QueryPie Development #13: Startup Design Trends at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019
It seems just like yesterday that I was thinking about the brand concept and naming of QueryPie, but it’s already been more than three months since it’s opened to the public. Even before the launch of the service, I really worried about maintaining consistent branding and design tone. At that time, due to my busy schedule I didn’t have a chance to document the process. But then we joined the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019, and decided to outline how we developed QueryPie’s branding and which trends the SaaS industry’s design is currently following.
Working as a designer in an IT field, especially in a company where software is the main service, means constantly having to look for different services to study as well as research IT/SW trends every day. But in many cases, the channels on which the design is expressed are often confined within my computer display. So I was happy for a chance to participate in offline events and check out various references!
SaaS Design Trends: Minimal & Bold
Before I talk about what I saw in person, I want to talk about the 2019 SaaS Design Standard. A very clear concept is visible from the first glance: a dark background, a bold, clean Sans-serif font, and a bold, serif-type font that is a bit more unique than the rest. This trend is based on expressions and the context that it is a good design to remove obstructions in nature, and “minimal design” or “bold font” are typical forms.
This style was naturally followed by thinking about how to simply and clearly deliver content to users. As with most IT brands, SaaS designs are also reacting to these design trends (i.e., trends that care for users) by incorporating new technologies and designs.
In addition, customized illustration (the example of Slack below, Avocode) became wildly popular in 2018 as a way to better describe the service, which has continued to be maintained and further developed so far in 2019. This illustration naturally becomes a brand storyteller, communicates with users and effectively persuades users. People continue to want friendly and better-looking services, and these needs are naturally permeated and expressed in the SaaS design community.
TechCrunch Disrupt & Design Research
TC Disrupt is an IT/tech conference that has been held every year since 2011 in various countries including San Francisco, New York and Berlin. The reason why start-up markets are paying attention to TC Disrupt is because many start-up companies with high business potential are participating. In fact, Dropbox is one of the unicorns that previously participated in the TC Disrupt Startup Battlefield! This year I was also able to participate in the conference of an enterprise solutions company called BOX, which can be entered with the TechCrunch pass. It was good to meet a large number of people related to the industry.
Reflecting the design trend mentioned above, most startups participating had many brands that used bold Sans-serif fonts as their main fonts, and many tools were implemented in a clean and easy-looking manner. In general, AI was the main keyword of this year. Many brands have been promoting AI-based services, and I want to talk about some companies whose designs really impressed me.
The service implements AI technology into a company meeting, record the meeting content, summarize it and leave a history of it. It also has smart software that can manage schedules in the future. The brand gives a clean impression with its logo, which is the form of layered digital signal processing, voice text, etc. There were many factors that were designed to make the product stand out, like the font, color, and layout.
The application also has the right mix of brand colors. The simple value that Notiv is trying to convey is well-structured, and I was really impressed with the unified output accessible offline.
The brand Otter, which I personally really liked, is also smart software that allows users to record everything they talk about and convert it into text with AI. Users can also search, play, edit, organize and share those recordings. Sadly, since this application only supports English, it cannot be used in any country that doesn’t support English.
Otter designed the logo with a motif of voice text and signals like Notiv. The final shape seems to be close to the original meaning of an otter laying down or floating in water. The otter-like illustration really sends a cute and friendly vibe for the service. I don’t know what the relationship between recording conversations and an otter is, but I think they did their best in expressing their service the best they could.
The application was full of life, just like the brand’s appearance. They have a simple screen but it’s never boring. Using icon animations and the graphic pattern of an Otter in place of loading screens , various elements are placed to entertain the user at all times. Using Google Sans Font, they raised the font balance of the application and made Otter feel closer to the clean service delivered.
Autopass is a service in Taiwan that plans to pay and manage gas bills through apps without cards, as well as paying for parking or just finding parking areas. It was one of the brands that I really wanted to visit after I saw the character from the app on their website. To my pleasant surprise, the detail and individuality of the design I saw online was maintained offline. They worked really well with a large layout, and filled several pages with a cool feeling. The yellow color really caught the eye even from afar.
