User Experience Design: UX and UI for Startups (+Free Download)

This article is for: software startup founders who need to learn user experience design and user interface design basics to properly manage their development team, or who want to design UI and UX themselves.

<– Back to: “How to Create Software: Development Techniques to Learn”

User experience and user interface design

Your startup can have the best software product idea in the world, but if the user does not enjoy using it or finds it complicated to learn, they will not use it for long. In this article, we will outline what User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design elements are. Additionally, we will explain how they should be used during the software development process.

This article is for startup founders (specifically non-technical founders) who plan on developing a software product. Your startup may have a development team and it is important for you to understand them when they talk about designing the product with the user in mind.

Alternatively, your startup may out-source or sub-contract the work, and you are trying to make sure the project runs smoothly as the two groups connect design and functionality. If your startup is hiring or contracting a development team, make sure you understand what UX and UI design elements are. This will help your startup better explain the product’s design, preventing multiple cycles of design revision due to a lack of UX and UI suitability.

Use this resource to learn more about the different design principles that need to be taken into consideration during development. Also learn how to correctly use them in order to create a stellar software product. Ultimately, the goal is that through learning about UX and UI design your startup will be able to create a software product that is usable, useful, and reliable to the user.

Topics to be covered

We will illustrate these ideas through case studies of companies and founders who work with the Altitude Accelerator network

  • Case Study: Doing UX/UI design yourself – Prodigy
  • Case Study: Transitioning from DIY to hired UX/UI designers – SurfEasy
  • Case Study: Hiring UX/UI designers from the start – vGIS

User experience design: introduction to UX and UI

Key Takeaway: UX and UI design focus on how the user experiences and interacts with the software product, respectively. Your startup needs to keep these design elements in mind so the product is fully developed with the user’s satisfaction as its main focus.

Most startups struggle during the development process because they fast-tracked to the development and coding stages prior to fully designing their product. Startup founders, like yourself, get so caught up in the excitement of creating a product. They start coding and creating prototypes, and commonly end up stuck and having to redo work later on in the process. We all know what redoing work means, wasting time and money that you may not have.

As a non-technical founder of a startup, you need to know and understand these two key aspects of design: UX and UI. UX is what the individual interacting with the product remembers from the entire experience. UI consists of all the elements that allow a user to interact with a software product.

Startups need to begin thinking about User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design elements during the validation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). These design elements require user / customer feedback and input, if they are to be effective. If you only rely on your own assumptions or creativity, or leave it to the experience of your developers, it is likely you won’t achieve an optimal alignment with your customers.

These two concepts work together to create software products that are functional and enjoyable to the user. From understanding and using both design principles, startups can develop their software in a way that ensures customer satisfaction. Improving customer satisfaction makes it more likely they will continue to use your product, and recommend it to their friends and family.

By going through this article and learning about UX and UI design elements we hope that you will be able to avoid falling into the fast-tracking trap like everyone else. We hope that your startup smoothly sails through the development process, taking a customer-centric approach to design.

Before you start: identify your software product’s requirements

Key Takeaway: Clearly identify all your software product’s requirements at the start of the project. This ensures that you know what you are designing and developing while you are planning the project. By knowing your end goal, the designers will be able to imagine and design your product to its fullest extent.

Make sure you have the software requirements defined before you start. By identifying these requirements early on, you ensure that the following two questions are answered before the development process begins:

  • What am I building?
  • What am I NOT building?

By answering these questions and generating a list of requirements, startups can identify the project’s goals. This creates a concrete product idea that allows for the following benefits:

  • Provides the team with a framework to evaluate any ideas against
  • Clearly identify team member roles
  • Easily track the project’s progress efficiently
  • Prevents unintentional scope creep which can cost you time and money

Clearly identified software requirements allow for the project to begin with a distinct plan and goal. Now that your startup has the requirements laid out, let us go through the different design elements to keep in mind when designing your software product.

User experience design: how to do UX and UI yourself

Key Takeaway: Your startup can begin thinking about UX and UI design without having a full development team. Enroll yourself in online courses, create mock-ups using software tools, or hire others to do it for you. Conduct early user validation to make sure the software product is created with the user in mind.

Starting out, your startup may not have a full development team or the funds to conduct UX and UI design research prior to building your software product. Although your startup may not have a team, you can still conduct user research early on in the development process.

Learning user experience design and user interface design online

There are online courses available for UX and UI design that non-technical startup founder can use to learn about the importance of these topics. The following are some examples of online courses and resources available. Choose a course that suits your required level of detail, length and one that is highly reviewed.

  • Lynda from LinkedIn (LinkedIn Learning)
    • Online videos and courses are available surrounding UX and UI, as well as other business, technology, and creative skills that are taught by industry experts.
    • Paid, free trial for 30 days
  • Udemy
    • Contains an extensive library of over 40,000 courses taught by expert instructors, thousands of which are focused on UX and UI design. The courses are self-paced, and many are free.
    • Paid
  • Coursera
    • Collection of self-paced or timed classes that range from four to twelve weeks in duration. The courses are all created by top universities and organizations that offer online courses.
    • Mix of free and paid, with financial aids available

Ways to do UX and UI design without a development team

After your startup has learned about UX and UI design, you then need to begin using this knowledge. Your startup should begin to create mock-ups, prototypes, and the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) using UX and UI design principles in order to conduct user validation. The process is iterative and the design will evolve as you get more feedback from customers.

