Building your own startup or being part of a startup team is no easy feat, especially for lean teams. Startup teams often have many skilled people who are doing many different jobs. However, a critical component you can't forget about when developing your product is user experience (UX) design.

UX design is a core factor in product development. Without it, your team can end up making decisions in the dark and find themselves wasting resources trying to fix what isn't broken while neglecting issues that hurt the business in the long run.

The good news is that basic UX design principles and processes are relatively straightforward, and just learning and implementing these best practices can make huge improvements as your business grows.

In this guide, we'll be addressing all the need-to-know aspects of UX for startup teams, including:

  • The importance of UX design for startups

  • Building UX expertise in your startup team

  • UX design strategies and best practices for startups

  • UX design steps for startups

  • The best UX design tools for startups

We'll also include some advice and experience from startup folks about their UX design journeys.

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Importance of UX design for startups

First, let’s address why UX design is so important for startups. This will also show you why your team should prioritize it from the get-go.

UX design for startups

1. User retention and satisfaction

If you focus on UX design, you show your early adopters your team's commitment to providing a positive experience. As a result, they're more likely to become repeat customers, which will help build your startup's sustainability.

2. It helps save you time and money

While devoting resources to UX design as early as possible might seem like an added cost, well-thought-out designs typically reduce the need to go back to the drawing board later for costly revisions after you launch your product.

3. It increases your conversion rates

By simplifying the user journey and making your information architecture more intuitive for your users, you can guide them more efficiently toward a purchase or sign-up. For example, Matt Little, Director and Owner of Festoon House (an outdoor lighting company based in Australia), prioritized UX early and found implementing recommendations from research resulted in a 15% increase in conversion rates.

4. Competitive advantage

Plenty of industries are crowded with competitors offering similar products or services, so a great UX design can make all the difference in helping your brand stand out among a sea of other brands in your field.

5. It helps you gather valuable customer feedback

If you're not proactive about getting feedback from your customers, you can miss out on critical information about how customers use your product and what improvements or features they’d like to see.

6. It helps generate brand loyalty

Similar to the first point, creating positive experiences for your users means you're more likely to retain them as customers. Great UX is a significant factor in optimizing brand loyalty.

7. UX design helps increase revenue

Given the above factors, it's safe to say that an effective UX design increases revenue by driving more sales and building a loyal customer base.

With all of those points in mind, investing in UX design for your startup team is a no-brainer. But how do you go about it? The rest of this guide will help you navigate UX for your team, regardless of your industry.

Building UX expertise in your startup team

Building a startup team is difficult on its own; adding the job of learning UX can seem overwhelming at first. So, how do startups do it? We asked several startup folks about their experience building UX expertise within their teams, and here's what two of them had to say.

Cache Merrill, Founder of Zibtek, a custom software development company, started developing UX knowledge in his team using three approaches: training and workshops, continuous learning, and hiring specialized talent.

"Training and workshops: We started by conducting in-depth training sessions and workshops for our team members. This involved bringing in UX experts to share knowledge and insights and subscribing to leading UX/UI design courses.

Continuous learning: UX is an evolving field, so we ensure continuous learning through regular updates in workshops and online courses, allowing the team to stay updated with the latest UX trends and tools.

Hiring specialized talent: As we grew, we invested in hiring UX specialists with robust portfolios who brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team."

Specific training and workshops, and hiring team members with existing UX skills, were popular choices among the founders we spoke to. But what if you don't have the budget to send your team members to dedicated courses (at least not at first)?

Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter, a business training and consultancy firm, decided to focus on practicing UX and cultivating a UX mindset before building capabilities:

"From scratch to user-centric: We initially didn't have a dedicated UX designer, but we started small. I championed incorporating user research into every step. The marketing team, for example, started creating surveys and conducting customer interviews to understand user pain points. This data informed our product development roadmap, even in those early days.

Cultivating a UX mindset: We didn't just collect data – we used it. We encouraged everyone, from developers to product managers, to think about the user experience. We held workshops on user empathy, usability testing basics, and the importance of clear information architecture. This fostered a company culture where everyone felt responsible for creating a smooth user journey.

Building the UX arsenal: Even without a dedicated UX person, we invested in building our UX capabilities. We subscribed to user testing platforms, invested in prototyping software, and created a central repository for user research data. This streamlined the UX process and made it easier for everyone to stay on the same page. We trained specific team members on these tools and basic UX principles, allowing them to champion user-centricity within their roles."

The experiences of these startup teams tell us that you can take a couple of short and long-term actions to build UX expertise:

  • Short-term: Start practicing right away. Collect user data through surveys and other usability tests to get used to conducting UX research, and sign up for some UX design courses and workshops to build foundational knowledge of what to do with your initial datasets.

  • Long-term: Cultivate a UX culture throughout the whole team to lessen the load, encourage everyone to contribute to good UX practices, and hire UX people as early as possible to bring further expertise to your team.

Want to learn more about how to start user research and usability testing early in your startup? Check out our interview with Paul Cheek, the Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. 

UX design best practices for startups

Now that you know how to build knowledge within your team, what best practices can you implement immediately to put that knowledge into practice?

UX design for startups

Collaborate with team members from other disciplines

Introducing diverse perspectives can help you discover new solutions to design problems and identify issues you might not have considered. So, you shouldn't think about UX design in terms of a siloed team. Work cross-functionally and have other team members such as marketers, sales reps, developers, and customer service weigh in by gathering data and proposing solutions.

