At Solace Digital, we are a pioneering product design agency focused on high-performance UI/UX for emerging technology brands. We are also a pre-IPO, startup organization ourselves so we have an especially relevant perspective on challenges facing startup organizations. While there is significant momentum behind the concept of product-led growth (PLG) as a business model and go-to-market (GTM) strategy, we are leading a promising, parallel trend of design-led growth (DLG) that will also be a growth lever. Today, we are sharing our perspective on the benefits of accessing high-performance UI/UX design through on-demand services, an innovative new way for emerging technology brands to achieve fast time-to-market with breakthrough UI/UX for their products and solutions. Ultimately, this is one of the best opportunities for a startup to access the power of design-led growth to supercharge the performance of their new product or solution.
The two things that startup technology companies lack the most are time and money. They are always under relentless pressure to get to market before competitors, show promise in building a respectable pipeline, and demonstrate strong management skills in regards to spend management and effective use of resources. In this context, many “infrastructure-level” investments that are traditionally “permanent or persistent” make less sense because they come with a significant expense, can take a long time to recruit and deploy, and often solve a temporary need. This is why “on-demand” professional services of all kinds are seeing significant demand and creating a market estimated to be $335B+ by 2025 according to research from PWC®.
The range of professional services that can be delivered “on-demand” is incredibly broad, and there will be many organizations who worry about whether high-skill, technical, and precision functions can be successfully fulfilled this way. At the core, solving this challenge is exactly the focus of Solace Digital – providing the perfect fit of on-demand UI/UX services at a calibre of skills, savvy, and expertise that is likely better than a startup technology company could acquire directly on its own.
According to 2022 research from LinkedIn®, effective UI/UX is a proven game-changer in enabling growth:
With many other research studies reinforcing the same point, ensuring breakthrough UI/UX will be one of the most important investments for every emerging technology startup. In this article, we take the perspective of our clients and detail four ways that on-demand UI/UX is the optimal approach for a technology startup and a true gateway to the promise of design-led growth.
On-demand UI/UX in action – NS&I case study
UK Financial Services Organization NS&I turned to Solace Digital to ideate a new mobile solution that could compete with emerging challenger banking brands. NS&I is one of the largest savings organisations in the UK with 25 million customers and more than £207 billion invested. NS&I is both a government department and an Executive Agency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The origins can be traced back 160 years to 1861.
Specifically, NS&I needed a bulletproof way to increase engagement and retention long-term. Internal product owners at NS&I felt a level of innovation was needed to ensure overall customer satisfaction is increased and they continue to propel investment figures. Rather than hire UI/UX expertise in-house, NS&I used Solace Digital’s UI/UX on-demand solution.
Solace Digital proceeded with a 6-week engagement to transform the existing UI and UX with a series of design-thinking initiatives. The end result was a 1-1 clickable prototype ready to be presented to senior stakeholders at NS&I and tested with the customer base. Some of the ideations from Solace Digital are shown below, covering several key user workflows.
Solace Digital, together with NS&I, invited over 100 people at NS&I to present the future prototype, which got the buy-in of numerous senior stakeholders. As a result of this work, we were able to reduce the time-to-value of the primary user journeys by over 50% compared to the existing solution. With open banking integrated, NS&I is on track to increase their mobile investments and deposits.
This case study highlights expertise, agility, fast-time-to-results, and breakthrough UI/UX that likely would have been a much more involved and expensive process if NS&I tried to do this through acquiring, onboarding, and initiating in-house staffing. We put NS&I in a position to achieve performance breakthroughs through design-led growth.
At Solace Digital, our on-demand UI/UX solution is now behind the breakthrough applications that 25M+ users count on every day. From the perspective of our current and prospective clients, here are our top four reasons to adopt this approach and examples of how the right UI/UX can enable design-led growth.
According to recruiting brand Glassdoor®, a highly-talented, senior UI/UX designer will average $140K in annual salary. When you consider that recruiting costs average around 20% of first-year salary in time, advertising cost, and potential use of agencies, the total first-year cost is easily north of $160K. Moreover, top talent UI/UX designers a role with a deficit of available skilled employees relative to the demand, so they can be hard to source, facing a likely six-month minimum recruitment window at best and possibly longer in key technology hubs like London, Berlin, and the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s a significant cost and time burden, especially for an emerging technology brand that’s racing to get its product or solution into the market.
That’s where the emerging UI/UX design on-demand model comes into play. For the small number of agencies now offering this solution, including Solace Digital, this approach directly eliminates all of these challenges and enables a client to connect to a UI/UX expert of the highest calibre quickly. Furthermore, UI/UX design-on-demand eliminates up-front investment in a recruiting agency or platform, which is often better for a startup organization that’s closely watching its expenses in order to best position for future venture investment. On-demand UI/UX solutions also eliminate long-term employment contracts that can further burden a P/L and be a mismatch for fluctuating UI/UX design needs.
