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As you all probably know by now, an app called Color was released last week in to the wild. Since it’s release it has received some pretty nasty reviews, rants on twitter (myself included) and parodies. As a person that creates products for a living, I know for a fact that this scenario is a nightmare for the production team. My heart goes out to them. With that said, I think there is a small lesson to be learned here.

If there is one thing that the whole Color fiasco reminded me of (and should remind you as well) is that design matters. We should never forget that. VC’s and start-ups need to wake up, and this is a perfect opportunity for us designers to splash some cold water on their faces.

I won’t go into the the details of how Color faulted, because I think there is a bigger issue at play here: Not enough respect for creatives in the start-up world.

Nowhere in the press did I see a Creative Director’s name being mentioned. All I know is that Color’s core team consists of “Superstar” executives and technologists. But not one word was mentioned about the design team. Who are they? We have no idea. Not one word. That leads me to believe that they either hired junior designers to design a $41M app or there was absolutely no respect for the Creative Director (which leads to all kinds of bad). Both scenarios ignore the importance of design.

I have no idea what Color’s back story is, and what went through the minds of the designers and the executive team. But I am sure that an experienced Creative Director that was respected in the company, would have never allowed the release of the current Color UI design. Even when threatened by ASAP, fictional deadlines and anxious investors, a good Creative Director should be able to handle the pressure. Problems arise when the Creative Director is not respected, decisions made by him/her are disregarded and crappy design is released.

But color isn’t the only one that turns a blind eye to creatives. Rarely do I see start-ups mention their Creative Director or creative team. Why? In this day-in-age, UI design needs to be one of the most important things for a web start-up. VCs need to bath in the glorious fact that they have a really amazing Creative Director in their core team.

Maybe we need to change the terminology from Creative Director to CCO to make it more respectable? Sorry Chief Communications Officer.


Christopher Murphy

March 29, 2011

Great point, Yaron. There are just so many ill-thought through issues with this launch.

Perhaps a step back and a quick checklist through the eyes of a creative would help. For one, the web site - specifically it’s copy - is so poorly thought through it beggars belief. From a usability perspective, in terms of clarifying what the product is and what it’s intended to achieve, it’s surprising that the site was launched as is.

We critiqued it with our Masters students today and there were so many issues we worked through - and that was with design students picking up basic problems that we couldn’t believe were still there days after the launch, not to mention all the negative press.

One wonders if the $41M led to some of these problems. Hubris, perhaps.

Joseph Schmitt

March 29, 2011

While I agree with the core argument that design is majorly important in startups and is more often than not overlooked, I don’t agree that it necessarily means that Creative Directors or Designers need to be “outed.” In fact, if the design team is as essential as you argue, then doesn’t that make them one of the most (if not the absolute most) important asset in the company, a secret worth protecting? There’s a reason we can’t name any of the designers working at Apple while they worked there, except for maybe Jonathan Ive.

Color’s major problem, which you sort of alluded to in the article, is that they let their technology drive their product, instead of letting their product drive their technology. In his interview with Business Insider (http://www.businessinsider.com/exclusive-bill-nguyen-qa-2011-3?op=1), Color CEO Bill Nguyen rambles on and on about how amazing their technology is. That’s great, and I’m sure you spent your $41 million on pretty amazing technical wizardry, but if the product stinks it doesn’t matter one bit.

Color suffers from a major lack of product vision, a problem that any good visionary leader, whether they’re a Creative Director, a CEO, or just a great Project Manager, would have rectified from day 1.

Yaron Schoen

March 30, 2011

@Joe - Yes there are instances where a company is better off shielding / hiding their talent. Heck that is what they did with us at Fi no?

That said If you look at Color’s case, it was all over the press that they have the previous CTO of Linkedin so they weren’t hiding nothing. Trust me, they are not hiding their creative team because I bet they don’t give a shit about them.

Keith Harper

March 30, 2011

Yaron, I agree that startups in general do not place enough emphasis on the creative direction of their product. As Christopher mentioned, copywriting is one of the most overlooked aspects of many startups’ branding. It seems like a lot of this revolves around the fact that many startups are created by folks with a technical or business background. They tend to forget about the visual design, user experience, and clearly communicating what they are. I’m generalizing here, I know, but if you look at many startup products you’ll see this is the case.

I also think there’s a bit of bizaree machismo at play here, especially with Color. They spent a ton of money, hired a bunch of talented people, woopty-do… almost every time I’ve opened up the app, there’s been absolutely no one using it. Even in DUMBO, which is home to a plethora of early adopters! No one cares how much money you received, if no one knows what your product is. And you just gave up a major stake in the profits you (might) make.

I’m not sure how to convince people in the valley that design matters, but what I do love is seeing so many designers creating their own products today. There was a good interview with Jim Coudal yesterday on 37Signals (http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2833-bootstrapped-profitable) about bootstrapping your own products as a designer. If you have the skills to design a product for a client, you have the skills to make a product yourself.

And you don’t need 41 million dollars to do it, good lord.

Mike Rohde

March 31, 2011

Yaron, one possibility mght include the hiring of an outside firm, or multiple outside firms (stand up too much and get fired) and one of the entrepreneur directors acting as a creative director.

I could see in the hired outside firm situations why naming someone might make sense to the directors - they were the CD with a firm(s) doing the production work.

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