Firstly, there are several tools available that can help you develop UX and UI mock-ups. These tools can be used to conduct user validation early in the development process. The results of which can be used to inform your startup’s future design process.

Balsamiq and Ant Design are two tools that can be used to help create basic design drafts. A non-technical co-founder can use these to quickly create rough drafts of the product’s design. These drafts can be presented to users for review. Click here for to learn more about learning how to wireframe and create mock-ups.

Secondly, you can hire students to mock-up a design quickly for validation. These students commonly just want experience and should be willing to conduct the work for relatively cheap. Remember though, hiring students comes with its own set of challenges.

Lastly, you can use freelancing websites to get cheap and quick mock-up work completed. This work can be used for validation or during the proof of concept stage of development. Hiring freelancers, however, is a decision that needs to be reviewed before signing a contract.

It is important to conduct these user validation efforts early, even if you do not have a development team yet. It is always best to have your future customers tell you what they want, rather than you assuming what they want. Remember that this work does not need to be official design work, but rather early stage validation of user behaviour before the MVP is completed.

Altitude Accelerator Case Study: user experience design at Prodigy with Rohan Mahimker

Prodigy case study

During the initial stages of development Prodigy, a math-based game for children, UX and UI design was conducted by the co-founders of the company. Conducting your own UX and UI design work can be a complex process if you and your co-founders are not experts within this field. Below are some advantages and disadvantages of conducting UX and UI work on your own as an early stage startup.


– Startups are able to save some of their limited finances by doing the work themselves

– Allows startups to quickly create a software product with UX and UI design in mind without going overboard when products are just in their early stages

– Startups can focus on validating their idea rather than trying to make the software product commercial level beautiful


– Most likely do not have the technical background so founders will need to spend time learning design fundamentals through online courses or books and blogs

– Design work will most likely need to be redone and improved upon once a full time UX and UI designer is added to the team

– UX and UI research may be conducted incorrectly, leading to design decisions that are not suitable for the anticipated users

Based on the above advantages and disadvantages, Prodigy decided that at their early stage of development conducting the UX and UI design work was an appropriate option. Prodigy was able to do the UX and UI design work themselves, and it was sufficient enough to launch their initial product, as well as validate it against its user base.

A dedicated UX and UI design expert was only hired on once the company grew to around twenty people. The total number of users increased to over fifty million thoroughly validating their software product. Since the product was shown to work and be popular with its users, Prodigy now needed to revamp their UX and UI design elements using a trained professional. This transition from do-it-yourself to hired professional designers was important as it showed that the company was focused on maintaining and growing their existing user base.

Now that the company has grown to over two hundred and fifty people, specific user researchers have been hired to join the large UX and UI team. Currently there is one user researcher located within Canada, and other is being hired in India. Hiring cultural and market specific user researchers are an important step during the development process Prodigy found. “Hiring local user researches ensures that our company fully understands what users want in that market, as well as what the most effectively and efficient way is to enter that market,” says Rohan Mahimker, Co-Founder and CEO of Prodigy.

Overall, Prodigy was able to develop and validate their software product while conducting UX and UI design work by themselves. They found, however, that once they got to a certain scale both internally and externally, they required designated UX and UI designers to help bring their company and product to the next level.

User interface design elements

Key Takeaway: User interface design elements focus on making the software product’s interface easy to use and attractive to the user. The interface is usually the only part of the software product visible to the user and, as a result, the navigation, visual appearance, and input within this interface are important. By making sure the software product is easy to use and navigate, your startup ensures that users do not get frustrated with the product while using it.

User interface design is the process of making interfaces, points of contact between the software and the user, easy to use and attractive in style. Historically, this referred to graphical user interfaces; however, voice-controlled interfaces have become increasingly popular. UI focuses on the surface and overall feel of the design, unlike user experience design that focuses on the user’s experience.

The user interface is usually the only part of the software that is visible to its users and, as a result, startups should consider it the most important part of the design process. Some examples of interface elements include but are not limited to:

  • Input controls (e.g. buttons, text fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, dropdown menus, list boxes, toggles, and date fields)
  • Navigational components (e.g. slider, search field, pagination, tags, icons)
  • Informational components (e.g. progress bar, notifications, message boxes, modal windows, tooltips)

Examples of UI Design Elements

UI design describes how the users interact with the software product’s interface. Designers commonly aim to create designs that users will find easy to use and enjoyable.

The first example of user interface design is from Trello, a web-based list-making application (Figure 1). When a new task (referred to as a card in Trello) is created there are a variety of input controls. The user interacts with these controls to describe the created task through text boxes and date fields.

Additionally, the user can interact with the interface using the icons on the card. These icons allow the user to add files to the card, indicate that a comment is for a specific member of the team, and more.

The inclusion of many interface elements allows Trello’s users to be in control of the tasks that they create. Users can customize each task with as much required detail as they want. Each of the interface options allow the user to interact with Trello to its fullest capacity.

Trello UI design example
Figure 1: Trello’s card information demonstrating UI design

The second example of user interface design is from Google™ with the company’s use of pagination (Figure 2). The UI design element, pagination, breaks down large articles or chunks of information into smaller parts. Users then have additional navigation options through the use of arrows, numbers, as well as “previous” and “next” buttons.

