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As a designer and ex industry creative, I was really interested to see this post over on Ben Kepes’s blog. Here’s the post…
http://diversity.net.nz/how-important-is-design-for-saas-offerings/2008/05/23/

Here’s my comment on the issue…

Design is everything! and its nothing! If you have function without form, people are slow to adopt and will tell people your design sucks.

If you have form without function, people tell people the tool is awesome (even if it doesn’t meet their needs). So you’ll get higher signup rate with higher churn.

But then forget all that because all industries treat design differently anyway.  ;-)

Good design can help viral spread in (for example) vertical creative and IT sectors as people like to ‘be seen to use the cool tools’, however interestingly enough… in the general SME market that XERO and IPayroll are approaching, design means diddly squat – it’s functionality and usability that matters (design is just the icing on the cake).

Note: I do like the XERO design (slick) and dislike the IPayroll design (too 1998) personally.

Yes you need a tidy design, but the SMB market will be captured by meeting their needs at an affordable price without pee’ing them off through usability issues. It could be a wet fish with a screen for the SMB market – but if it ‘does the job’ it’ll sell.

Simple as that!

I’ll put it differently…

If approaching vertical markets like creative or IT, it’s the ‘slickest solution’ that gets the rave reviews. people are fickle in verticals and chase the ‘new hot thing’ so if you don’t ‘meet their needs’ you won’t be in the game for long. We’ve been working hard at ProWorkflow (Project Management Software) for some time to strike the balance between nice design and solid function.

But in the general, wide SMB market, it’s the solution that ‘does the job’ that’ll sell. These people can’t be fooled. If it doesn’t work, they’ll drop it. Forget pretty buttons, 72pt type, mirrors and glows. the SMB market just want you to ‘fix the problem’ whereas many vertical niches want to ‘look cool first, then fix the problem second’

Disclaimer. I’ve been selling to thousands of SMB’s and verticals for 5-6 years and the secret to closing a sales is whether you use design, usability, functionality or pain as the ‘sales closer’.

Knowing which approach to use and when comes with broad experience and experimentation.

Maybe someone should start a business doing ‘Design As A Service’ specifically for SaaS business wanting to use Web2 approaches on new platforms?

We’ll call it DAAS for SAAS on PAAS!

Oh! and FYI… this is an example of exactly what not to do design wise…
Check out: http://www.zogix.com/

God Awful! When Web2.0 design goes bad! Cutesy bubbles, shadows, pink and HUGE type (cos we’re all blind). This is an example of design not being applicable to their market. And there’s no relationship between their site design and the product design.

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About the author:
Julian Stone, CEO – Project Management Software visionary for: ProActiveSoftware.com, ProWorkflow.com & Julian101.com
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About The Author:
Julian Stone begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting is the CEO of ProActive Software, developers and creators of the leading web based project management software http://www.proworkflow.com.