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Launch HN: Parade (YC S20) – Launch your company without hiring a designer
179 points by alexray 50 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments
Hey HN! We’re Alex and David, the founders of Parade (https://getparade.com). Parade uses software to guide founders through early branding decisions, including designing a basic logo, selecting fonts, selecting colors, and defining their company’s overall aesthetic.

A lot of early stage founders are incredible engineers, but lack the ability to make things look “right”. We’ve seen a bunch of our friends launch products to no reception, some of which seemed due to poor design decisions (like, making buttons hard to find or a landing page that looks like it might steal your credit card).

Two years ago, two of my closest friends started a company, raised a small round, and spent tens of thousands of dollars on their initial branding. That was a substantial percentage of their funding, and then their brand entirely changed once they learned more about their customer. After I saw them waste a ton of time and money on this, I realized that it ought to be possible to build software that could have done just as good of a job as the design agency. At the core of it, the designers asked my friends a bunch of questions about how they want their company to be perceived by customers, offered them colors and fonts and a design aesthetic that conveyed those feelings, and then created a mockup of a website that incorporated those elements. So, I decided to build software to do just that.

With Parade, we have taken a traditional brand design interview and turned it into a self-serve software product. You answer a series of questions about how you want your brand to be perceived and receive design aesthetic suggestions based on them. We use machine learning to identify design elements (such as fonts, colors, layouts, use of color, density of information, line and button styles, and visuals) that project the way you want your brand to feel, then present them to you as simple choices. To power the suggestions, we collected training data from both designers and non-designers to understand what emotional reactions these design elements evoke. Because of this technology, we are able to identify the design aesthetics that you want without having to iterate repeatedly or spend hours searching for inspiration. After you make your choices, we use the math behind design theory (such as an algorithm to expand one color into a range of colors that accounts for the difference in perceived contrast based on hue, saturation, and lightness) to flesh out your brand [0].

Right now, after onboarding, you are able to access all of your design elements in a style guide for free through the dashboard. It includes your colors and your fonts, plus a place to download your logo and icon in a few colors. You can see an example of what this looks like here: https://app.getparade.com/hackernews/style-guide or here: https://app.getparade.com/hooli/style-guide. This is similar to the output startups get from a first engagement with a designer, which helps you set up basic, consistent styling for your website and social media profiles.

At this point, we’ve helped thousands of companies create their brands, including YC-backed companies like WellPrincipled (https://www.wellprincipled.com/), Enable (https://www.enable.us/) and MeterFeeder (https://www.meterfeeder.com/).

The next step beyond style guides would be to automatically generate brand assets—things like pitch decks, landing pages, and social media posts. We're working on that. We haven't completely automated it yet, but we are able to create these assets with very rapid turnaround time. Once we get it fully automated, we plan to add subscription features that enable founders to make ready-to-use assets themselves.

In the meantime, we run an agency, serving customers using our work-in-progress software. It’s different from a traditional agency, though—while traditional agencies spend many days asking you about how you want your brand to look, seeking inspiration, and iterating based on your feedback, we are able to capture what you describe through our onboarding survey and create assets with your design elements algorithmically. We are able to deliver most designs within 48 hours, and almost all of our customers have been satisfied without any iteration. Right now, a lot of the algorithmic design work happens via an in-house Figma plugin, which we plan to move onto our platform in 2022 and open up to self-service.

Something that’s surprised us while working on this: we’ve found that our users don’t always believe that their choices are really great. Design is intimidating—you’re aware that there is some psychology of color and also some color theory rules, but aren’t exactly sure what they are. You’ve built things in the past that just didn’t look quite right—how can you be sure the choices you made on Parade are good? Oftentimes, designers will even use words to make themselves seem to know some secret you don’t. We’re trying to reassure our users by surfacing more of the science behind the suggestions we make, and to make sure we encode rules that prevent certain common mistakes.

