Building a new brand? Invest in design early on.

In the digital world, great design isn’t just about making a beautiful product. It’s as much about the user experience as it is the brand behind it. In the early stages of a startup’s journey, design can offer companies a big payout.

Carsten Henriksen

Design’s value may not always be recognised early on, but when we look closely at our collaborations with startups, it’s clear that fintech partners have benefited from being design-focused from the get-go.

Embrace more thoughtful user experience and systems organisation

Design is, simply put, the best way to break through the noise and get the attention of the market. Think of design as a collaboration tool — it’s a new way of thinking, talking and developing new ideas. From the smallest details to the overall business plan, design should be integrated into all day-to-day decision-making processes. This should occur across the organisation, from a company’s employees to its Executive Board. Great design is what differentiates products and services and creates additional value for the customers. Unfortunately, outdated IT systems and heavy regulation are what typically bog down the financial sector. For that reason, it’s especially important that fintech startups develop digital solutions that make users’ everyday lives easier. The way to implement this is to incorporate design so that your company is considering user experience and systems organisation from day one.

Interdisciplinary teams for the win

Many startups are thoughtful about their footprint in the world and work towards sustainable investments and goals. These startups integrate design into every stage of the decision-making process to find new solutions and strategies. After all, ethics and accountability, which are also a part of the design-driven approach, will be crucial when the next generations choose which new products and services to fold into their lives. Therefore, the future of fintech cannot be built by financiers alone. It’s crucial to invest in design early on because strong design attracts talent. Strong talent translates into goods and services that will help turn customers into loyal evangelists. The industry will require interdisciplinary teams that think out of the box. The best products and services are developed in teams where the greatest strength is diverse opinions, attitudes and perspectives. It’s common sense that these differences will broaden and deepen a business strategy before going to market.

Grandhood: A case study in strong brand identity

Grandhood is a fintech startup on a mission to change the world of pensions. The company already had a game-changing investment algorithm, but they came to us because they knew they needed to begin with a strong brand identity to bring their idea to life. They were in a very good place financially — the company raised its first €2,65 million investment for its digital pension’s savings solution at the end of last year — but very few had heard about the company. And with good reason: Their product hadn’t hit the market yet. While the startup-savvy team and its innovative idea help to explain the huge early investment, one of the co-founders also believed that design should play a role early on. Because let’s face it, retirement plans aren’t terribly sexy and oftentimes are the very last thing that people want to think about. As a result, there’s a lot of anxiety around taking the first steps. Our research confirmed that retirement was associated with negativity and frustration, so we created something new: 'Grandhood'. You have a childhood, adulthood, and now you have a Grandhood, too. Grandhood helps design your pension for a grand life. Together with the name, we created a modern, minimalistic and simple verbal and visual universe.

Establishing their visual identity and their audience, business model, and value proposition early on were all directly tied to the design process. Grandhood worked to help direct the company’s attention to the fact that design, in all its facets, can create trust with customers if it’s done right. And Grandhood isn’t alone — having an early focus on design also hugely impacted our collaborations with the fintech startups Lunar Way and Undo.

Technology doesn’t win without design

In addition to the brand identity, user simplicity develops and sustains consumer trust early on. The design industry has had a hard time communicating our value before a company starts selling something to the market. But our work with fintech startups has shown how you can get sign-ups and attract investors before having a product. You do this by having a strong design DNA connected to the company’s values early on in the process. For that reason, it’s important to not begin by focusing exclusively on the product. Of course, new technologies and algorithms are important, especially in the long run. But in the long game, it’s all about understanding how the technology can create value for the customer. Startups are typically strong on the technical side of things but rarely manage to link the technology and communicate why it creates value in a new way. If that isn’t part of the engine room initially, it’s just another product — not part of the brand. If companies want to be sharper right out of the gate, they need to examine and develop their design DNA and move on from there.