Our 4 Favorite Design Driven Startups

Our 4 Favorite Design Driven Startups

Some of the biggest and best startups in the world use Design as their differentiator and as a way to add value.

These companies understand that design is a process which relates to meaning, strategy and usability.  As a result they are able to improve on the pre-existing experiences in differing industries.

Here are our picks for the startups using design to effectively establish and grow their business and products.

airbnb design driven startup

#1. AirBnB

AirBnB is a design driven startup which has changed the way people travel and experience new places. Part of AirBnB’s success is because it solves a real problem in a very simple way. The company makes a direct link between travelers and property owners. The unique business model adds value for both parties. Property owners can make extra income, while travelers have options to go anywhere in the world and live like a local in any neighborhood they choose.

In addition to providing an innovate solution to a common problem, AirBnB has invested heavily in Design and UX. The company was founded by two graduates of Rhode Island School of Design in 2008. Since its inception, AirBnB has been known for providing a simple and easy to use interface.

As the company has grown they have done the opposite of most large companies and continued to simplify their website, application and branding. Around a year ago, AirBnB unveiled its new logo mark. Lots of people questioned the shape, but the unique character has helped make AirBnB even more recognizable.

AirBnB is our favorite Design Driven Startup. The ease of use and convenience has made travel more enjoyable for millions of people, while providing extra income for people who have space to spare. AirBnB is definitely winning with design.

tesla design driven startup

#2. Tesla

You may have heard of the car company which is changing the way the auto industry works. Or you may have heard of the man in charge, Elon Musk, who has innovated with companies like Paypal and Space X.

What makes Tesla unique? It is their design and problem solving process. Musk did not want to build cars based on existing vehicle standards. Instead of building on top of existing technology, it was his aim to use the concept of ‘First Principles’. Below is how Elon Musk describes First Principles.

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

As a result of this methodology, Tesla does not base any decisions on what is current or trending – instead they start with the fundamentals and build up from there. Watch the full Interview on Tesla’s Design Process here.

Are the designs successful? At the end of the day, consumers judge the success of a product company like Tesla. And based on the experience of driving a Tesla – the results are off the charts. Consumer Reports gave the Model S a rating of 103, and as a result had to re-think their entire scale for grading vehicles.

One surprising thing we learned while researching Tesla is that Elon Musk actually makes the majority of the design decisions. He has proven to have a great eye for design details and engineering. It almost seems that Musk is the Chief Designer of Tesla and his CEO duties come second.

nest design driven startup

#3. Nest

Nest is a company which took on a very simple idea – to refine the experience of the home thermostat. Not only did Nest create a simple and intuitive interface, but the product is beautifully designed, sleek and modern. On top of that, the device is connected in a way that makes it easy to control remotely.

Shortly after Nest hit the market, Google came calling. After being acquired by Google, Nest has continued to soar and is currently expanding its product line. Nest can be credited as one of the first IoT companies to make a big splash in the consumer market.

Designers have played an important part in the creation and success of Nest. Arguably the most influential designer for Nest has been Fred Bould. Bould is the award winning designer who worked with the other designers / founders of Nest, Fadell and Ben Filson.

According to Bould, Design is a hot field for technology companies and startups. “I don’t think that there has been a better time to be a designer than right now. It may be better in the future, but right now we have the most amazing tools, technology and opportunities so far, without a doubt.”

In addition to offering a great product, Nest has focused on all the details to provide a seamless user experience. Their website offers step-by-step tutorials on installing and optimizing their device. Nest has adopted the motto that the Details Always Matter. By continuing to focus on this they have had much success.

apple design driven startup

#4. Apple

Okay, so you are scratching your head… “Apple is not a startup?”  Maybe Apple isn’t a traditional startup, but their company is a critical point of reference. Apple is the original gold standard of design in the first era of mobile technology design.

Apple has had a long and tumultuous history with Steve Jobs being fired, heading to Pixar and returning some time later. But the real success of Apple has always been its focus on design and creating great products. This is where Jony Ive comes in.

Jony Ive collaborated closely with Steve Jobs to greatly improve Apple’s products. The first big win for Jony Ive was the modern, translucent casing design of the G3 iMacs. Shortly after this, the release of the iPod helped Apple transition from a computer manufacturer to more of a lifestyle brand. Arguably the biggest hit for Apple however was the iPhone. It was a device that just made sense – offering all the abilities of an iPod, plus a mobile phone and a camera.

Apple approaches design in a very unique way. They believe that creativity alone is not enough to transform a design into a successful product. Instead, an innovative process needs to be implemented in order to achieve this goal. Because of this thinking, Apple has done away with a lot of industry standards like focus groups. They find that this early stage feedback can be misleading, and prefer to innovate versus satisfy existing needs and desires.

At its very core, Apple is a company with an extreme focus on product design. Steve Jobs famously said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Focusing on design has worked pretty well for Apple. It will be interesting to see how many future companies take this approach as well.

simon, an author on the DesignUps Nashville Design Blog

About the Author

Simon is the founder and creative director of DesignUps. His specialty is understanding perspectives of clients and end-users and the thought process to craft a solid experience based on this insight.