We would love to hear your thoughts, questions, concerns, or ideas about what we’re building - or about your experiences with automating design in general. We appreciate all feedback and suggestions!

[0] See https://www.w3.org/TR/AERT/#color-contrast for math on color contrast, or https://alienryderflex.com/hsp.html for a good writeup on perceived brightness.

A lot of positives in the comments so far, I'll chime in with at least one negative that I'm not entirely confident with, but here goes.

A startup's branding is an early indicator of a teams commitment and skill. Even with todays Bootstrap themes I sometimes get fooled into thinking a product or service has dedication behind it when it turns out to be a smoke screen to test the market for interest. This kind of service accelerates this effect; now the ones who do commit and carry the skill and experience to pull off a successful startup will be competing against - as was already mentioned in this thread - personal projects or founders with no regard or respect for branding. What if the tables were turned: "Got a great marketing team but no interest in features or solving a real problem? Our AI can fix that for you!". Should such a team succeed?

I said I wasn't entirely confident about this, because I also realise this is what progress looks like and it is a natural step forwards in the direction we're headed. But is it a destination we want to reach?

If the AI can build the product, that's great.

Most small businesses need little design and little code to deliver value.

This has a positive decentralising effect on the economy. Instead of having a single billion dollar company you'll have competing small companies.

Reputation and testimonials will weed out bad actors or companies that can't deliver value, as they already do.

I couldn't agree more - I wrote a presentation on the basics of startup branding too - https://www.jacobjacquet.com/blog/on-startup-branding

I think you nailed a big problem. My co-founder and I were 2 engineers when we started our bootstrapped venture. One thing I knew for sure: our "design taste" is awful.

It took me one full day to find a website builder that would have pre-built options of design. I found Landen (now called Umso: https://www.umso.com/)

Our website (https://newscatcherapi.com/) is still on Umso, and I'm happy with it.

However, fonts, logo, mails, etc. I'd love to have it all together at the very beginning.

One thing to add for the first-time founders: Your customer problem understanding has to be great. Your product has to solve a problem. These things cannot be neglected.

But, your design, logo, fonts can be awful, so do not spend time/money/efforts on that when you just begin. Use product like Parade and start solving a problem.

No one will care about your design as long as you solve a problem, but NOT the other way round.

I tend to view design as a signal of legitimacy and competence. Whether it's a website, or a brick and mortar establishment, I will leave if it looks like no attention was given to the way things look.

I can't disagree more.

I personally look only at reviews (trying to tell what's paid or fake) / price.

Some (if not most) of the best experiences and services I purchased had terrible websites and I often thought about offering to prop something up for them - it's not a terribly lucrative field though.

Anecdotally, I found it easier to raise money after having a nice designed website.

Great advice. In addition, first-time founders should focus a lot on how the product addresses the customer problem and build no more than what is needed to solve that problem. I sometimes work with founders who have too much luxury with time and money (from their full-time job) that so much time/effort is wasted on building features that aren't necessary. That being said, the hard part is that it's an art and not exact science but there are frameworks you can use to minimize waste.

We've built product without even having a website. Just cold outreach and talking about how we solve our customer's problems.

Yeah, this is definitely true. It's not worth much time or money on design early on. You just need something credible -- sometimes we joke about the idea of "Minimum Viable Branding (MVB)", like an MVP. We think Parade gets you there.

We're big fans of Umso too! Some of our users have created brand styles on Parade and built their website there.

Well this is amazing!

This would be an amazing fit for my side projects that are a little more serious than "do my own 30s design," but not nearly so serious (yet) as "find, manage, and pay a freelance designer".

And it seems like a great business too. The upsell prices are a little hefty for side project, but if I build a project on this that gets a bit of traction, a few hundred bucks for a landing page / ui library / marketing email template starts to seem pretty attractive. Especially if it lets me put of "use a real designer" until a little further along in the product's lifecycle. :)

Thanks! I'm excited to hear that, and glad you think it's amazing! It sounds like Parade could be a great fit for your side projects :)

Your HN headline made me click instantly. I'm a technical founder and generally gotten by on a combination of Bootstrap templates, Logo creation services, and some tactical production design.