It was interesting for me to see that the head designer was also at the booth, working hard to promote the app. I learned that he previously worked as a designer at LINE (a popular chatting app in Japan and Korea), where they’re known for their cute UI and stickers. So it made perfect sense that Autopass also has a cute character!
Vivoo is a brand that provides individuals with a urine tester to check and track their health conditions daily through the app. I assume they used a bright mint color to give an impression of self-care and health. The form of the logo was a flexible liquid, an organism-type object, which really conveyed the voice of the brand well. In fact, when I saw the product package, it made me feel like I wanted it even though I didn’t know what the product actually entailed.
However, I felt like the completeness of the offline branding didn’t translate well when it was moved online. I wished they had done more with the application itself and the homepage by playing around with the organic form of Vivoo using various designs.
Overall, many of the companies that participated in TC Disrupt were composed mainly of AI and blockchain, with similar tones and manners, so for me there was no discovery of unique or immense ideas that inspired me as a designer. But even though they are all start-ups, most brands seemed to have done a great job in tackling the difficult task of translating their service characteristics into their design. I know it’s a hard task, since I personally ran into that issue as well when working with QueryPie. I was always wondering, how can I explain this service through design while also thinking about all the devices and details involved?
So what is the brand personality of QueryPie? And are we translating our service well through out design?
QueryPie Branding & Design
From the initial stage of planning QueryPie, the design team not only did a close analysis of the industry’s trends, but also had a great desire to breathe life into a new brand. We wanted to add this brand into the existing database services industry, which doesn’t place much importance on branding or design. It all started at the beginning of 2019, when I worked hard to create this brand and infuse meaning into the service through the logo, color theme, and unique graphics.
As we prepared for TC Disrupt, the design team decided to try and visualize the service with just a few simple objects. We wanted to use Circle-type objects to represent gatherings at offline conferences and our growing community events in a graphic manner. And when we stepped back to look at the final result, the design team agreed that it was a quite satisfactory outcome.
I wanted to give a sense of unity by using solid colors for QueryPie. We had many internal meetings before the work even started, discussing how to save the feel of the original design prototype without an awkward or detached aftereffect when everyone was put into one frame. In fact, when doing graphic work, if all team members don’t agree or have the same vision, some of the work will come out with contrasting outcomes. That’s why we worked hard to continuously communicate with each other and keep the overall theme unified.
We also couldn’t leave out the slogan that tied into our brand concept (QueryPie is as easy as pie!). Since the subject of databases can sometimes be hard to understand, we searched for various ways to reach users in a friendly and easy manner that wasn’t too cliché.
We thought hard about how to make our brand more enjoyable, from the color and language tone, style of illustration, and even details like the layout and how to fill the area.
One of our attempts included printing fun phrases developers would enjoy (i.e. niche jokes) on t-shirts and handing them out as gifts/prizes at TC Disrupt. It was well received by many people. We even made stickers and badges with cute illustrations, which attracted a lot of attention!
On par with the SaaS design trend, and in comparison with other start-ups at TC Disrupt, QueryPie has a stable visual element that is a strong competitor with neighboring brands. However, I’ve been wondering more and more about the function of the product, including visuals, themes, and whether the UI represents real users’ desires.
Design is an area that eventually works to understand users, find alternatives for users, make access more convenient, and increase productivity. Although every service has its own unique design and personality, eventually in the business realm we belong to, the relationship between visual elements and components should be constantly evaluated to value clarity and convenience and provide clear usability.
So when working as a designer in the database industry, you should have a better understanding of industry terms such as SQL, Database, Data warehouse, and follow users’ work processes as much as possible. However, focusing on one industry reduces opportunities to be inspired in a variety of areas and can create work that is lost in creativity or trapped in a mold, so it is most important to look outside your own industry bubble to find some balance.
No one can predict how many users we’re going to have, how many changes we’re going to make and what we’re going to be doing in the end, but designers still need to be able to anticipate, ask, and ultimately make suggestions to users. This experience was a great opportunity for me to think carefully about if we’re heading in the right direction, and if we are, to find a good balance once we get there.