Google™ searches commonly result in millions, if not billions, of results for each search. Imagine if you had to just scroll through them all on one giant web page. It would be overwhelming to look at.

By breaking up the search results into individual pages of smaller chunks, users are able to easily navigate the results to find the required information. This also ensures that users are not overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to work through.

Google user interface design example
Figure 2: Use of UI design pagination on Google

How to use user interface design elements

Key Takeaway: Talk to your startup’s users to determine how they navigate the software product while completing their tasks. Make sure that the product performs in a consistent manner. This allows users to quickly learn how to use the product, and increase their efficiency the more they complete tasks. Overall, user interface issues should be identified and corrected in order to keep customers engaged with your software.

A deep understanding of the task being performed by the user is important in designing the user interface. While startups are researching the user, they should get the user to verbalize their thought process when completing a task. This can help ensure that the interface does not interfere with the completion of the user’s goals. Another way to collect user data is to observe them using the software, making note of times they appeared frustrated, confused or had a strong emotional response.

You can also observe your customers as they use competing software to see where the struggles are. This way you can identify what key elements are missing that can be added to your software.

The more you know about what users find annoying about other products, the easier it will be to make sure your software product does not do the same. For example, do the users want to scroll down a page, or would they rather have all the information at the top of the screen? Startups can conduct this research again during the MVP / validation stage to make sure that the developed design is suitable for the users’ goals.

User interface design used successfully

UI design is used all around us to ensure our interactions with software products are easy. The following are two examples of UI design that was used successfully to improve the user’s interaction with the product’s interface.

The first example is the progress bar found during the checkout process on Indigo’s website (Figure 3). This interface element provides the user with a visual cue that displays the remainder of the checkout process

Progress bars are beneficial as they allow companies to breakdown large tasks into smaller steps. This is helpful to the users because they are now less likely to be overwhelmed by a large form to complete. Additionally, since users can see the progress of the task they would be less likely to stop the process part way through.

Indigo - example of good user interface design
Figure 3: Indigo’s checkout process uses a good UI design

The second example of good user interface design is found in Reddit’s sign-up modal window (Figure 4). The interface used during the sign-up process is designed with individuals who have colour blindness in mind.

Reddit uses both colour and symbols to explain when there is an error during the process. By having both types of indication, it allows for greater interface accessibility. The coloured interface can be used by the vast majority of the public, while the symbol interface can be used by those with the varying types of colour blindness.

By thinking about accessibility during the development process, Reddit ensures that all users can interact with their interface. By doing so, they do not lose users due to interface accessibility issues.

Reddit good UI design example
Figure 4: Reddit’s sign-up window uses good UI design

Implementation of user interface design

Implementing UI design into the software development project is an important aspect of the development process. The following are the best practices that startups should follow when trying to design a software product with the end user in mind:

  • Create the interface so it is easy for users to learn. This allows users to quickly go from not knowing the system to completing work while using it. Additionally, the interface should be easy to remember so infrequent users do not need to relearn everything after periods of inactivity.
  • Design the interface to be simple, avoid unnecessary elements, and use clear language. The best interfaces are almost invisible to the user.
  • Reduce the number of user inputs as much as possible to get to a desired outcome (scrolling, clicking, loading pages, typing information etc)
  • Use common and consistent UI elements to create patterns that allow users to feel comfortable and perform tasks efficiently.
  • Design layouts to be purposeful (for example, structure the page based on importance, have clear relationships between items on the page).
  • Strategically use colour and texture in order to direct or redirect attention.
  • Use different fonts and text sizes to make the software easy to read, and allow for users to quickly scan the product for the section that they want (be careful as this could make things look ugly if not done right).
  • Ensure the system communicates what is happening to users to reduce frustration.
  • Clearly inform users of actions required from them, as well as any errors in the information they provide.
  • Provide online documentation and help to ease user frustration while learning the software.

If your startup follows the above UI best practices, the developed user interface will be intuitive and easy to use. This will allow users to quickly and efficiently achieve their goals without growing frustrated with your software product.  

How not to use UI design elements

Key Takeaway: Commonly, UI design elements are implemented haphazardly. This is because startups want to make the software product look pretty. The key takeaway from UI design is that the product needs to be functional. If the product is not functional you will not create an interface that is usable, especially if your startup ignores user research.

Startups usually skip over user interface design elements, the functionality of the software, in favour of more creative and visually appealing design elements. This often results in a software product, that although looks beautiful, does not functionally work for the user.

User interface design used incorrectly

Commonly, UI design is incorrectly used, by both large and small companies. The following are two examples of UI design that were used less than ideally and, as a result, diminished the functionality of the software product.

The first example is the Apple Watch® and it’s hard-to-use home screen (Figure 5). The Apple Watch® home screen has a collection of small application icons that are difficult for the users to navigate.

The icons are hard to click, especially for people with large fingers, and are so small that looking at them strains your eyes. In addition to navigation issues, the UI has limited accessibility and causes frustration for the users.

Creating an interface that is this difficult to navigate was a risky move by Apple® as it may alienate different user groups. A pagination method could have been used alternatively, where users could swipe through different pages of larger icons in order to improve navigation.

Apple watch poor UI example
Figure 5: Apple Watch has a sub-optimally designed UI on their home screen

The second example of poor UI design is Esquire magazine’s website (Figure 6). The company uses a modal window with options that are hard to understand.

