There are big elements of design and there are small elements. Both are necessary if you want to use design as an asset within your startup.
Design is the process of crafting with intention. This sets the trajectory for allowing design to be an integral part of your startup. In fact, it speaks to the idea that it should be intrinsically woven into every decision the company makes. If you act with the purpose of achieve a specific goal, you are designing. The opposite would be aimlessness or choosing to craft without purpose.
While such endeavors can lead to interesting results, it's not the best mindset to adopt with investors breathing down your neck or crucial deadlines looming int he background. Choosing to adopt a design-driven mindset is what allows you to measure progress and iterate with precision. In short, design turns wandering ideas into obtainable goals.
That's way different than making things prettier.
Yes, this concept tends to be confined within the areas of improving the aesthetic of apps, websites, interiors, products, or brand identities (a bunch of small elements), but these outlets don't give it power. Look beyond aesthetic and focus on creating things with purpose. How you want them to make people feel, what you want them to do, the goals a project is supposed to achieve.
I guess the main point is this: if you see design as only making things look pretty, even the things you want to look pretty will fall short of expectation. But, if you decide to see design as crafting with intention, you will be able to get results... and maybe make something beautiful int he process.
Chances are, your brand is already out in the world.
What? Yes! It is. Your brand is the emotional value people attribute to your company, value they already find in many other things throughout their day.
For example, if you want your brand to be seen as happy, joyful, youthful, and teeming zest for life, I bet your ideal users experience this in other places. Perhaps it's from an ice cream shop, a children's author, or a TV Show. The point is that somewhere out there is a prime example of these attributes. The same would be said of any other adjective as well: elite, progressive, friendly, serious, stoic, sarcastic, brave, funny, classic, you get the point.
Your job in building a brand for your most valued customers is to understand what emotions are missing from the market category you want to enter, research places these emotions are found within your customer's life, and steal the things that make them memorable.
Seriously, steal them. Steal the colors, steal the phrases, steal the pictures, steal the shapes, steal the experience as much as you can.
Why is this effective? Because you are taking something familiar and placing it into a new context. This is the recipe for novelty.
In Genesis, the first sin recorded outside of the Garden of Eden is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Whether you believe the story to be historically accurate or not, there is a provocative truth to it. Cain had become extremely bitter and resentful of his brother, as Abel's offering to God was accepted and Cain's was rejected (due to his lack of reverence and thoughtfulness in the offering). These emotions boil to unrest as Cain wields a rock to bash in his brother's skull. He rids the world of his competition so that his own subpar efforts have nothing to aspire to.
What does this have to do with branding and being rebellious?
While competitive analysis and an understanding of the market is a good thing, comparing the shortcomings of your brand to others is a recipe for bitterness and resentment. If Cain had instead looked inward and been in competition with himself, he would have slain hi sown inadequacies instead of his brother.
Rebellious brands inherently take on a different mission from the rest of the world, and without a doubt there will be times when it seems like the competition will be doing it better.
Let them. Make friends with them and leave behind the scarcity mindset.
Focus on improving your brand, having a greater understanding of your faults, and figuring out how to be better than you were yesterday.