Design Thinking 101: Soaib Grewal Guides The GPA Startups

The 3rd batch of GPAccelerator has been announced last week. The 6 new startups have got their workspace at GP House and each week they are learning about different topics from the expert mentors. The sessions effectively guide the startups for the success in the long run.

Last week, a design workshop was arranged for the teams. The 2-day workshop was held by Soaib Grewal. Soaib has over 6 years of experience in tech as an entrepreneur, investor, and designer. He’s been a Venture Partner at 500 startups looking at India investments and leading the 500 Design Program. He was the founder of India’s first and only design-led investment firm, BOLD Ventures. He worked with over 100 startups in South Asia, USA, Japan, and Thailand as an investor, mentor, and advisor.

UX or User Experience is the practice or process of defining the solution and enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. Soaib discussed different aspects of UX and designing the product for startups. He ensured that the startups had real learning from the session and held a workshop where the startups applied his lessons to build up their prototype.


Here are the basics of what Soaib discussed in the GPA mentor session.

There are 3 simple principles in UX. First, it should have empathy. It’s crucial that you understand your user and connect with them. Next is a simple concept called MAYA– most advanced yet acceptable. You need to find the right balance for the product or solution which will be easily accepted by the users but it also has to be futuristic. Lastly, you need to move fast. It’s important to move in faster pace and iterate. He suggested few UX rules for the startups.

  • It’s important to change and focus on very small things. Rather than redesigning the full thing, it’s better to do little changes regularly. He suggested concentrating on impactful-incremental design.
  • For the startups, it will obviously be difficult to have separate design teams at the very initial stage. He suggested creating processes that integrate the core component of design in the development process.
  • He insisted that startups should get out of the building and get user feedback regularly. Without the right feedback, it’s pointless to build something that you will later find your users don’t like.
  • He suggested using templates. This will make things easier and save your time.
  • Documentation is important. He suggested that startups should document and measure the right kind of information. There should be a way to measure the impact of any design.

Startups have less time to go through complexity. So they need to follow some simple systems or structure. Soaib talked about the incremental design process. There are 3 components- discover, design and build. It’s a continuous process and you need to iterate in between. Once you have built it, you need to add more values. Thus discover new ways to add values and continue the process.



You need to find the problem and get answers. We often spend a lot of time finding the solution without talking to the customer. But that’s a very wrong approach. It’s critical to talk to customers first.

Design statement

Initially, you should have a design statement which will clearly and concisely describe the problem, concept, and impact. It will bring more focus and help you measure the impact.

User research

User research is critical. You need to track user behavior on a regular basis and identify the pain points. It’s important to get in their shoes to know what motivates them and what do they want.

You can also do passive research overtime without directly going to them. Google analytics is the best tool for this purpose and there are many such more tools. You can get lots of information by studying the pattern in which users use your app or website. You need to track what your users actually do, how they do it and find a demographic pattern. You can optimize your website by customizing what users click more in definite spaces. Also, you can find out how far down users scroll down or how much time they spend on each segment. Based on this information you should build your UX and put important information where necessary.

Passive research is not aggregated and thus you will always need active user research. You need to have research objective or plan.

  • Who are you going to interview, what do you want to find, mode of the interview- should be planned initially.
  • In most cases, especially if you are building a SAAS business, you should not focus on getting feedbacks from friends and family.
  • Also, you need to find the right people to talk to. You can send a questionnaire and find out if they know the basics. From them, you can select people you should talk to and save lots of time and energy.
  • While you interview, you should ask lots of WHY. Rather than having a questionnaire, you should have a script to have a normal conversation.
  • If and when possible, it’s better to take interviews directly. If not available, then skype or phone conversation could be done.
  • Leading questions should never be asked. Instead of asking “Why do you like this feature?”, you should ask “Which feature do you like best?”
  • Lastly, you should be recording everything.


  • Create a framework how you are going to do analyze the information from research and feedback.
  • Collect information both internally and externally. Take interviews and also see the pattern of their usage behavior or motivation
  • Cross-check the information from passive and active research. Often under pressure, interviewees may say things that are not right. Figure out if there are any false positive or negative.
  • You should have a benchmark that you can compare to. See the industry structure, competitors, your past structure and find a benchmark and analyze based on that.


Persona is a semi-fictional character to represent your target user and behavior based on your research and real data about customers. There are few things you need to have while creating the persona

  • Picture is important to relate to your persona
  • Give the persona a name for the same reason
  • Demographic information such as age, gender, location, etc should be added
  • Personality and preference must be there
  • Technological behavior- how digital are they, what other apps are they using, etc should be included
  • Their goals and motivations must be added
  • Personal quote or mottos should be included to show their aspiration
  • Have the general information first, then add additional information connecting your persona to your product
  • You can obviously have several persons and persona are not static. Over time they are going to change.



In the design stage, you will build your prototype. Based on what you found out in the discovery stage, you will figure out the best product features and implement them.

Design statement

Describe the problem you have and how you are solving it. Define the concept and research your objective and process. In the design statement, include the problem they are facing, the idea to solve that problem, business goals, user goals and KPI (key performance indicator). Be as specific as possible. It’s an incremental process so concentrate on small flow/feature regularly.

Used cases

Used cases are a description of the users’ pain point, scenario related to it and your intervention. It will help uncover opportunities for your product.  Define the problem, scenario, proposition, aftermaths, and features requires. You will find multiple scenarios to the problem and you need to relate where the product will be in the scenario.


Don’t get married to your first idea. Figure out different ways to solve the problem and iterate. Conceptualization is an iterative process of sketching and exploring multiple concepts for execution. It’s scrape process. Start with over 20 different ideas and figure out what makes sense. Narrow down the ideas and reach to final 1-3 best ideas.

  • User flows

It’s a step by step flow of user action. It will define how multiple features relate to one another. You will revisit the used cases and capture all ideas and thoughts. All those will be compiled together into a logical group and the flow will be mapped.

  • Paper models

You should not go direct into digital design. First, you should make rough sketches as it will save time for more ideas. Make the sketches in real size template so that when you go digital you know the sizes. Sketch multiple iterations of the page or features. This is super flexible as everything is rough and you can easily dump ideas. It will help you to get through multiple ideas easily.

  • Wireframes

This is not the finalized product or prototype. It’s a low profile digital representation of the prototype. It will be the blueprint of your site or app. It will define the form, feature, content without getting caught up in details. It will also help to test the flow and architecture. You can skip this process and jump to mockups. But if you have a complex product or if you have multiple mockups then wireframe will help a lot. Also if you are working on something which needs to change behavior or is a radical idea you should use wireframe.

  • Mockups

This is the final or ready to test/code prototype. This will make the app realistic for communication and understanding leaving nothing to the imagination. In this stage, you should add design details to the wireframe. You need to think about the aesthetic: color, font, icons, typography, etc.



Once you have tested the mockups, you are ready to build. Build the final product with coding. You will further have to test the app or site for speed, efficiency and get feedback. But as mentioned earlier, this is a continuous process. At this point you are not done; rather you will again go back to the discovery stage to find out what new values you can add.

Nahid Farzana