When companies use options that are not easily understood (not a simple yes or no), it makes the page difficult to navigate by the user. Additionally, the use of custom statements makes the user feel guilty if they click a certain option. This is an example of a UI dark pattern. Saying that ‘every person should read’ these books, and having an option to say ‘I don’t read’ will make users feel guilty that they aren’t like ‘every person’ and less likely they will close the window. It’s also not clear what the user is signing up for – are they getting a list of 80 books, or access to those books? If you didn’t read the tiny print, you might think you’re getting 80 books.

When companies use a modal window, they need to include options to close the window. Those options should be easily understood by users to ensure that they can easily navigate away. Esquire, however, tried to use a dark pattern and placed their own needs over their user’s needs.

Esquire poor UI example
Figure 6: Esquire magazine uses poor UI design on their website

Common pitfalls of user interface design

The following are common pitfalls that startups encounter when trying to conduct UI design research and implementation:

  • Developing a software product that lags or loads slowly – This prevents the user from getting the required information quickly. A good development team should be able to optimize the code to make it run smoothly.
  • Failing to recognize that user interfaces commonly have conflicting goals – Many interface elements have conflicting goals (e.g. multifunctional vs. easy to learn, high resolution vs. fast loading, etc.). If you do not find the right balance between the two extremes, you end up creating multiple functionality trade-offs.
  • Applying user interface design rules without any thought regarding its implication on the software’s functionality – UI principles need to be applied thoughtfully by people who are skilled in UI design and or evaluation for its full effect to be seen.
  • Lacking a final purpose of the software at the start of development – Requirements are needed to ensure that the software fits its use. They also ensure that the right actions are added during the process to allow them to be executed.
  • Creating an interface that prevents the user from easily reversing actions –If users are unable to easily undo their mistakes they will become frustrated with your software product.
  • Designing an interface where the status of the system or the system’s progress is not easily visible to the user – Users like to know the status of their progress through a task. If they cannot see it they may quit the process prior to completion.
  • Ignoring the user demographic when designing an interface (e.g. their age or mental/physical disabilities) – By ignoring the user demographic you will often create a software product that is not accessible by your target audience.
  • Developing a software product that does not provide feedback – Software products that do not inform the user the internal state of the system (e.g. highlighting text, displaying a message to show how many items were selected) result in frustrations and delays when completing tasks.

Some startups may have difficulty understanding the importance of user interface design principles. By actively avoiding the same pitfalls as your competition, you will create a streamlined user interface that your users do not even notice.

Benefits of good user interface design

Key Takeaway: UI design elements can be used to help produce a software product that the user will continue to use after discovering it. That is because the user’s ability to use the product is not negatively impacted by functionality issues. UI design can also improve the development process as any interface issues are identified and addressed early on.

Using UI design principles during the development process can improve the marketability of your startup’s software. Some common benefits of using UI design elements include:

  • Increased chance of users continuing to use the software product as it is easy to learn, and there are no annoying interface quirks that negatively impact their experience.
  • Cheaper to address interface problems early in the process before visual design elements are layered on top.
  • Increased chance of accessibility limitations being identified and addressed early on in the development process. This allows developers to create alternative interfaces for certain user populations.
  • Improved likelihood of users recommending the software product as the interface is intuitive and easy for non-users to pick up.
  • More opportunities to determine if all the navigational/informational/input controls are working, intuitive, and are the correct size prior to the final product being developed.

Overall, an appealing user interface design ensures that users will continue to use a software product due to its streamlined interface. By making the software product easy to use, users will not get frustrated with the interface.

This keeps the users loyal to your product, and not going to your competition. During the design process, make sure to remember that in order to create a great UI design, the software product must have a reliable (consistent interface) and usable (intuitive and simple) interface.

User experience design elements

Key Takeaway: In a nutshell, user experience design makes sure that your user enjoys using your software product. Users will continue to use your product if it provides a meaningful and relevant experience. It focuses on the users motivations, how they complete their tasks, and their different accessibility levels. This ensures that the user is the focus of the design process, and that you create a software product that is well-received.

User experience design allows you to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to its users. As a startup founder you need to go beyond what users say that they want, understanding their needs and emotions better than they do.

You need to take the process one step further and also provide the users with a fully developed and encompassing experience to create a stellar product. The UX process is user-focused, and requires an approach that combines visual and graphic design, programming, psychology, and interactive design.

You and your designers act as the user’s advocate. This ensures that the user’s needs are the focus of all design and development efforts. To be successful, you must have a deep understanding of the users.

Best practices even dictate that the users themselves be involved in the process. By involving the users, you reduce the risk of communication errors between the designers and the users.

Startups need to consider the why, what, and how of the software product’s purpose and the user’s interaction with it:

  • Why – What motivates the user? What are their values/views?
  • What – What are the functionalities and features that the user requires and desires?
  • How – Is the software accessible to different ages, or users with physical and/or mental disabilities? How do the users perform the tasks?

These UX activities rely heavily on information gathering. Using this information, startups create a backlog of prioritized activities before development begins.

UX research and design activities should take place throughout the design and development stages of the project, even if the project cycles back. Doing so, guarantees all iterations of the developed product satisfy the user’s needs and requirements.

