If there is one thing that most startups that have been in the market agree on is the importance of design. At the same time, a lot of them did not work on it from the beginning and they acknowledge that it’s one of the mistakes that cost them the most. But why is it so common that people don’t invest in product design from the beginning as in marketing, for example?

I am going to analyze this problem from my point of view. I will use a startup with a digital product as an example throughout the post for a better understanding.

Urgent vs important

To explain my point of view, I have to refer to a really interesting concept from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey introduces a matrix with two axes to categorize tasks for effective time management: urgent and important.

We can see that the matrix is divided into four quadrants, which represent the following:

Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent

Projects with a near deadline, urgent problems that must be solved as soon as possible, belong to this quadrant… And he recommends giving these tasks a certain priority. However, he warns that focusing too much on this quadrant only makes it grow and dominate the rest.

In this quadrant we could include tasks such as developing the application to launch it on the market as soon as possible, negotiating with stakeholders, getting investors, getting clients … Everything that is strictly necessary and that has a deadline.

Quadrant 2: Important and not urgent

Tasks that would have a great impact but are not urgent –since they do not have a due date– are placed in this quadrant. We will talk more in detail about this quadrant a little further down.

Tasks such as getting alliances, working on the business strategy, its vision, its values, the financial plan, forming a company culture, the effort to innovate and the happiness of the team could be part of this quadrant.

Quadrant 3: Not important and urgent

I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Everything that is urgent and needs your attention now –but in reality it is not that important– would go here. Unplanned interruptions, meetings, calls or emails. These tasks have a short-term focus that isn’t aligned with our objectives. It’s recommended to delegate or try to avoid everything that’s placed in this quadrant.

In our example for startups, it could be going to events (without a clear objective, being in the event of the year), endless team meetings that go around the bush, emails from a potential client that you know isn’t going to get to nothing … Tasks that we could intuitively think are urgent and have to be done, but that we would feel very comfortable delegating them.

Quadrant 4: Neither important nor urgent

We can imagine what kinds of activities belong to the last quadrant. Distractions or talks that don’t add anything to the goal, activities that are pleasant but aren’t urgent or really important. Covey recommends removing them completely.

How can I know if a task is important or not?

It’s very convenient to correctly detect if a task is important or not really worth prioritizing. Sometimes, it will be difficult to analyze the importance of a task if the objective isn’t clear.

In the case of Kypseli, since we are working with OKRs, the important tasks are given by the objectives that we set each quarter and each year, so they respond to needs that we detect. We manage the possible risks that the company faces based on the impact they have and the probability of their occurrence. When managing risks, the probability would match the urgency of the matrix and the impact, the importance.

The impact of the second quadrant

think outside the box
Nikita Kachanovsky – Unsplash

In general, people spend most of their time on the left side of the matrix. Solving problems that are urgent because they are necessary for a specific date and it seems like they need our time. This way, spending all the time on problems that are not so important, we run out of time for work that can have a very big impact on us.

According to Covey, “quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management.” That is, we should focus on the tasks that are important and not urgent. If we prioritize everything we feel is urgent, we won’t have time left for what really impacts our life (or our company).

Thus, by investing more time on what is important and not urgent, we will reduce the number of tasks in the first quadrant in the long term, since we are solving future problems and avoiding the stress that quadrant 1 has. In addition, to spend more time in quadrant 2, we have to detect tasks that fall in quadrants 3 and 4, which are not important to us.

Design belongs to the second quadrant

So, I ask myself again: Is design important in a startup? Although Stephen Covey’s book was written with personal development in mind, as I mentioned earlier, I find this principle fully applicable to different areas of life, including business.

As in our personal lives, it is very common to see how startups focus on the problems that are coming their way and require a solution quickly, thus focusing on the left of the matrix.

In my humble opinion, many startups are impatient – also due to the pressure of time to market – and want to produce quickly, without planning previously (I talked about this here).

Diego PH – Unsplash

The long-term impact of design

Like many other quadrant 2 tasks, we often don’t see a short-term payoff in design. “You can work on it later”, “There are more urgent things.” However, like a company’s financial plan, business strategy, or culture, not working on a product design from scratch will create problems with much more complicated and costly solutions in the long run.

Many times these tasks are not prioritized until we realize that it is a very relevant problem. And the problem that is generated is that you have to do the work that should have been completed from the beginning at once and, in addition, make up all the work of lost time.

For example, in the case of Kypseli, we took a long time to carry out the financial plan, also having to collect months with all the history up to the moment we did it.

A product will have a design for sure. And if the design is not good, it is bad. It cannot have no design.

In the case of design, some even have to redevelop the product from scratch, adding the cost of a development all over again from scratch.

The impact that design has on a product is often overlooked. Working correctly on product design helps to generate traction, but above all user retention and loyalty. Factors that greatly influence the success of a business.

Investors also understand that for a product to be successful, retention – not traction – plays a crucial role. In addition, the perception of the user will change completely depending on the design of the product.

Every company is different

The impact of design on a business will naturally depend on the nature of the business, and I’m not pretending to be absolutely right. But I consider that it is something to take into account, especially for companies that have their business core on a digital product. Companies like Apple, Airbnb, Pinterest or Kickstarter managed to succeed largely due to their focus on design. Also companies like Amazon, Google or Facebook take great care of the user experience in their services to achieve their goals despite not doing it in the beginning.

colour pencils
Neven Krcmarek – Unsplash

I encourage you to comment your opinion on this matter, since it is a topic that will surely have a great variety of opinions. And if you are interested in productivity and personal development, I would recommend reading the book mentioned above, which has many more interesting tips.