasizes its use of innovative technologies might choose a more digital-oriented visual language. Similarly, a skincare brand that focuses on scientific innovation might benefit from a more science-based visual language.

How does competitive benchmarking influence the development of a visual identity?

Competitive benchmarking is important in developing a brand's visual identity as it provides insights into the market environment. By examining the competition, a brand can better understand its unique value proposition and strengths. This understanding is crucial in identifying what sets the brand apart from others.

With this knowledge, a brand can lean into its unique strengths when crafting its visual language. This approach ensures that the visual identity not only looks appealing but also reinforces the brand’s distinct point of view and competitive edge.

What are the key considerations when creating visual concepts for a brand?

The visual identity of a brand should quickly and clearly reflect its strategic positioning. Designers begin the process of creating visual concepts by immersing themselves in the brand’s strategy to extract key narrative themes. These themes are then translated into a visual language that employs both emotional and aesthetic elements to communicate the brand's messages. This translation is crucial as it shapes how the audience perceives and interacts with the brand.

When developing visual concepts, it's important to make sure they align with the brand's strategy and fit well within the competitive landscape: demonstrating key differentiators, but still fitting into the industry at large. The visuals should also be suitable for the mediums they will be used in. Whether for digital, print, or physical applications, the choice of medium can greatly influence how the visual concepts are designed.

How does visual identity contribute to brand recognition and trustworthiness?

Visual identity is key to boosting brand recognition and trustworthiness, especially in busy markets. When a company maintains a consistent visual brand across different platforms, it becomes easier for customers to recognize and remember it. This consistency is crucial for standing out among competitors.

Having a consistent visual identity also shows professionalism and attention to detail. These qualities make customers more likely to trust a brand. When a brand looks the same across all touchpoints, from websites to products and ads, it tells customers the brand is reliable and serious. This builds trust and makes customers more likely to pick this brand over others that may not look as professional or consistent.


What are the advantages of having a well-designed and user-friendly website for a business?

The business landscape has changed dramatically since the pandemic. Now, your digital footprint is definitely at the center of most business growth strategies. A well-designed website allows companies to connect with users in an effective manner, ensure customer loyalty, and expand business - among other benefits.

Website design is the key ingredient to digital success, alongside well-functioning SEO tools, connected backend, and user-friendly strategy. A user-friendly website for your business will:

  • Increase user engagement and conversion rates
  • Improve SEO and searchability of your business
  • Improve retention rates
  • Make your business more credible while making your brand more memorable
How does the design of a website impact its accessibility to users, including those with disabilities?

In website design, "accessibility" refers to whether a site is designed in a way that is inclusive and usable by everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. 

This may include important site characteristics such as text-to-speech functionality, video captions, alternative text tags for images, enhanced with good design practices of intuitive navigation, straightforward copy. and others. Accessibility is integral to website performance and user experience.

How can businesses ensure consistency and credibility across their website, brand, and marketing materials?

To achieve consistency and credibility across all your collateral, you need to ensure that the brand message - both verbal and visual - is compliant with your brand guidelines. This can include:

  • Using the correct tone of voice principles across all communication channels to differentiate your brand personality

  • Communicating consistent messaging and key differentiators on all platforms

  • Ensuring that key visual elements (logo, color palette, typography, imagery) on your website, marketing, and sales materials are aligned with each other

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when designing and developing a business website?

According to a 2024 web statistics report, a staggering 75% of business credibility is attributed to various web design decisions. In order to improve your website’s trustworthiness, avoid the following common design mistakes:

  • Not prioritizing accessibility: One of the biggest design mistakes out there is overlooking web accessibility principles on your website.

  • Not investing in responsive design and customization: With the majority of global traffic coming from mobile and tablet devices, lack of responsive design and customization can break a business.
  • Prioritizing aesthetics over function: Compromising user experience in favor of flashy aesthetics will dilute your brand message and user journey to the required call to action.

  • Lacking clarity in messaging and navigation: Clear navigation and messaging will reduce the friction users may experience when landing on your site as they are trying to get a clear picture of what your business is.
How does website copywriting contribute to user engagement and conversion, and what role does SEO play in this?

The goal of web copywriting is to guide your users through their web journey while providing information, engaging with and converting them into buyers. Each section of your site shapes the visitor perception about your brand and affects their buying decisions. 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a practice of creating engaging and persuasive content that not only appeals to your users, but also incorporates relevant keywords and techniques to attract organic traffic to your site.

To start writing SEO-friendly copy for your site, you can:

  • Manually conduct keyword research by checking what competitors are ranking for
  • Use SEO software like SEMRush to investigate new keyword opportunities
  • Make sure to review keywords frequently as their popularity changes often and you want to keep ranking for competitive terms.

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