Examples of user experience design elements

UX design is all about enhancing the experience of the user. There are no clear set of design elements to use, rather the field is focused on trying to improve the user’s experience through increased usability, findability, and usefulness. Below are examples of different types of user experience design elements that improve the user’s experience when using software products.

The first example of UX design is Google™ Maps’ new Augmented Reality (AR) mode (Figure 7). This new feature ensures that users do not get lost on the streets of a new city. This will stop you from exiting the subway and walking half a block in the wrong direction before you realize!

The AR mode introduces virtual signs and arrows in order to help people get around. This overcomes the current issues of using GPS or compass navigation in large cities where the buildings and infrastructure cause errors within the program.

The introduction of the new AR feature improves the user experience by preventing navigation frustrations that exists in the 2-D map version. Google™ conducted research on what the user would find useful in order to improve the functionality of their Google™ Maps service.

Google Maps user experience design example
Figure 7: Google Maps AR mode for navigation: user experience design

Another example of user experience design is Grammarly®, a free grammar checking service which improves their user’s experience through re-engagement emails (Figure 8). Many users do not usually visit Grammarly®’s core application after signing up. As a result, the company needs to keep users engaged with their product through UX designed email communications.

The email consists of the following UX elements:

  • Metrics that are simple to understand, and include a benchmark to compare yourself against other users.
  • Email style gamifies the experience and adds motivation by challenging users to improve their writing using this product.
  • The email and the application are both similarly structured. When companies are consistent, users find it easier to navigate and understand the information.

Grammarly® needs to generate a positive user experience, and continue to demonstrate their value to users because their paid version is an expensive alternative compared to the widely available free spell check services. These re-engagement emails add value to the user experience and help users visualize how their productivity, accuracy, and vocabulary have improved through using the product.

Grammarly user experience design example
Figure 8: Grammarly’s re-engagement emails using UX design

How to use user experience design elements

Key Takeaway: Talk to your users to fully understand how they complete tasks and what features they would find useful to improving their experience. Create many low-cost prototypes to ensure you have a design that the users enjoy using.

UX design is built upon research focused on how users experience the software product as they use it. The key factors that can influence the overall user experience of a software are usability, usefulness, desirability, accessibility, credibility, and findability.

Throughout the development process, startups need to keep these factors in mind. This ensures that the product being designed fulfills not only a need, but also generates a positive experience for the user.

You will find that customers are appreciative and more receptive to software that takes their experience into consideration. The more customers that you satisfy with the experience you provide, the more product you will be able to sell.

User experience design used successfully

User experience design can be found all around us. The following are two examples of UX design that was used successfully in order to improve the user’s experience.

The first example is Google™, which has an interface that everyone has experience with. You probably even used Google™ to find this article!  The interface is simple, which highlights how great the experience is that they provide.

Google™ knows that users come to their site for information. And they want it fast. As a result, information is provided to their users in the blink of an eye.

Now if every time you searched Google™ it took 15 seconds, you would not be getting answers as quick. So, even if the interface stayed the same, your experience with Google™ would be drastically different. You may even decide to move to another search engine. This is why Google spends so much time developing their proprietary algorithms for matching to relevant content quickly.

If you type “ux design” into Google™ you get a result in 0.81 seconds (Figure 9). Your experience is positive, and you are able to quickly learn all about UX design without waiting for the search engine to find all the information for you.

Google user experience design example
Figure 9: Google search bar result for “ux design” with a result speed of 0.81 seconds

Another example of good user experience design is Microsoft Office®. Have you ever emailed your boss wanting them to review a document and realized after you click send that you forgot to attach it. I know I have.

Microsoft Outlook® seems to have noticed this user pain point and now has a pop-up box that states “ATTACHMENT REMINDER” when you include the words “enclosed” or “attached” but forget to attach a file (Figure 10). Microsoft® is still providing the same email services; however, they have now improved the user experience by making sure that its users do not make this mistake over and over.

MS Office good UX example
Figure 10: Microsoft Office “Attachment Reminder” dialog window

Implementation of user experience design

Implementing UX design into your software development project is an important aspect of the development process. The following are ways that startups can design a software product with the end user in mind:

  • Interview the user directly and identify what they find useful, usable, and desirable. Also, watch the users complete tasks, using your software or a competitor’s to gain insight.
  • Understand in what environment and context users perform certain tasks.
  • Create a persona for each user population segment based on your conducted research. Get into character to see what they need and the other software choices they have available to achieve their goals. Look at both demographic and psychographic aspects of personas.
  • Know the constraints of the project to ensure that designers do not waste time and money.
  • Design your software for change by getting insight into how the researched personas will evolve over time. Likewise, ensure that the technical architecture will be able to evolve alongside.
  • Ensure effort is placed into satisfying users that are the most profitable or have the most potential for increased revenue. Answer the question: Who has the biggest problem / pain point? Solve this problem better than anyone else.
  • Start with low-fidelity (paper) prototypes to communicate and test design ideas to reduce costs and encourage the exploration of more potential design options. Wireframes can also be used in order to allow for interactivity while still allowing for fast and inexpensive modification.
  • Look outside your industry to find design ideas that can differentiate your product from the competition.
  • Test continuously to ensure that your software satisfies the needs and expectations of its users over time. Additionally, this can be used to monitor the health of the software product to identify the need for design and / or content upgrades.

