Differentiating with design



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We know the impact design has on user experience and a product’s adoption. But many product designers miss the opportunity to use design as a product positioning strategy.

We invited Poornima Vijayashanker, Founder of Femgineer and former founding Engineer at Mint, to talk with us about how companies have effectively positioned based on design—and how to evaluate a competitor’s design to position your own offering.

Watch the full recording below, or read on for our highlights from Poornima’s talk.


Leveraging design to differentiate

Poornima said strength within a company lies where design spans product and marketing. And bringing in designers to places they should be a part of and are not—that really affects product adoption. 2 of the biggest areas are marketing and sales.


While at Mint, Poornima read the marketing book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The quote in the image above particularly stuck out to her—as innovators, we think we need to make something radically new, but that’s not necessarily what people want. People want to know that there’s a new thing on something that already exists.

“Strength within a company lies where design spans product and marketing.”

Looking at the market, we can see that successful products are not necessarily the new ones. For example, Google was not the first search engine, nor was the iPhone the first mobile device.

So how can designers help position?

Out of the 5 ways a product can differentiate itself (price, promotion, distribution, competition, packaging), designers are uniquely able to help with the last 2—competition and packaging.

Competition and packaging

In the late 90s, you went to Best Buy and bought shrink-wrapped software. Because retail space was hard to get, there were only few players. The lack of competition led to clunky software, small updates every year, and huge manuals. With the rise of SaaS, there’s an astronomical rise in competition—and a lot of that competition is around design.

“It’s more important to design for trust than for ease of use.”

The first thing most people think about when competing around design is usability. But, the demand for ease of use isn’t the most important way to differentiate with design. Trust is actually more important to design for.

As we moved online from the brick-and-mortar stores, we lost the ability to look someone in the eye and ask questions about the product. Without the human element, we must design to develop trust. Poornima recommends that designers have their hand in the entire user process—marketing, sales, product, etc.—to focus on designing for trust.

Here are a few places designers should audit their designs for trust:

  • Landing page
  • Onboarding/first-time experience
  • Customer support
  • Providing ongoing value

Poornima also went over how to evaluate a competitor’s design, and how to position your product against what’s already out there so you appear stronger—a critical step when you’re a startup or in a heavy growth phase where there’s already a strong competitor in the market. She backed it up with case studies from her time at Mint and also with a case study from the product Olark. I encourage you to watch her full talk above!


Margaret Kelsey
Margaret Kelsey leads content marketing at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

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