It's around 3:15 PM in the afternoon and I'm in a relatively sober and calmer state of mind than what one would usually find me in on a Saturday evening. Which is why what I'm about to say will make sense. Ask me the same question 5 hours from now and you might witness Smeagle snap at you if you were to steal his precious ring right in front of him.
29,48,193. That's the number of times I might have had or heard this debate amongst designers, developers, entrepreneurs, founders, investors, customers in multiple cohorts (always wanted to use that term, and I hope I used it correctly). The outcome of those debates has sadly resulted into friendships going sour, work environments getting negatively affected, investors not investing, entrepreneurs become all insecure...well you get the point.
There is no absolute answer to this. There really can't be. Every business, regardless of the problem it solves, has something deeper than it's functional relevance. It's the way in which it solves that problem. Let me repeat it again and this time say it slowly with me. It's - the - way - it - solves - that - problem. Regardless of it's aesthetic soundness, the colors, the copy, the layout, the placements, some products despite their ugliness seem to be doing a kick-ass job. So much so that they assigned a term to it: 'Brutalism'! See the question isn't really "Should your start-up focus on UX/UI?" The question perhaps should be:
"What happens if your start-up doesn't focus on UX/UI?".
1. You lessen your chances:
All businesses, startups, while are usually a culmination of a few individuals crazy hard work, also have a strong element of chance which really can't be controlled. You can try, but you can't control it. Now having a good UX and UI won't guarantee you your first Porsche after your successful buy-out, but it can sure as hell increase your chances drastically (Not of the Porsche, but of repeat users - which I'm told is more important). Any chance you get to beat the odds I say you take it!
A good experience and interface helps you enhance that "something deeper" in your product which you already have. Could you have imagined driving in a car that has the same features as that of Tesla, the same benefits, the same founder, the same promise but it LOOKED like something you'll find as the first few options of the search result: "Worlds ugliest car"?
See what I mean? Now we can sit on a round table and have an "intellectual" debate on whether the first two designs would have worked or not, but conventional wisdom would say otherwise.
Think of good UX / UI as something that helps you get your Model S out and not....those.
2. You piss users off
The average user today has much shorter an attention span and patience than a fruit fly. Giving second chances are occurrences that happen as frequently as we see Halley's comet. Interestingly us humans love beautiful things. We naturally get drawn to things that look good and that are perceived to feel good.
Brain scan studies prove that an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement.
Now why would you not want that? While the statement above does have a shady undertone of sorts to it, won't you want your users reaching out for your product / service all the time? Don't you want them to engage with your product / service for as long as they can? A good UX / UI can make that happen. It's been proved time again: beautiful things, if made to work well, will go a long way.
3. You're broadcasting your weakness.
Not having a good UX/UI today is a weak point and is NOT something you should be proud of. No matter how good your product is.
With trending buzz-words like 'Human centered design' and 'Design led thinking' being used as commonly as prepositions in big business lingo, having a product with bad design puts you in the "You just don't get it" category.
But that's really the least of your concerns. With bad design you're not only telling the whole world that you really don't get it but that you're oblivious to it. A product, any product, regardless of it's functional efficacy and problem solving ability, today NEEDS good design to augment it. Wake up! It's not a luxury anymore. It's an absolutely necessity. And the one's that don't get it, fail to attract all those that your business needs in the early days: Influencers, Early Adopters, Investors (Angels and Devils). Make no mistake. That's a weakness.
Not having good design isn't really a big clink in your armour, it's the lack of it.
4. Your competition will beat you to it.
Now what does your competition do when they see you have no armor. They attack and in this case they don't even need to come at you with all they have. You're an easy target. A sitting duck. A roasted goose. It's easy for someone to take something that you have, reverse engineer it, make it look a tad better than what you have and go to market.
The truth? It really doesn't matter to the market about who's come in first anymore. What matters is who offers a better time, a better experience. Enter a well researched UX approach augmented with an even well researched UI.
I hope you enjoyed reading all this as much as I did typing it. It's around 6.55 PM right now and I'm about to shut my system, plug out, get off the grid and relax proudly having convinced myself that I made a difference to you and your business. But the thing is, regardless of whether you agree or disagree to what's been said till now you cannot deny the relevance of good design and experience in the life-span of any newly launched product especially in the early days. I'm going to sign off with a phrase I drop commonly in my conversations with clients, friends and my parents....
Design...Good design is an investment. Not a gamble. It will pay off. It always does.