Design is the New Competitive Advantage

October 31, 2012

Kelly Reid | | 10/31/2012

For Startups, Design is the New Competitive Advantage


The Morningstar Theater is an auditorium in the sky.  Actually, it’s in the heart of Chicago‘s Loop, seven stories above Daley Plaza, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.  The presentation  backdrop?  A full frame view of City Hall.   Down to the last detail, it seemed like the ideal venue at which to gather some of Chicago’s leading designers and developers.

This TED-style day of presentations and interactive sessions offered attendees access to the knowledge of fantastic speakers**  like  Jason Fried (37signals)and Matt Shobe (Feedburner, The Designer Fund).  The event was organized by Built In Chicago as an effort to bring design-centric development to Chicago’s booming technology scene. is one of a number of growing technology-centric organizations in Chicago helping to bring together the sometimes-disparate entrepreneurship community.  Along with projects like  co-working space 1871, online magazine and event series Technori and structured programs like 1871′s Excelerate Labs, Sandbox Industries and the Startup Leadership Program*, has been instrumental in the growth of this still-burgeoning tech community.


Feel the heat.  Allow it to focus you.

Jason Fried, of Chicago-based software company 37signals, opened up the conference with a torrent of knowledge. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jason speak a few times and it’s clear that when he’s on stage, you’re in the presence of a master.  This time was no different. Most people who know 37signals think of them as a software company, and they’re right;  37signals is a company that builds software.  Jason was sure to clarify that design is at the very core of their business, equally as important as the code itself.  As a developer building out an application for mobile usage, I am quickly being forced to learn design.  Both from a technological perspective and an artistic perspective, it has been a monumental challenge to sync up the inner workings of financial software with rapid and intuitive user experience.  Jason also made sure to emphasize how valuable hybrid engineer-designers are to modern businesses.   Other developers, take heed.  Learn some CSS, read some books on design, start hanging out with designers.  Having an ‘all-in-one’ developer also helps a company run more efficiently, bringing two different competencies to the organization in one package.  This all fits in with Jason’s principle of starting small, staying small, and making the most of your resources.

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