Time and Cost Comparison: Direct Hire UI/UX Staff vs. On-Demand
|Time to hire top-tier talent
|6 months to source
1 month onboarding
|~24 to ~48 hours to commence
|Recruiting – $28K
Salary – $140K
|Monthly subscription – ~$10K
|Annual contractual commitment
One-time recruiting and onboarding expense
|Non-binding, monthly subscription fee
Perhaps most importantly, the right on-demand UI/UX solution connects the client to world-class talent who can deliver high-performing, breakthrough UI/UX that will underpin the success of any product or solution. The level of sophistication and expertise required to do this is not typically available through Upwork® or other contracting platforms. At Solace Digital, for example, we only hire the top 1% of UI/UX design talent and use a rigorous evaluation methodology to ensure this standard. Our clients simply focus on progressing their product or solution with the best in UI/UX at an affordable price and with flexible terms. In general, we see clients able to save around 60% or more in the first year as compared to hiring directly.
Emerging technology startups should consider on-demand UI/UX services for cost savings and, more importantly, the opportunity to achieve breakthrough results through access to hard-to-find talent and expertise.
While UI/UX design can be primarily a visual science, we see evidence every day in our own work that underlying performance strategies play a critical role in whether UI/UX is actually effective. The related performance metrics are not the same “sea of acronyms” that are the common language of emerging technology brands such as ARR, CAC, NDR, etc … Instead, there are key performance metrics that truly determine whether UI/UX is underpinning an effective product or solution:
Key UI/UX Performance Metrics for Design-Led-Growth
|Time to complete a task
|:30 or less
|Number of clicks and scrolls to complete a task (combined
|4 or less
|Time on site
Deep expertise in visual design isn’t, by itself, sufficient to achieve design-led growth. A design-on-demand UI/UX solution should also bring you the necessary deep expertise in performance.
Effective branding in UI/UX is a far broader concept than just applying typography, colours, and logo treatments within the product or solution. Our strong conviction is the brand itself will be defined, from the perspective of the user, based on their experience with the product or solution regardless of superficial compliance with traditional brand standards. This is an emerging area of expertise and should be a critical focus for UI/UX design work.
The naming of features and capabilities within the product or solution will become part of the brand, along with the presentation of content, whether on a mobile device or full-size desktop computer. Significant effort and consideration should be applied in these and related areas, likely through several ideations that are user tested.
For example, several US-based banks use a money transfer service within their mobile applications called Zelle®. The way Zelle is integrated into the UI/UX is intentionally very simple with very few buttons, words, colours, or other design elements. In short, the UI/UX around Zelle in a mobile banking application implies simplicity and speed, which is exactly Zelle’s brand proposition. Even the name is easy to remember and will become, over time, the “verb” that describes how money can be transferred – “I’ll Zelle you the funds” becomes the common refrain. In every way, this is the heart of design-led growth, with UI/UX leading to changed user behaviour and increasing consumption of features and capabilities. The screenshot below, from US-based Bank of America®, illustrates the precision branding around Zelle integration into the mobile banking application and reinforces how simplicity becomes a leading attribute of the Zelle brand.
Additional expertise, beyond just UI/UX design, was clearly behind the implementation of Zelle as an integrated service within mobile banking applications, which has helped Zelle to become the #1 money transfer application in the US, with more than double the market share of the first-mover Venmo.® We admire the high precision branding in this example and look to create similar breakthroughs in every client engagement.
A design-on-demand UI/UX solution must include precision branding in the solution – this is fundamental.
The true potential of high-performing UI/UX is that it leads to the discovery of new capabilities, increasing customer affinity, consumption of the product or solution, and ultimately to higher revenue. This is the ultimate example of Design-Led-Growth (DLG), a parallel construct to Product-Led-Growth (PLG), made famous by brands such as HubSpot®.
Discovery, if done correctly, is far more than just placing additional capabilities in view through a menu, buttons, or other screen notifications. Instead, effective discovery is embedding new capabilities in a context that will most likely provoke user engagement. For example, if a user in a mobile banking application is looking at their savings, effective discovery-based UI/UX would encourage the user to consider investment opportunities with the bank from within this part of the application, perhaps even making an offer if the savings was above a certain threshold. The screenshot below, again from the Bank of America mobile application, is a great example of well-executed discovery. Here you can see offers that will lead to the potential consumption of additional services are easily discoverable.
The key to effective discovery is to map out the expected user workflows and find opportunities, within those workflows, to place additional extensions, services, and options in just the right step. This user “journey mapping” is another area of expertise that’s distinct from visual design, and critical to enabling design-led growth. Integrated user testing is often an important part of deploying the right “discovery approach” in a product or solution. This is another area of expertise that we bring to every client engagement.
A design-on-demand UI/UX solution must offer user journey mapping as an area of expertise, in order to enable discovery that opens up DLG to the product or solution.
We encourage all prospective clients in need of UI/UX services to think big about any prospective design-on-demand solution. While the time and cost savings advantages are clear, if you find the right service, you should gain deep expertise in many areas that would require hiring for multiple roles, or that you may not be able to hire for at all. This encompassing approach can be the difference maker in whether you have breakthrough UI/UX performance in your product or solution.
This is the underlying principle behind the founding of Solace Digital. We bring together the top 1% of talent not only in UI/UX, but also branding, user journey mapping, and performance measurement so you can have access to all of the expertise required to achieve a breakthrough, through a single team accessible through a flexible, cost-effective subscription. We call this Design-Led-Growth (DLG), our clients find it to be an incredible opportunity to realize the full potential of the products and solutions they are developing.