Align your UX strategy to business objectives

While you'll carry out user research and use it to make design decisions, an overarching best practice is to make sure that everything you do is aligned with a business goal or objective. This point is especially important for implementing UX for lean startups. You need to spend every resource effectively, because research will take time and require a budget.

It can help to work backwards. Take one of your business objectives – for example, to increase conversion rates on your product pages – then figure out what usability testing methods you can use to find issues and propose solutions.

Make data-driven decisions

Similar to the above regarding conserving resources, use data from UX research to make design decisions. Jon Morgan had a great insight on this: "We love creativity, but emotions don't pay the bills. We base design decisions on user research data and A/B testing results. This ensures our UX is not just beautiful but also effective in driving user engagement."

After all the work that goes into UX design, the last thing you want is to make changes that users didn't want or need – data can help you be sure about your decisions.

Keep the fundamentals in mind at every stage

UX design trends can come and go, and while it's a good idea to keep on top of what's happening in the industry, you should always keep these UX design fundamentals in mind.


Navigating a slow, clunky website or app is one of the few universally hated experiences. UX design folks can work with developers to ensure good responsiveness.


You need to make sure that your product or service is accessible to as many users as possible, which means keeping people with disabilities in mind. For example, you should use high color contrast for visual impairments and alt-text for images, and make sure that you don't automatically enable video sound for people with audio sensitivities.

Clear hierarchy in your information architecture

Your website or app navigation needs to make sense for your users, otherwise they can get confused or frustrated when trying to find what they need. Card sorting and tree testing are great methods to help you build your information architecture (IA).


Above all, UX design aims to make your user experience the best it can be. So, everything you design needs to put the needs of your users first, not what you think they want or need.

These UX best practices will help you build a product or service your users will love and return to often.

UX design strategy steps for startups

With all the knowledge and best practices at your fingertips, you can start developing a UX design strategy for your startup. The structure of your strategy can be summarized in five steps.

UX design for startups

Step 1: Define your business goals

Before you start any UX work, you should define your business goals and objectives beyond "increase revenue." The SMART acronym may be an oldie, but it's still a goldie. Using the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) can help you clearly define goals and identify the metrics you'll use to track progress.

Step 2: Get to know your audience through research

With your business goals in mind, you'll have a better idea of the direction you'll want to take your research – but it always starts with your audience. In the first instance, you'll want to conduct research that a) helps you identify your user base and ideal customers and b) create user personas to help you identify participants for further research and propose solutions to improve the UX for those personas.

A few UX research methods you can use to get valuable data during this phase are:

  • User interviews: Great for explorative research.

  • Surveys: To get some quantitative feedback data.

  • Tree testing: To determine what good IA looks like for your users.

  • Content analysis of customer support tickets: To help identify real user issues and their severity.

  • Social listening: Check for mentions of your brand on social media and forums to identify issues and most-loved features.

Using at least one (preferably multiple) of these methods will give you a ton of insights as you move into the next step.

Step 3: Use the research to outline solutions

Now that you have some real data, you can use the feedback and insights you gathered to outline design solutions that address needs or issues that came out of the research. You'll probably have more than a few projects, especially as a startup.

As a result, it'd be useful to rate your solution ideas based on the severity of the need (e.g. high, medium, low priority, or a 1–10 rating system). Once you've determined which ideas need working on first, you can move on to the next step.

Step 4: Build a UX roadmap

Next, you'll want to start organizing your projects; otherwise, it'll be easy to get overwhelmed, make mistakes, and lose track of what your team is working on at any point. Building a UX or product roadmap is a great solution here. You can place your projects on a timeline, scrum board, or GANTT chart to clearly outline what you should be working on and when.

Keep in mind that your roadmap shouldn't be set in stone. As you complete projects, you'll want to continue validating the changes, running further tests, and iterating on your designs, which leads us to the last step.

Got an ambitious product roadmap and not sure how to prioritize which features to build first? Use our closed card sorting template to find out how your users categorize product features as high, medium, or low priority.

Step 5: Iterate and optimize

If you want to design a great product that your users love, you'll want to adopt a continuous product discovery framework. This means gathering data and insights on an ongoing basis rather than at specific intervals. You'll then be equipped to continuously iterate and begin the product development process cycle as your startup grows.

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Best UX design tools for startups

With all of the above in mind, you're probably itching to start. So, now we'll give you some pointers toward the best tools you can use. We've already created some in-depth tool round-ups, so we'll direct you to those:

  • UX research tools: We explore the best UX research and testing tools, their key features, pricing options, and how they can enhance your overall user experience strategy.

  • Usability testing tools: We round up the best usability testing tools for gathering feedback.

  • Product management tools: This guide considers a few areas of product management, such as collaboration tools, design and wireframing, analytics, interview recording tools, and more.

  • Interview scheduling tools: Discover the best online interview scheduling tools for UX research.

  • Prototyping tools: A comprehensive guide to the top prototyping tools for UX/UI designers, including key features and pricing plans.

If you're ready to start practicing UX design and building a great user experience, sign up for a free Lyssna plan and see for yourself how easy it is to get valuable UX insights from day one. 


Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.

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