Nick O'Neill

My ramblings on entrepreneurship and online publishing.
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Design Is Not An Option

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When speaking on a panel at the recent DC Week event, I made a statement that resonated with some people in the audience: design is no longer an option.  If you think back to the 90s, web design was essentially a foreign concept.  Developers who could piece together some janky table-layout html were the ones designing the web.

When I built my first startup, Frusic, I basically combined the design of Orkut, Friendster, and a couple other sites, plus my own little flavor.  The site probably didn’t look that great, but at the time, 1 pixel borders with square corners was the standard. Designers now debate over rounded versus square corners but back then photoshop was used for editing photos, not designing websites. You could release the world’s ugliest looking website and get millions of people to visit it.   This was what most sites looked like:

Then someone with some common sense and a basic eye for design realized that an easy-to read font and a clean user interface could make things a whole lot better. That’s when the whole 1 pixel border around tabs exploded and Verdana became the go-to font (now it’s helvetica). Take a look at this interface and you’ll remember what I’m talking about:

Nowadays, you can’t get away with your developer designing your site (unless of course they’re one of those super-talented do-it-alls). You need a talented designer. It’s become so hard to find them, that a great designer can even be considered a competitive advantage as this Venturebeat post highlights. However visual design alone is not what’s needed.

You need someone who can understand interface design. I remember someone at Techcrunch Disrupt walking up to me to say that Holler looked great but they had no idea what to do with it. Ouch! He had a valid point though and what I quickly realized was that you can no longer sneak semi-completed products out in the open. The users aren’t all going to stick around for you to figure it out.

Designers and developers are both responsible for making a product great. Not only does it need to function (development), but it must look great and feel great to use (design). It’s not exactly breaking news that design is important and can provide a competitive advantage, but at this point in time it’s not even an option to avoid it as it once was. Design is the core of product development. Without it, you can’t have a successful product.

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