Why startups can’t afford to ignore design and branding when launching their product


Design is more than just a pretty font and it can’t be just an afterthought. Instead, it’s a quintessential element of product strategy, inextricably linked to business success, that must be considered from day one.

If I told you that the best startup idea in the world would fail in today’s internet age without design considered at the core of the product, would you believe me? As we see more companies enter the direct-to-consumer space, standing out in a shop — online or offline — has become a great challenge and can mean the difference between someone clicking ‘buy’ or ‘back’ in their web browser.

So why is branding and designing so critical in our day and age? In a fast-paced, dynamic, digital world, startup owners need to — more than ever — consider how to design to influence human behaviour, how to build an adaptable brand and how to stand out to a truly global world of the internet.

1 ) To remain relevant to the new-age consumer and their audience

Traditionally, businesses have relied upon brand design to effectively differentiate themselves within the market, helping them to stand out among a myriad of competitors. Today, however, digital technology is shifting the way that consumers engage with brands. Differentiation is now less important than relevance, particularly within the millennial and Gen Z market which is a highly diverse, cause-motivated and change-adaptive audience, that makes up a growing percentage of the marketplace.

Modern audiences are outspoken and heavily driven by the causes they support. Rather than approaching design with the mindset of how “shareable” or “viral” it can be, brands need to instead consider how they can remain authentic and relevant to their audience. Understanding and catering to what matters to your audience is how you create a loyal customer base.

I’ll provide you with an example. Universal Favourite recently designed and branded Dimple— a direct-to-consumer subscription contact lens service that just debuted in Australia. When building Dimple’s brand system, we steered clear of the homogenised mono-style that we’ve seen startups adopting. Rather than brandishing Dimple in a millennial pink palette, we instead developed a vibrant lifestyle brand that retains the level of seriousness required for a medical product. Our design approach focussed on shifting human behaviour by enhancing the product experience. Shareability happened organically with the circle system that we created.

Market insights told us that Dimple’s core audience is female-skewed and millennial, who want to be seen as individuals rather than consumers. We answered this by creating a community of ‘wearers’ with their own unique circle identifiers. We also ensured that the models we selected for the launch campaign adequately represented how wonderfully diverse the Dimple audience is.

Business who don’t consider relevance and authenticity as critical benchmarks as a brand, will inevitably lose the trust of their audience. If we had chosen millennial pink for Dimple, our target community may not have taken the medical component seriously.

2 ) To build a flexible brand for the Internet age

For businesses to succeed in this modern landscape, they must approach design as a constant state of beta. Brands that can’t evolve as new challenges present themselves are destined to fail. Universal Favourite believes in designing brands that are relevant to audiences now, with the flex to evolve as the market and culture demand.

Design is a critical part of brand expression, but it is one part of a broader brand system that needs to be considered if seeking to create a successful business. Brands need to consider all audience touch points, and how the design and ethos will permeate throughout. Consistency in design, especially at launch, is critical to building recognition and trust.

Businesses who also don’t stay true to the design principles of their brand are in danger of losing trust. Brand consistency with on-brand flexibility to meet cultural demand is a good mantra to live by.

3 ) Good design can shift and change user experience and behaviour 

In this exciting and unprecedented era of innovations and ideas, when anyone can establish a company and a website with the click of a button, being able to distinguish a product or service becomes less about the product itself and more about the user experience.

Going back to Dimple: every piece of design that we created for Dimple – from the brand identity to the packaging and the website – has been created with the consumer front of mind.

The identity we created comes from the fact that, for the most part, everyone’s left and right eye prescription is different. We created an illustrative suite of 60 colourful, complementary circles that correspond to each power number (from -12.00 to +6.00) and combine to show the vast number of combinations of individual prescriptions.

We aimed to make the brand system not only look beautiful; but also address a huge flaw in existing contact lens blister packs. By creating these custom patterns (IDs) for each individual power number and displaying them boldly on each blister, it’s significantly easier for users to identify the pack that’s specific to each eye… especially when they don’t have their contacts in.

The packaging was also a hugely important component of this task. As a direct-to-consumer company, we wanted the unboxing experience to be an utterly unexpected delight. From the blister packs coated in our custom pattern IDs to the boxes, mailers, sleeves and monthly information cards, we designed the entire packaging suite with our millennial market at the forefront of our minds.

The art direction we took for the launch centres on a vibrant community of contact lens wearers and packs a highly visual punch. Shot by Australian photographer Jonathan May, it celebrates the individual quirks of each member of the community and the freedom to have fun that contact lenses provide them. Benito Martin and Jessica Johnson, the dream team for our product shoot, and Lyndon Foss for our lifestyle shoot, we built a comprehensive and flexible suite of brand assets that could be used across web, communications, social and advertising in the year following the launch.

Part of creating a consumer-facing brand also meant developing a distinctly Dimple tone of voice that could be rolled out across all product and service messaging and gathered in a guide to be handed over to the Dimple social media team. We also brought the brand to life in the digital space, incorporating the key brand assets such as photography, iconography and illustration to enhance the user experience.

Building an authentic brand isn’t easy, but it is necessary for brands entering this hyper-competitive digital market to invest in. Have the design vision from day one and be sure to consider design in all elements of the business model — not simply as an afterthought.

About Dari Israelstam

Founder and Creative Director of Universal Favourite, Dari is passionate about building a creative community, famous for creating beautiful-looking work that works. Universal Favourite is that community; an independent brand, design and digital company and a group of refreshingly insightful people.