08/12/2013 02:39 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

The Secret to Any Successful Brand? Design or Die

We've received a lot of compliments about the design of Doorsteps, which I'm always eager to pass along to our team. It makes us feel good. But it depresses me at the same time. Why? Because design should be a cost of entry. For us, "great design" is just another way to say "the app is intuitive to use." This doesn't come easy, granted, but it's definitely table stakes. Or at least it should be.

People often talk about the power of brand. In the digital world, brand isn't about logos or taglines, as nice as those things can be. Publicity, marketing, great brand names -- all of those things are necessary. But they're useless when the product experience is unpleasant. Brands are built off the backs of the user experience. Design's role is not to make something look pretty. It's to make something useful. Beauty can be a nice byproduct of deep usability, but it's never the goal. That's why design should accomplish three important things:

1. It should clarify

Any given website seemingly possesses an entire universe of content. Great design streamlines content so users can easily find the right nugget of content when they need it. It should be visual, scanable and easy to navigate. Information should be simplified and streamlined with everything in context -- including the ability to ask questions.

Think about it. When things are clear, people are happy. When I search through my Gmail for a message I sent back in 2007 and I find exactly what I need, I find an odd but satisfying sense of peace. When I browse a website that is intuitive, it mitigates the risk that I'll make a mistake or miss the information I need, and that makes me feel like all is right with the world.

And that leads me to the next point...

2. It should delight
Why does creating a positive emotional state for your customers matter? Because when customers are delighted by your brand experience, they're more likely to come back. When we're frustrated with an experience, it increases the chance that we'll try to find another path to success.

In order to delight, the visual design should be aesthetically pleasing, but the communication must also be human. Good design isn't just about the pretty pictures being in the right places, but also about copywriting and interactions. People ultimately want to be talked to like people. The brands that get this right often end up with a force of brand evangelists.

Also, the design should be seamless on both the front and back ends. For instance, as great a piece of design as the iPod is, unless Jobs had made the experience of downloading music to it equally great, it would never had seen such success. That's why iTunes is such a big reason that the iPod reached its potential -- Jobs knew his innovation needed to sit inside a more functional overall system. He often called this "taking responsibility end to end" -- and basically meant that the "thing" and the "experience that surrounded that thing" were equally important.

3. It should reassure
My company is in the real estate industry. Buying a house is the biggest financial -- and possibly emotional -- purchase a person will ever make. But most real estate brands, websites and digital experiences, seem to inadvertently offer an extremely low-end, even cheap feeling experience. And yet, there are thousands of delightful tools, resources and services out there for industries that have far less emotional and financial implications than home buying. For instance, buying a book online is a beautifully designed experience. Shouldn't getting a home loan be as well? A book costs $9.99. The average home loan costs literally twenty-five thousand times as much. One would assume the experience should be 25 times better. And yet the reverse is true.

Great design and usability says to your customers, "We're reputable, we know what we're doing and we care." People don't hesitate to rent a place from a stranger on AirBnB. Why is that? Because AirBnB has been around for so long? Nope. Good design inspires confidence.

Trust increases when you get the details right, especially for an unproven startup. Customers are much more likely to trust you to store financial details, process payments, and safeguard accounts when you get the details right.

Those are my three rules for great design, and while my company doesn't always hit the mark, we know what we're aiming for. So when we fall short (and we do, every day), everyone feels it. But when we get it right (and, every day we're doing it a bit more), everyone feels that, too.