It is a truth commonly acknowledged that Silicon Valley is the global centre for tech start-ups and innovation, not only in terms of the technological developments that it generates but, also the startup culture that reverberates from its epicentre. The latest cultural shift that has seen traction across the pond has been the emergence of tech startups – such as AirBnB and Pinterest - that were founded by both designers and engineers.
No longer an option.
This growing trend can be seen in a recent report from Venture Capital Firm Kleiner Perkin in San Francisco which demonstrates the important role that design plays in the success of new startups and technologies. It has been revealed that these new solutions are less about the actual technology, but more about the experience and value that they give to the user. The user experience is really taking precedent.
In the past, tech innovation has revealed that designers were brought in to the process too late after a great deal of work has already been completed by the engineers. This meant that the core of the business was founded in the engineering process. However, this is all changing and more startups are now being founded by designers and engineers in a marriage of skills that is shaking the world of mobile tech innovation.
The first in London.
Albert – the financial assistant for freelancers on their mobile - is one such startup and it is actually the first to take this concept from Silicon Valley and introduce it here in the London finance startup scene.
So what drove a designer and an engineer to co-found a startup? Well aside from the fact that they saw a huge need in the market for a simple mobile finance tool for starting freelancers, they realised that user experience is taking a precedent when it comes to fulfilling the long term needs of mobile users, and a good user experience is intrinsically linked to good design and good engineering. Therefore, it was only natural to integrate design at the root of the development process to ensure that the end result was both engineered and designed at the optimum level.
A happy marriage.
Albert prides itself on being simple to use and is constantly evolving with new functionality that makes using the app an intuitive process. This has emerged out of a close marriage between design and engineering and the ‘Try-or-Die process’ by which ideas go from concept to fruition.
- First, the new functionality is conceptualized quickly with a prototype and tested with early fans.
- Second, this is put into action but with the engineer and designer sat next to one another throughout.
- Third, the feature is released to the first users to get early feedback.
- Fourth, when the feature has the right quality, it is released to all users.
This means that as new functionality is added there is instant user feedback and the result is a much more organic and profound design process. It also means that time is more efficiently managed and projects can be completed faster and to a higher standard. After all, it’s more valuable to spend a day understanding the product if you build the right pixels, rather than polishing the wrong ones. An important consideration in this regard for Albert is that new functionality is always secure and data can always be restored. We believe that trust is crucial with financial platforms and therefore losing data is not an option.
We call this the ‘Try-or-Die process’ because in the past, companies, particularly in the financial tech scene, would be reluctant to put out an app or piece of software that was not 100% perfect. They would have a very linear trajectory for their engineering and design efforts and user feedback was only sought after a polished version had been released. However, an attitude of gradual progression is now emerging and taking each design and functionality improvement one step at a time. Optimising the user experience is always the main goal to ensure user's ongoing engagement.
Albert for example has a current version that is perfectly usable and secure for basic invoicing but it is not the full-blown, advanced invoicing solution yet . At the moment the app is being continually tested and reviewed by real users and then revisited by the team to adjust and then re-release a better version, only for it to be tested again and then re-released. This Try-or-Die process enables ideas to gain market entry quickly and also enables the team to identify and respond to usability issues early on.
Ultimately, no matter how great an idea an app is, if the user experience is poor, users will not continue using it. Mobile tech should feel intuitive to the user, it should surprise and delight them, and deliver on everything it promises.