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Why is design so important to the success of your SaaS product?

Nisha Gopinath Menon
June 27, 2017

Great design is the only thing differentiating your software-as-a-service (SaaS) product from the products and services offered by your competitors. Just because your SaaS product is beautiful doesn’t mean it’s usable. Great design balances a great user experience (UX) with a great looking user interface (UI) to create a holistic product experience, wowing your customers and turning them into your biggest advocates. Your UI defines how your product looks and your UX defines how your product works. Both are important, but all too often SaaS product owners make a fatal mistake by focusing exclusively on the look and feel instead of placing equal emphasis on usability and aesthetics.

As you build and enhance your SaaS product you get competing feature requests from current and prospective customers. For each new feature you add, your SaaS product gets infinitely more complex. Hide rarely used features within settings screens, but be careful about how you incorporate new core product features. Two customers may want the same feature implemented in two different ways. It’s your job to consider the different ways different customers want to use a feature and create an elegant UX, allowing first-time users to figure out how the feature works without needing to consult a user manual or knowledge base.

You also need to consider UI and UX when your SaaS product works across multiple platforms. Designing for mobile is different than designing for the web, so make sure you’re working with a designer who understands the best practices for iOS and Android. The features your mobile apps support should be the subset of web features people will actually use on mobile. Over time, you can add more features to your mobile apps based on requests made by your customers.

How the design of SaaS products has evolved?

Salesforce and many other first generation SaaS companies focused on making feature-rich enterprise software accessible to small businesses through a subscription business model.

Today, a lot of the companies who are working with the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model are aware of the importance of good design. Many of your competitors here for the long run, design their sites with extreme care. Are they focusing on good design merely to stand out? If my application serves its purpose well, won’t I retain users even without an excellent design? With so many options out there, what could make my application catch the eye? This article is a collection of insights we’ve gained along the way and will help you find most of the answers you’re looking for. Let’s try and understand what made them give such importance to design.

What’s the logic?

We throw the phrases, great “UI” of a web site or bad “UX” of a product, around a lot these days. For ones who are still new to the terms, UX refers to User Experience Design while UI refers to User Interface Design. They both go hand in hand, yet they cater to two different parts of the design discipline. UX design is more technical, and UI is a lot like graphic designing. Think of it like this, UX is more behind the stage like the different organs of your body designed to serve different purposes while UI is what you look like, the presentation. Both of these play a huge role in your product’s success.

In every step of your User Interface Design, how you balance functionality, efficiency, utility, and value will dictate your user experience. Clean design boasting of practical icons, dynamic interfaces, and usability along with an aesthetically appealing design is an integral part of judging how good your design is.

What do great SaaS products do?

Most of us still running in the rat race, start off our days in the same fashion. We wake up and check our messages and maybe scroll through our mails. If you end up stuck in traffic on your way to work, you repeatedly check slack and your mails even though you checked them a while back. When you are mailed a new document or ebook you toss into Dropbox without a second thought. These are typical response patterns of most users, which are involuntary. These apps are no longer a thought out action. It’s a habit. You want your application to be a habit.

In contrast, there is purpose-driven behavior. For instance, when you’re in a new city and search for a good local language translator application, or searching for an editing app for your document, which you’ll probably uninstall once the purpose is accomplished. All of us built an app initially to fulfill a particular purpose. Now the goal should be to convert the purpose-driven action of your user into a habit.

Why should you aim to design a habit-forming product experience?

Every product’s UI design typically focuses on designing for goal-driven behavior. You begin by identifying and developing a set of functionality for your software, catering to both your user and business goals. Good designers ensure your UI design makes it easy for your users to access this functionality.

Now comes the tricky part, how do you keep your users hooked after their honeymoon phase? Most often than not, customers sign up and after some time, leave, when they find a better application. Goal driven UI designs lose their value after a time, while habit-forming designs increase their value.

A habit-forming SaaS UI is deep-seated, addictive and uncomfortable to give up. Consider making the switch from Slack to Facebook’s Workplace. Both serve the same purpose, but if you try changing, you’ll realize it needs conscious effort. Making it easier to stick with Slack. Sticking to Slack represents the kind of habit you want to build for your SaaS product. Your SaaS app should be what your users turn to, without second thought whenever they need to engage in relevant work and ideally, even when not. The more your customers use your product, the more the chance of these habits developing, more they value it and higher the chances of you retaining and building valid clients.

What are the common design issues faced while building SaaS applications?