By following the above concepts throughout the design process, the software product you develop will not only satisfy the needs of the user. Your product will also provide them with a positive experience that appears to be made for them.

How not to use user experience design elements

Key Takeaway: You not only need to understand UX design elements, but you also need to implement them correctly. The key thing is to use the research you have gained, and make sure you are not ignoring the facts because you do not agree with the user. You are not the one using the product, they are.

User experience design elements are commonly misunderstood and underappreciated by startups that do not fully understand the software development industry. Startups can conduct all the user research that they want, however, if they do not use it correctly the product will still be negatively impacted by poor design.

User experience design used incorrectly

UX design is commonly used incorrectly by large and small companies. The following are two examples of UX design that were less than optimal and diminished the user’s experience.

The first example is Netflix’s hover auto-play feature that came out in 2015 (Figure 11). When the user hovers over a TV show or movie thumbnail for a split-second, an auto-play of a looped trailer or montage begins. As a result, users cannot see the details of the TV show or movie that they hovered over without having to listen to a loud trailer at the same time.

This feature showcases poor user experience design work during development. Auto-playing anything means that the designers are making a huge assumption about the user’s desires. Additionally, the automatic audio is disorienting, especially if the user’s attention was elsewhere.

The hover auto-play feature gets in the way of the site’s usability. It also hinders the users from seeing key information about the TV show or movie they are interested. Overall, this shows that the users were not consulted effectively during the design process to vet the hover auto-play feature.

Netflix poor UX example
Figure 11: Netflix has a hover auto-play feature that negatively impacts the user’s experience

Another example of sub-optimal UX design is the 50th anniversary website for iFly Magazine (Figure 12). Most websites use vertical scrolling in order to move through the content on a website, it is something that you are doing right now. The 50th anniversary website used vertical scrolling for the majority of the site; however, some navigation methods were different.

In order to explore some of the content, users have to click and hold a button for a few seconds in order to view additional content. This adds a few seconds of friction that leads to a poor user experience. Additionally, users may get confused when faced with this unexpected navigation style.

Users are more likely than not to give up after a few click and holds. It is usually best for designers to stick to the more conventional interaction styles (for example simple clicks or swipes) so no friction is added to the user.

iFly poor user experience design example
Figure 12: iFly Manazine’s 50th anniversary website with unique navigation bars leading to poor UX design

Common pitfalls of user experience design

The following are common pitfalls that startups encounter when trying to conduct user experience design research and implementation:

  • Assuming you already understand the user – Do not just create an imaginary user and develop the product to suit their needs. Ensure that real life users are consulted prior to the development process.
  • Not listening to and not observing the users – Startups need to understand their end user’s overarching goals and think creatively about how to help them achieve their goals and set themselves apart from the competition.
  • Forgetting to design for all aspects of the user’s experience – Startups need a team of individuals with skill sets around visual design, interaction design, and usability testing to ensure a fully developed user experience.
  • Believing that tools can design for you – Though design tools are useful, the development team using them needs to have the relevant training and guidance in order to utilize them effectively.
  • Ignoring end user research – Do not feel threatened about the constraints that user research puts on designer creativity.
  • Locking into a design too soon – Generate several viable alternatives at the start of the process and generate end user feedback using low-fidelity prototypes. Getting to a final product is an iterative process.
  • Writing code too early – Make sure you have a solid design that has been developed and validated prior to writing your final code.
  • Testing only for usability – The software needs to do something that the users want it to do.
  • Forgetting to test for reliability – Designers should force errors by doing actions that the site is not designed to support to see what happens.
  • Failing to test for security – Startups should hire a third-party security professional to conduct threat modeling on the design.
  • Separating members of the project team – Collaboration should be encouraged between the designers and developers to allow for knowledge transfer.

Learning and understanding UX design principles is a difficult process for some startups. Make sure you do not fall into the same pitfalls as your competition, ensuring that you can progress easier through the software development process.

Benefits of user experience design principles

Key Takeaway: UX design elements can be used to help produce a software product that is more likely to be accepted by the user. That is because the user has been involved in the development process the entire time. UX design can decrease the risk of a project, allowing you to develop the software product on schedule.

Using user experience design methods has the potential to improve the rate of success of your startup’s software. Some common benefits of using UX design principles include:

  • Better products are developed since the end users are involved in the design process.
  • Cheaper to address problems when end users identify them early in the project (for example, the wireframe, prototype or MVP stage) rather than needing to conduct a technical fix after the launch of the product.
  • Less risky of a project as design issues are discovered and fixed during the design phase instead of the development stage.
  • Increased insight gained through end user research provides ideas for the product being created, as well as future software development projects.
  • Better chance of the product reaching the market quicker
  • Improved usability of the software product developed due to the continuous evaluation of the product’s ease of use throughout the project.

Overall, an attractive UX design that anticipates a user’s needs means that more users will be willing to purchase your software product. Your software will be stickier than your competitors who offer a similar service, if yours is smoother, more efficient and enjoyable to use.

During the design process remember that in order to create a stellar product a great UX design must be useful (accomplish the user’s goals), usable (easily perform desired tasks), and desirable (users must enjoy their experience).

How important is UX and UI design when creating an MVP?