I've used Looka in the past for our company Savio (https://www.savio.io). How are you different from them?

I'm glad you're interested -- based on how you described yourself, you're exactly the person we're building for.

Looka is a great tool for creating a logo, and they're primarily focused on that -- and I've seen some great logos created on there.

We're especially focused on creating the right design aesthetic for you. If you're building a fun consumer SAAS business, you might lose credibility if your website is super formal and unapproachable. Fonts, colors, information density, use of white space, use of imagery, and other design elements influence the way your brand is perceived. Parade makes recommendations across these dimensions, which should help you create the aesthetic you're going for.

Problem is what comes next? I’d find a bootstrap template to build my site. And prob have a heck of a time integrating what I got from your site into my template.

What do your customers do after using your service? Create a website / app design from scratch using your brand guidelines with a consulting designer?

Serious question btw!

Good question. Most of our users integrate what they get from the branding process into their site, in a few different ways. If you haven't yet picked a template, you can use our design aesthetic suggestions to help you pick one. Once you have a template, it's typically pretty straightforward to override colors and fonts, giving you some degree of branding. Our users with technical backgrounds find it pretty easy to buy a design from us and implement it using their frontend framework of choice.

Having used a few tools in this space I'm kind of jaded. I'm not sure what I was expecting but not this. WOW this works really great! Great work, very very well executed. I am definitely a customer

Thanks so much! I love hearing that :)

I am throwing this out here, and I don't mean to offend, but raw feedback may be useful to you: I think your own logo looks terrible. Both the pictogram and the font. And the favicon. The animation of the logo in the video is great though.

Sorry, maybe I am the only one who thinks this, but it clearly has an impact on how I rate your expertise...

Your customer's logos look nice though...

Thanks for the feedback. Our icon is a tiny Golden Spiral, which is one of the most common examples of the intersection between art and math. It's a little quirky, and it brings our team a lot of joy, so I like it a lot.

P.S. there are a lot of good Golden Spiral/Golden Ratio memes [0] out there. If you have one that you like, feel free to share it with me [0] https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-golden-ratio

It's clearly not a golden spiral though, is it?

It looks more like 2 half circles of different sizes glued together. Maybe the ratio of the 2 circles is the golden ratio?

I like this a lot, I went through it and generated some assets. I ran into a couple of issues though:

- I don't trust myself picking colors, fonts, etc, and I'm worried that when I go to buy a UI template or whatever my terrible decision for colors won't be "fixed". I'd much rather pay you to go through this with me based on my inputs and trust your expertise.

- For typography, do people really use custom typography? Not only does it add bloat to your bundles, it seems defaulting to the system UI provides a better UX?

- For colors, I really want an entire palette for both light and dark mode. I don't see an option for dark mode at all, is this possible?

- I was worried your pricing would be obscene since you can't get to it without going through the process, but it's actually very reasonable. I think you should let people know up front what the pricing is, don't be afraid of showing it.

Great idea though!!

Thanks! Glad you like it.

It's funny - we've heard the "I don't trust myself" sentiment often. We want to make you believe that your choices are great (and, most of the time, they are). We've thought about offering to have a designer take a glance at what you've chosen, but don't yet feel confident that it would solve the problem.

And great point! We don't yet have a dark mode setting, but it's something we want to build.

Is the unicode line separator in "Never deal with another freelancer" a cheeky jab at freelancers or did you not test across devices?


I'm not sure where they came from -- what browser/device are you using? We use Webflow for our marketing site, so I may need to go fix some settings in there.

P.S. I wish I was cheeky enough to make that jab at freelancers ;)

I get those too - Chrome, Windows 10 x86

Your headline talks to me a lot.

