Expert product design and UX for startups

I use design to solve business problems and ignite product-driven growth

I work exclusively with early-stage venture-backed technology companies in complex domains like agriculture, healthcare, education, and AI.

My design work is different from agencies and other UX designers in two big ways:

  • Everything about my design process is specifically tailored to the constraints and opportunities of startups, focusing on creating value, fast iterations, adaptability, efficiency, and extensibility.
  • It’s a high-expertise, closely integrated service. Instead of contracting an IC-level designer, you pair with a Director-level design leader and startup founder for product strategy all the way through to execution. Unlike agencies, I embed myself on your founding team as we learn, design, build, and adapt.

I offer free UX design consultations for any company—no matter what stage or size.

Book a free 30-minute UX strategy call

We needed that je ne sais quoi that would take our product from functional to fabulous. Turns out, it was Sam.

I initially contacted Sam because I admired his work at Farmlogs, and we needed a similar level of design polish. But what we got was so much more: a better understanding of the journey our prospects take before they become customers, a documented design language that we are applying not just in our product but across our marketing materials, and an appreciation for what is needed at our business's stage of growth. I could not recommend Sam more highly.

Dawn Verbrigghe
Dawn Verbrigghe
Founder and CEO, Jottful

Sam is a UX god. We were blown away by how quickly he broke down our complex goals into a simple, beautiful, intuitive design.

Not only did we launch an awesome product on time, but the work went way above and beyond our expectations. He taught us a ton about building great products, and he laid the foundation for our engineers to keep building great designs. Our only regret is that we didn't book more of his time!

Jason Corso
Jason Corso
CEO and co-founder, Voxel51 A.I. Platform

A design process made for startups

All of my projects use a proprietary design process that I’ve developed over a decade of design work. The process is optimized for the high-pressure, high-risk environment of startups to create as much customer value as possible in a limited time.

Following this process helps ensure that my clients' products are highly-fit for the customer use-case, easy to use, and beautiful. The process gives founders confidence in their product by building from validated needs, early exposure to customers, and lots of feedback.

I tailor this process to each client's stage and their team's relative strengths, making smart trade-offs for speed and to reduce design risk.

This process is not for everyone. It requires founders with either market expertise or customer development skills, and it requires somewhat agile engineering teams. Your team must also be willing to work within the structure of design sprints outlined below.

This process is also not a fit for startups that primarily need marketing, branding, or conversion optimization design help. It's specifically for digital product companies in a complex domain where usability and simplicity are at the core of the value proposition.

I could talk about design, product, and tactics all day—schedule a free UX consultation for your company if you'd like to learn more.

Step 1: The Rapid Onboarding Workshop

This is a 3-day session with founders and critical stakeholders. The purpose is to help me understand your design challenges, create a coherent design strategy, and to surface any potentially dangerous assumptions or risks.

In the workshop we will collaboratively cover topics like:

Step 2: Iterative Design Sprints

After the onboarding workshop, we break our work into design sprints. Each sprint is scoped early based on what we’ve learned since the last sprint.

Each sprint follows these stages:

Case studies

Services

UX strategy consultation

For anyone who wants to make better products

Free strategy call to discuss your business. At the end of the call I’ll recommend tools and resources that can help you get the right designer for your project.

Free · Book your UX strategy call here

Design sprint concept workshop

For founding teams looking for product-market fit

This is a one-week intensive design sprint targeted at your most important customer experience. This process is roughly based on the design sprint book from Google ventures.

It starts with a condensed version of my design kickoff workshop. Together we collaboratively describe your users, outline their entire journey with your product, brainstorm ambitious ways of creating new value, and sketch ideas for a new product.

Later, I'll return with a new design: a focused proof-of-concept that targets each of the highest-priority customer opportunities from the workshop.

This is the ideal artifact to bring to validate ideas in a customer discovery process and getting buy-in for early fundraising.

Contact for price and availability

Complete UX strategy and product design

For series-A startups ready to invest in customer experience

This is my primary service for startups who want to create a product that their users love.

It includes the full version of my design kickoff workshop, where we'll synthesize your customer discovery conversations into a complete, detailed picture of who your customers are, what they want (practically, emotionally).

This process includes complete design prototypes of your entire application, laser-targeted at your customers' needs. Unlike the design concept sprint, these are highly-detailed interactive design mocks ready for engineers to build.

This is a collaborative service where I embed myself on your founding team and guide you step-by-step through the entire UX journey. Read more about my design process for startups here.

Contact for price and availability

Fractional design leadership

For established companies with full-time designers on staff

Get the benefits of an experienced design leader without having to find and hire full-time talent.

This is a highly-customized service. Past projects have included:

Innovation strategy—I lead a small group of your company’s best thinkers on a time-boxed sprint to reimagine the future of your customer experience. This is a ground-up, high-level conceptual redesign of your product or service on a multi-year horizon. My goal is to create a tangible vision that your whole organization can align around. This process is designed to resolve strategic disagreements, broaden minds, inspire great execution, and inform the next five years of your feature roadmap.

Coaching—using the curriculum and methods I developed while teaching at the University of Michigan, I'll give your designers the tools they need to get to the next level in their craft. I try to recreate the experience of the high-output design studios I've run in the past: clear goals, rapid iterations, a high bar for quality, and lots hands-on support. My style is to meet designers where they are, give them experience on real projects with real customers, lead the design process by example, and foster curiosity for users and self-guided learning.