Key Takeaway: Create a minimum viable product (MVP) that is attractive to the user in order to ensure your startup receives meaningful feedback from the users during validation. Keep the MVP simple, and ensure that all the features presented work correctly to provide the user with an MVP that is functional and useful.

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) demonstrates and delivers the minimum required value to your customers or users and nothing more. It doesn’t necessarily look the same as your finished product will. When your startup is creating an MVP, you build your product in the most basic way, and fairly cheaply, to test it and receive user feedback.

While creating a MVP, your startup needs to consider elements of UX and UI design. Just because the MVP will only have one or two features, does not mean that it cannot be usable and attractive to the user. Your startup wants its product to have a good first impression so you have a chance to validate your idea and collect user feedback to design a final product.

In the past, an unattractive design was often enough to validate and attract users so long as you solved their problem. Now, however, startups often need a good-looking design to conduct the validation process. This may vary depending on the use case, industry, and customer segment. The following are the minimum UX and UI design work that should be placed into an MVP:

  • Make sure that all buttons work.
    • This allows you to track which features are being requested by the user the most in order to prioritize their creation. The page that the button takes the user to does not need to be complete, just include information stating that the feature is currently under construction.
  • Use appropriate visuals and colouring to ensure users are easily able to see the value delivered in the MVP.
    • By creating an MVP that is at least a little visually appealing, your startup will get more valuable user validation data. This is because users will focus more on evaluating the features presented to them, rather than noticing the unappealing interface.
  • Keep it simple.
    • Do not just jump in and design the MVP with all the UX and UI design elements that you learned about from this article. Utilize simple navigation and control inputs, as well as overall design elements without utilizing large amounts of resources. This will ensure that your startup does not waste resources on an MVP that will likely change immediately following the collection of feedback. 

A key learning from this article is that startups should never use the term MVP as an excuse for creating a poor user experience, or for compromising the user interface. Ensure that you utilize UX and UI elements without going overboard during the process.

How to use UX and UI design to create a stellar product

Key Takeaway: Getting your startup’s development team on the same page regarding UX and UI design can be difficult. Make sure that all team members are properly trained in these design principles. Additionally, promote communication between the designers and the developers so everyone understands what the user wants so the product answers their needs.

Now that your startup has learned all about UX and UI design, how can you use this information to create a stellar software product? Knowing the skills is only the first step in the process.

When your startup has an in-house development team, you need to make sure there is communication between the designers and the developers. This ensures that there is no confusion around how user requirements need to be implemented.

For example, the product cannot have a small “close window” button that is almost the same colour as the background. This will lead to customer frustration. The designers and developers need to work together so the function is there as well as the accessibility of the function.

If your startup is out-sourcing or subcontracting the development work, you also need to know about UX and UI. By knowing these concepts, your startup will be able to design and explain the software product to the development team in an efficient manner.

The following are the key ways that your startup can ensure that UX and UI best practices can be applied within your startup to create a successful software product:

  • Have leadership on board – Educate leadership and other team members on what UX and UI design elements are and circulate success stories on what companies did to improve the user’s experience and the results that they saw.
  • Ensure designers have UX and UI training – Recruit talent with UX and UI experience, or train existing staff using workshops and courses centered on these user design elements.
  • Promote communication – Ensure that the designers and developers (if separate people) communicate with each other. This makes sure that the UX and UI design elements are being implemented in a way that satisfies both the user and the constraints of the software.
  • Release continuous and consistent updates – Startups need to release a new version of the software periodically (about every six months) to ensure survivability within the constantly evolving market. With each update the interface needs to remain relatively stable in order to prevent user confusion. Additionally, interface changes need to be highlighted with an instruction module to explain the new functionalities added.
  • Avoid dark patterns – Dark patterns are UX and UI design elements that negatively impact user value in favour of shareholder value. Examples of dark patterns are: repeated intrusion during normal interaction, obstructing their work flow with barriers, hiding information that is relevant to the user, etc. Users are growing increasingly aware of these tactics and will not look upon your software product favourably if they are employed. 
  • Improve your software development process – Make UX and UI a clear and defined part of the software development process, and do not view it as an afterthought.

By successfully implementing UX and UI research into the software development process your startup will be able to improve your software product’s chance on the market. Ensure that everyone involved in the development process is fully committed to learning about these design elements, and listening to their findings. This will eliminate the number of iterations required during the validation phase of development as the users have been involved in the process since day one.

Case studies in outsourcing UX and UI design

Altitude Accelerator Case Study: Transitioning from DIY to hired UX and UI designers at SurfEasy

SurfEasy case study

UX and UI design work is commonly outsourced to outside developers during initial stages of development. That is if a startup even recognizes the importance of UX and UI design and does not forget about it until later in the development process.

For SurfEasy, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) browser security application startup, UX design from a user flow perspective was handled by Chris Houston, Founder and CEO of SurfEasy, or the product owner. They would define the objective and the design resources would iterate on ways to execute the objective.

As the company began to grow, UX design was outsourced on a case-by-case basis. For the basic additions to the product, graphic design services such as 99 Design were used. Eventually a contractor was found, and by working with the group closely and learning the business essentially became a member of the team.

A single developer was hired on a contract basis to complete this outsourced work. At the time, UX and UI design was less critical to the company since they were making internal decisions about what looked good and what the company liked. “Mobile VPNs at the time were very ugly so making them suitable for mobile was the basic requirement to enter the industry,” says Houston.