If you can deliver on your promise then I would definitely be a user and a customer.

I am a software engineer and the design part is always a big problem for me, until a friend and ex-colleague of mine arrives.

Thanks! I'm excited to hear that. Give it a spin sometime and send feedback - the more feedback we get, the better our product will be :)

I love how I instantly found fonts I love. It took me less than three minutes. Great product!

Thanks so much!

I'm a software engineer trying to learn more design. My wife is a freelance brand strategist who formerly worked at a top design agency. We were both very impressed with this product!

While there are certainly imperfections, it's starting from a really great place. The two things that set it apart:

1) Start with adjectives and attribute, not colors and symbols. I was impressed that the "quiz" was useful and made me think about what I want my company to be. 2) Present the final output in the same way that a professional design studio would. Getting an auto-generated style guide deck that looks 85% as good as something most studios spend many hours (and dollars) generating manually was very manual.

That said I think the color picking algorithm needs some work. Neither of us was very happy with the color options presented. We loved the fonts though, and refining "the algorithm" is probably the easiest part.

Question for the team (if they're here): if I pay $399 for a landing page or $X for another of your assets are those all auto-generated as well or is there a human in the loop?

Glad you like it! Yeah, we want to further refine our color system down the road. We have a lot of fun ideas for ways to make it better. RE:$X -- for the paid assets, right now, there is a human in the loop.

This is a really great idea, and I love the business model of selling future design work after you've already given your customer a bunch of value for free. I'd honestly consider having a pricing tab in the main menu that explains that - my one concern was that you'd have me fill out a whole questionnaire then try to charge me at the end before actually giving me the results.

That's a good point - we'll add one soon. Thanks for the feedback.

very cool! what can you disclose about plans for pricing model/revenue? first thing i look for in any startup that I'm about to try/evangelize. i see that "there's no subscription" in the FAQ - so you're like an asset marketplace?

suggestion - dont make me signup just to try you out - see if you can bring out at least part of your process from behind your login wall.

Thanks for the suggestion. We'll try to find a way to bring more of our product outside of the login wall.

Creating a brand and getting a style guide is free. We charge in the hundreds-of-dollars range for the agency side of our business.

This is really cool. I'm bad at making anything look good, so the more things like this the better.

I noticed you had Google Slides support (presumably for making themes based on the generated brand kit). Any chance of that coming to PowerPoint too? Making PowerPoint themes by hand is the worst, so anything to alleviate that would be welcome.

Yep, that's very near term on our roadmap. Right now, you can download the Google Slides document that we make and have it work pretty well.

I really struggle with design, so one of the main challenges I have launching any product is the UI.

But I've been promised these things in the past, and wasted money on them. 99 Designs, Freelancer, ThemeForest (including asking the theme developer for customisations). I've tried them all, and they've never worked. So I approach this fairly sceptically.

But I'd love to see it work.

Usually the biggest problem is not the up-front design - there are some lovely ones out there. It's "how do I map this solution for this problem into a UI that makes sense?". And I can't imagine how you systematise that, but it would be amazing if you could.

Yeah, UI design is tricky. We haven't solved that yet, but would love to in the long run.

You're getting into "launch your house without hiring an architect" territory there. UI isn't so much tricky as it is an entirely separate discipline, devoted entirely to context, with a ton of thinking already done and ready to be applied at the individual level.

Just having a few off-the-rack workflows that are easy to play with would be helpful.

Yeah, I think you're exactly right re:"just having a few off-the-rack workflows that are easy to play with would be helpful". There really seems to be standard conventions that would work for most workflows, kind of like what component galleries do for web design. I haven't explored where that idea may lead. We're a long way off from trying to tackle UI design, but it does seem interesting.

I think just hiring a UX professional to come up with wireframes for the n most common workflows would do the trick. Build them out yourself. You'd have actual research data to wave in front of investors, and anything more than that will irritate the folks who want to roll their own UI.

