Interview with Stefan Szakal, X3: what design can do for your startup

Stefan’s entrepreneurial drive has always been a big part of his personality. Coupled with his unwavering passion for design, this deep seated innovative and creative attitude led him to create one of the most successful design studios in Romania: X3.

Stefan set a very high bar for himself and his team, which he has been working on maintaining and surpassing for the past 12 years. X3‘s work for hundreds of clients on User Experience & Interface Design, Interactive Media, ID & Print Design, Motion Graphics and much more, has enriched them with valuable market experience. We consider Stefan to be a design maven and his articulate thoughts about building a startup are the glue that binds it all together. Let’s hear more directly from him:

1. How can design be used as leverage for a startup?

Gone are the days when design was an afterthought. Today, it is part of (if not even driving) the product development process. Why? Because the companies that understood that “design is not just how it looks – it is also how it works rewrote the rules. So, to answer your question: by understanding what it means and by doing it amazingly well.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with How to Web and what type of experience have you gained from it?

This is our third year of working together, one way or another (X3 is proud to be a main partner for the second year in a row!). The people you meet, the stories you hear, the lessons you learn are all eye-openers in their own right and make for an event to which you can truly apply the “you have be there” rule.

3. How do design trends, such as flat design, radiate from an ecosystem, such as Microsoft’s Metro interface? How do they modify user behavior?

This is a very good question and I will probably spend most of my (presentation) time trying to answer this. In a nutshell though, design trends reflect changing user behaviour, a process that evolves as the users evolve and become more technologically savvy. Microsoft’s Visual Language (formerly known as Metro) is a response to the changing user behavior needs – and not the other way around. They have not created a new trend at all – they recognized that a new, user-driven, flat design-oriented trend is coming.

4. How important is for a business to innovate in terms of design? How can they manage design changes versus maintaining a coherent visual identity in the consumer’s mind?

Assuming that we’re still talking about tech businesses (and not on a general level), this all comes down to branding, to how you position yourself in your client’s mind. Branding is not just a design thing, a logo or an interface; it is also a set of values, principles maybe even a “mission statement” that drives you, as a company. If this is clearly understood by all stakeholders, including your consumers, the visual changes will be not only accepted, but welcomed.

5. How can lead generation be improved by using new forms of disseminating content, such as dynamic grid layouts or minimalist landing pages?

I usually try to stay away from these types of question, because these usually have more to do with a strategy than the design. But, indeed, a good designer will tell you what works best and for which type of consumer (or consumer device targeted). So, I don’t think that “dynamic grid layouts” or “minimalist landing pages” in themselves will actually improve lead generation – I believe that effective content is the one that speaks to its target audience using the right words and right visual design elements.

We’re happy to have X3 as a main partner again this year and if you want to meet Stefan and hear him talk at How to Web, don’t forget to get your early bird ticket!

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