The User Interface is where you tell your story using as many elements as you believe prudent and necessary. How you arrange these elements together to tell your story is what we consider your layout. This layout will prove crucial to a good user experience.


Your layout might look pretty but how much intuitive sense does it make to your users? You are working on your application day in and day out, so it might seem obvious to you, perhaps your users don’t feel the same? Can your users access the features of your application easily enough without the need of a guide?

Visual Design:

Today, having an application which does the job well, isn’t going to cut it. It has to catch your user’s eye. It has to appeal to them. Don’t go overboard though, remember new habits are built upon old habits. Being original and extremely creative might not always work for you.


There’s no way out. Forms are unavoidable for you to create a database. Your UX designers have to make it an easier pill to swallow, i.e., make it easier for your users to fill them.

What goes into creating a great design?

The first impression:

Your homepage is your landing page, the first impression. In today’s age with the decreasing attention span of your users, it might be your only chance to make an impact. Put a lot of thought into what elements you want on your homepage, and it’s layout. Remember, leave a lot of breathing space in your design, so the most important features quickly catch the user’s eye. Less is more.

Easy Signups:

Make it as frictionless and fast as possible. Simplify the onboarding process, too. Try not to keep credit card details necessary for trial signups.

Contextualize it all:

Don’t send your users to a separate screen for every side task. Ensure the experience is unswerving or as linear as you can make it.
Usability tests: I’m sure you’re already running some basic usability tests. It’s a good practice to run extensive usability tests after every change. If you are running them through your employees or colleagues make sure they are not ones who’ve worked on the product. Unbiased opinion is the purpose after all.


Habits are actions performed over and over again which should be ingrained in your users by repeated rewards. Personalize these rewards. For instance, if yours is a social media app and a particular user tends to open his notifications before viewing messages, then the next time he opens your app, let it open directly to the notifications page rather than the homepage. Make these rewards slightly unpredictable. It’ll keep your users constantly surprised and help you build momentum early on.

Make your users work a bit:

This might sound odd but give them opportunities to customize your SaaS product at every step. The more your users feel they invested in customizing your product, more they’ll stick around. If your app had accumulated a lot of their contacts or songs, etc. the more likely they’ll be to stay since it’s a lot more valuable now than when they started off with a clean slate.

Adopt user-friendly navigation:

The purpose of design is to ensure your product is engaging effectively with your users. Navigation is how they engage, or how the conversation with your product happens. Making your product device-friendly is imperative. Think about making the shift from tab navigation to bottom navigation for smartphones.

Have some fun with the forms:

I get it, it’s boring. What’s fun about it? For starters, ditch the standard browser elements. Customize it, use subtle visual cues, multi-step form design, personalized thank you notes to make it easier for your users. Huge drop down lists requiring a lot of typing, no auto format, not validating errors as you go and blindly following conventions are some of the common and easily remedied issues.

Call to Action:

Typically most of the call-to-action buttons are trying to get users to sign up. Get creative here, but make sure you don’t lose clarity for the sake of creativity. Run some tests and see what appeals best to your customers.
Pictures: Most serious users like a small description to go along with pictures, but for the one’s who are having a quick look, pictures will do. Images are essential though since they leave more of a lasting impression.

Catchy Content:

This is self-explanatory and an obvious point. Still, do not jam your pages with content, pictures work better. Either way, use both in moderation, whatever content you do should be clear and memorable.

Demo & Free Trial:

Most users won’t sign up off the bat. Demo’s and free trials are an easier way to convert them into full-time users. Make sure your users know this is an option from the get-go, a simple way to do it is to make these options visible on the landing page, itself.

 It also doesn’t hurt to give glimpses of the team who’ve worked on the project, makes it a little more personal for your users. Adding testimonials, easy to find contact information, product reviews and reassuring your clients or users by sharing security measures you’ve taken to protect their information are all a part of the many details which go into the making of a great user experience.


This must be a lot to digest, but it boils down to how clean and coherent your design is. It’s about piecing all these tiny details together, keeping in mind the design rules of a habit-forming UI. SaaS has been given so much importance today because of the value businesses have found in having their accounting, sales, content management, enterprise resource planning and their customer relationship management (CRM) connected in the cloud. The popularity of this model is bound to keep growing, and there’s a lot which goes into building applications for this model. Even so, the users only talk about their user experience when asked about this model because, end of the day, it defines their relationship with your product. Don’t underestimate the importance of design for your SaaS application.

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Nisha Gopinath Menon