Nit: to me at least, "Never deal with another freelancer" comes off as unnecessarily harsh (even if it resonates with some). I understand the product is targeted to early-stage startups without the budget to hire someone, but it sounds like it's putting down the idea of working with a designer altogether (see "no need to hire a designer"), when you could poise it as complementary to working with a designer eventually if we choose to do so.

Yeah, that's good feedback. We don't want to put down the idea of working with a designer later in your company. In fact, many of our users have grown their companies and hired designers to extend their brand into their application UI. We'll work on the phrasing.

I like this idea, but the app seems buggy. I tried to go through the initial steps, but in several places the Next button just did not work at all (After choosing logo fonts, choosing main color), just reloaded the page, and ended up in an inconsistent state with forever-loading icons. Gave up after 15 minutes of struggling. Chrome 95 on Manjaro.

Had the same issue - console shows 500 errors being thrown.

This is fixed now -- sorry for the bug.

Would be great to see a preview of Display ad or Landing page before purchasing for 800$. Is it human-made or generated by software?

Yeah, that's a great idea. We want to add previews soon. Right now, it's a human using our internal tools. We're making a lot of progress towards generating it with software, but aren't there yet.

"Launch your product without hiring a branding consultant" may be a more accurate way to describe this offering!

I get that this is more about branding than product design. But, I'd like to point out that if you are making a product, someone is doing the design for that product, whether they realize it or not.

That's a good point. We want to figure out a way to help with UI design in the long run, but for now, we're focused on branding.

P.S. Have you read Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things? Your comment "someone is doing the design for that product, whether they realize it or not" reminded me of a lot of the examples in the book.

Alwx, this is a huge pain point . Is your tool generating a css file that i can reuse for the webapp itself?

We're not yet, but we've explored it a bit. It seems like a great idea. We want to figure out a good way to make it work with a lot of the common frontend toolkits.

Looks very interesting, and definitely solves a problem. I wish there was a way to preview some sample designs without having to sign up – NewGlue from Stockholm does this quite well, I think: https://newglue.com

Yeah, that's something we want to improve. Thanks for sharing NewGlue - I like the way they do their example brand too.

FYI, ublock origin blocks track.customer.io which is an alias for open.getparade.com and so the account verification step fails until ublock is disabled. I'd recommend moving to internal tracking rather than using customer.io, just my 2 cents of feedback.

Ah, thanks for pointing that out. We'll get this fixed.

Congrats on the launch! Really enjoyed using an early version for a hackathon project earlier this year. Hugely valuable to automatically start from something that looks good as an engineer without having to put much thought into it.

Thanks! Glad Parade was valuable for you!

How does your ML get fed and what guarantees actual ownership of the generated output?

RE:ML - We pay designers and non-designers to describe a wide variety of marketing assets and use their output as the training data. It's a lot of work, but we try to compensate them well.

RE:Ownership - you own what you create. We plan to have a law firm help us spell this out explicitly for us at some point in the near future.

Congrats on the launch! You are definitely addressing a real pain point here.

I would love to see this combined with a tool that helps with choosing an available domain name. I’ve used heaps of these and never found one that does it well.

Thanks! Yeah, names are TOUGH. You should see all of the names we decided not to use for Parade.

I'm very interested in this , but I'm still vague on what the pricing is.

Do I get AI generated logos and pay upon usage ?

Glad you're interested! Right now, you can create and use your brand for free. We only charge if you commission our team to make brand collateral - a slide deck template, landing page design, marketing email design - for you.

This is actually pretty nice, way better than the spammy logo generator sites. Makes you a nice brand kit.

First you should improve the quality of your website design, did you use your own tool to design the landing page?

+1 - their design is not at all impressive

I do understand what you are offering. I think you should hire a good product designer.

Your set up reminds me of Plato (W16?). I would give Parade a try. PM/founder here.

Great! Glad to hear it.

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