Contact for pricing and availability

More testimonials

When you are ready to transform a big idea into a new product, Sam is an outstanding design and thought partner. He will help you navigate the ambiguity of invention, and he helps to translate your ideas into tangible user experiences that people can see and interact with.

Sam is uniquely able to help navigate the uncertainty of creation, and the “putting pencil to paper” in terms of UX design and product development. Oh, and he’s efficient and works fast!

Shawn Hardin
Shawn Hardin
President, Kitchentown

I'm Frodo, and Sam's my Gandalf.

I’m so grateful to have Sam on this project, I don’t know where I would be without him (probably pulling my hair out).

If you're struggling with a big design project, my advice is this: get yourself a Sam.

Liza Pagano
Liza Pagano
Art Director, Ithaka/JSTOR

Within 5 minutes of Sam starting his talk, I texted my team: 'Damn, Sam is good.' All 250 students in the audience were hooked.

His session was a fantastic mix of humor and entertainment, technical information, and emotional vulnerability that gives students the confidence to take a shot...

I can't recommend Sam highly enough for anyone interested in creating early-stage products, gathering feedback from potential users, or just learning tips for making it through the emotional grind of startup life.

Jeff Sorensen
Jeff Sorensen
Co-Founder of optiMize; Director for Social Innovation at University of Michigan LSA

Sam is an incredibly talented product designer and coach.

He was instrumental in helping FarmLogs design a product and brand that quickly became recognized for our ease of use, igniting years of rapid growth for our company.

Jesse Vollmar
Jesse Vollmar
CEO and Co-Founder, FarmLogs

I worked with Sam while he consulting for a startup where I was an intern. And I don't think it's too dramatic to say that his coaching alone made my internship feel worthwhile.

He was a great coach and mentor, guiding me through different phases of the design process. As industry tools come and go, it's this type of high-level thinking that I know will serve me well for a lifetime.

Thank you Sam!!

Linde Huang
Linde Huang
Human-Centered Designer at Michigan Medicine

I began reflecting on how the hell I got here, going from a scared college freshman to shipping several features at Google this summer & currently working on a high profile Microsoft AI project.

Despite being an UMSI UX student, it was ENTR 390 that taught me the most about what a career in UX might look like. It was the most well taught, high functioning and practical course I've taken at UMich. My future projects & portfolio write-ups that would later get me these dream internships were all modeled after the one I made for 390.

I know how much work you three put in this course, and I want to convey how grateful I am for it. And beyond the basic design process and projects, you three also put an emphasis on ethics, inclusivity and accessibility in design that is so often overlooked in most courses.

Dania Abdulhamid
Dania Abdulhamid
Designer at Microsoft, Google

I had the chance to work with Sam as a hiring manager as I was recruiting and hiring Designers for his team at FarmLogs.He brought a level of deep thinking and reflection that made him a true hiring partner in every sense.

He was always thinking strategically about how we could improve our recruiting process and candidate experience. He was also open to experimenting and trying new ways of finding and attracting talent. At the same time, he made a conscious effort to solicit feedback and iteratively improve his own interviewing and recruiting skills.

Any team would be lucky to have him and I'd love the opportunity to work with Sam again in the future.

Lauren Davaloz
Lauren Davaloz
People Success Specialist, Aha!

I've hired Sam for design and executive level storytelling projects at JSTOR twice. He was my first choice because he focuses on organizational impact and hard work, never about his own ego. He’s the only consultant I've ever been completely comfortable bringing onto my team, and working daily with our executive team when called for.

When kicking off my flagship UX strategic initiative as a new VP, I needed someone who understood customer storytelling deeply, yet could manage VP and product stakeholders in a large organization. Our project was a huge success, shared with the entire organization and set forth our platform strategy from the point of view of happy customers. As a result, all the OKRs for our entire 300-person org were driven in large part from the story Sam wrote and illustrated with us.

Sam’s more than a great designer, he’s an expert in coaxing out product strategy and prioritization. He never ends a phase without asking if I’m completely satisfied with the work. I’m regularly looking for more ways to bring him back to support our team!

Matt MacQueen
Matt MacQueen
VP Product at ITHAKA/JSTOR; prev Google & Coursera

I worked with Sam very closely for a couple of years at FarmLogs. He was a really talented product designer, a very good partner to engineering, and his commitment to the product was inspirational.

One thing I admire about Sam’s approach is that he doesn’t design a solution before deeply understanding the problem domain. Before starting work on a new product, Sam starts by asking a lot of questions to understand what it is that we are trying to achieve—only then does he start designing the product. I saw many examples of Sam turning really complex problems into intuitive designs at FarmLogs.

Sam is also easy to work with and doesn’t take feedback on his work personally. Sometimes this quality is easy to overlook! He would make a great addition to any team and I recommend him highly.

Mayank Agarwal
Mayank Agarwal
Engineering Manager at Robinhood

Schedule your free UX consultation

I try to make every single call valuable for you, regardless of whether we end up working together.

We’ll talk about:

  1. Your business, team, customers, and biggest challenges
  2. How UX design could be best applied considering your stage and product goals
  3. How my design process for startups works

After our call, I'll send you some design planning resources that are suited to your company.

If we agree your project might be a fit for my work, we can schedule a followup call to look at some of my past projects. If not, I’ll do my best to introduce you to another designer that’s a better fit for you.

Booking an introductory call is completely free with absolutely zero obligation. I love meeting founders, and invite you to try it and learn how UX can be a lever for growing your business.

I'm looking forward to speaking with you!
Thank you! I'll be in touch shortly.
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