Once SurfEasy created a standard design, a full-time UX designer was one of the company’s first non-development hires. Currently, SurfEasy views UX design as a critical aspect of the development process. As a result, the company now has between three and four dedicated UX people on staff at all times, one for each product.

By focusing more on UX design, SurfEasy ensures that the products they create as easy to use and provide the user with a positive experience. This increase in user satisfaction eventually led to the company being acquired.

Altitude Accelerator Case Study: Hiring UX and UI designers from the start at vGIS

vGIS case study

When vGIS, a company focused on an Augmented Reality (AR) platform for visualizing geographical information systems, began to work on their product they wanted to create something that was easy for their users to use. This is because their product was created for front-line field service workers who may not be technically-inclined.

With this in mind, the company hired UX and UI experts from day one to ensure that the product was designed in a way that was easy to use. The company was given the opportunity to work with a whole team of UX and UI experts rather than just one individual. Due to the large size of their project, this was beneficial as multiple opinions and ideas are required to get the best outcome for their software product.

The UX and UI team works together to conduct user interviews to determine key interface and layout design elements that will help the user easily pickup and understand the product. This research is then communicated to the developers to explain the key interface requirements needed to ensure the success of the product. “As a user, if you see a product that is ugly you will not use it. Everything user-facing has to be pretty and to do so the UX, UI, and development teams all need to work together,” says Alec Pestov, Founder and CEO of vGIS.

vGIS recognized that the users of their software product would be front-line field service workers that may not be technically-inclined. As a result they prioritized, since the project’s start, UX and UI design to ensure that the product created was easy to use and had no pain points during its use.

Future considerations of UX and UI design

Key Takeaway: Startups need to adapt to the changing ways that users interact with software products. Voice-controlled software is changing the way software needs to be designed. Additionally, machine learning is now complicating the development process as it is hard to prototype the dynamic interaction between the user and the unpredictable results.

How users interact with software is continuously evolving as technology continues to improve and the user’s needs change. Below are two key future considerations that you should kept in mind during software development:

  • Increased prevalence of voice-controlled software
    • Startups need to ensure that they consider voice-controlled interfaces when designing their software. This is due to the recent trend of voice-controlled programs and technologies.
    • Everyone is using Alexa™ and Siri® to interact with software now, so make sure your startup’s software product can interact with them as well. Voice-controlled software also improves the accessibility of the software product, making it more valuable compared to its competition.
  • More machine learning in software products
    • Startups now not only have to improve user experience by paying attention to usability, utility, and interface aesthetics, they also have to work with Machine Learning (ML) programs in order to provide services that automatically personalize the system to users. ML can also leverage a more detailed understanding of users to provide new value.
    • Prototyping ML based designs, however, are difficult because the interactions are dynamic, and the outcomes are unpredictable. As a result, startups should try to apply ML in unique and interesting ways that can respond to emerging trends and satisfy untapped desires.

Startups should aim to consider and potentially implement the recent trends of voice-controlled interfaces and ML during the development process. This ensures that the developed software product is up to date with the interface and experience requirements of the modern user.

Providing the user with the modern conveniences that they like will make using your product more enjoyable. By being more functional and enjoyable, users will promote your software product to all their friends and family.

Conclusion: User experience design and user interface design for startups

Startups need to consider user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design principles throughout the entire software development process. With the emergence of the internet and social media, your startup can now collaborate with users throughout the development process easier than before.

Users can now virtually evaluate and provide feedback on a company’s prototype. This promotes and simplifies the experience of co-creation. As a result the user becomes increasingly comfortable with the interface and embraces the experience prior to market release.

Although it may seem like a lot of work up front, implementing UX and UI design throughout the process will save your startup money and time in the long run. This is due to the advantage of large amounts of user feedback. This feedback allows your startup to create a product that is designed in its entirety with the user in mind.

As you move forward and begin the development of your startup’s software, remember to think about UX and UI design elements. Conduct research on these topics with users. Create personas and start to think like the users in order to create a truly unique product that the user will love.

Startup founders can become empowered through the use of online courses and wireframing tools in order to begin receiving user feedback early in the development process. While adding development team members to the startup and as the startup matures, ensure that the user’s needs are kept in mind.

Ultimately, UX and UI is designing for the user in mind. And should your startup not want to begin designing for the user right from the start rather than revising your developed software later on?

Lessons learned

Congratulations! You have now learned about UX and UI design elements and their use in software development. After reading this article you should have learned the following key things:

  • Startups need to know what they are and are not building prior to designing their software product.
  • You can learn about UX and UI design using online courses and create your own mock-up to begin user validation before you hire a development team.
  • UI design consists of all the elements that allow a user to interact with a software product.
  • UX design is what the individual interacting with the product remembers from the entire experience.
  • Startups should never use the term MVP as an excuse for creating a poor user experience, or for compromising the user interface.
  • Both UX and UI need to work together in order to create a stellar software product.
  • Startups need to think about the unique ways users are now interacting with software products while designing their new products.

<– Back to: “How to Create Software: Development Techniques to Learn”

Curious about User Experience Design?

Get started on your UX and UI design with our free resource!

Whether you are B2B or B2C, UX and UI is an essential component of any software business. Use this framework to help you think through the key elements of your UX and UI along with tips for getting started! 

User Experience Design, ui, ux