Have a look at the following layouts for some well known services:
A small team of programmers though (or a solo-superman) may not be in a position to create such a perfectly looking layout/UI nor be able to hire a capable graphic designer right now to do the "skinning" of the app.
So the question is, should such team launch early with a mediocre design? Or should it wait and launch when the UI looks "perfect"? Is there a possibility that the mediocre aesthetics will do more damage than waiting for a couple of months?
Generally, the feedback you receive by releasing a product early is more valuable than postponing its release until it is 'perfect'. In fact, you actually don't know what 'perfect' is yet - your users' behavior and feedback will determine that - and the longer the product is in a black box the longer it will take to get that feedback and improve.
Your goal should be to establish a cycle where you have small, frequent and imperfect releases, gather feedback and collect usage statistics on it, then make well-informed iterations based on this evidence and begin the next cycle.
Giant, 'black-box' releases are huge gambles. What happens if, after months of work, the
features aren't used at all, or your users don't like the design? Then you have to start all over and all that time is wasted. Establishing the "release early, get feedback and iterate" cycle is a nearly fool-proof way to develop your product and be sure you are building things users want. Releasing the mediocre design may turn off a tiny number of picky users, but the value of the early feedback and exposure far outweighs this. If they are unwilling to use the product because of some small style problems they probably would not end up as sticky users anyway.
One thing - this does not necessarily apply to businesses or products based heavily on image. If your product is being used for advertising, fashion, marketing, etc. then it may be worthwhile to wait and get it 'right'.
Launch a mediocre design now, using the best abilities and design skills you have now.
Then, when you have your business up and running, you can invest more time, money, and thought into the design. This way, you can save your initial startup capital and use it for more crucial costs.
"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." -- George S. Patton
Actually, it really depends on your product and how much of a delay upgrading the UI would cost. You'll also have to ask yourself why a user disappointed with the current UI wouldn't return after UI improvements are made. That has to be addressed in your marketing strategy.
If you're good at design, I'm not sure time is the only factor. Getting something out there so you can get feedback will probably go a lot further in tweaking your mediocre design into something superb.
These sites look like they copied from one another anyway.
A "good" design is the the eye of the beholder. Having a clear, concise call to action and a compelling story to the appropriate target market trumps pretty graphics all the time.
But, why limit yourself? Do a crowdspring / 99 design contest and get some ideas. Setting a workable color / css template from the beginning from a designer with a good eye isn't that expensive.
Be crappy and iterate. Of course you don't want to put something that it total garbage up. Trust me, if you are waiting to put up a design until you think it is "perfect", it will never be released. Put something up and tweak it as you go along. This is even more so the case if your website/design is just a landing page for a product you are offering. If you are selling a product, focus your time and efforts on optimizing that while tweaking your website as you go along. So much about startups is market opportunity and the race to the market window. If someone beats you there, your typically going to be fighting an uphill battle.
This is a balancing act.
There's no question mind that consumers in general now expect great design. And it's also an important trend that buyers in businesses behave more and more as consumers. So in my view, we're a few years beyond the point that anyone serious about creating market success can ignore design.
At the same time, most start-ups recognise that you just don't get the proposition right first time - and success is a function of purposeful experimentation and fast iteration.
For this reason, I'd say that, 'a small team of programmers' isn't going to be the right nucleus for web business. Design needs to be right in there from the start. In fact, some great start-ups have come out of teams strong in design and proposition thinking and weak in coding. That can be a valuable pressure - it's too easy for a strong dev team to run down ratholes.
From a personal point of view, I've found it's best to have some very different approaches present in the founding team. So my view of the startup dream team right now is any combination that includes strong commercial, design and development skills, with some cross-cover.
Not the answer you're after but I feel like it's worth adding my thoughts for others.
The best products start with design first.
A good designer will do more than just 'skin' your app, they'll design the workflow and do a much better job of doing it than your programmers will. That will free your programmers up for doing the hard core behind the scenes work that they probably enjoy more anyway.
Design up front also allows you to experiment with more workflow ideas in a short timeframe. Having programmers create the workflow of your app usually means the functionality is already coded, so making changes will take more time and will be less likely to happen.
I agree with the other comments that you should launch early. Your v1 might be missing a few features you'd love to have, but with a designer at least the features you do have will look amazing and will be simple to use.
just launch! and continuously improve your app/website based on the feedbacks you receive from interested users. you don't really know if it is going to work unless it is out there and don't expect that everyone will like it, because haters will always hate not matter how perfect it is.
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Don't underestimate that.
You only have one chance to make a great first impression.
And first impressions are lasting impressions.
From a marketing standpoint, in fact, once your customers have a negative view of your product, its unlikely to change even after the product has improved. It's easier to go from good to bad, than from bad to good.
That being said, launching early has a ton of benefits.
For SaaS product, the "ooh, ah" of look and feel is really secondary to the workflow and how usable the app is, how well it lives up to the value proposition.
Usable information architecture isn't always accompanied by really nice graphic design, and it doesn't have to be. Your graphics can be brutal, circa-1993 with beveled edges and jagged bitmappy icons, but if the workflow is solid, the system fast and the users happy (and growing in number) then you're doing fine.
I've been fooled by a nice look and feel before and abandoned many trial accounts after finding out that the work flow didn't live up to what the marketing collateral promised.
Much safer to be a well-planned, usable system than look pretty and have cool, witty marketing. First things first, if you build it they will come.
Websites are never "done". That's the whole concept of a website... it can change and evolve, as it should! If you wait for something to be "perfect", you will never get there.
I definitely don't suggest throwing crap out there either. Focus on the content part first. That's what people are looking for. Basic design doesn't take long at all. Start with something basic, and build content. When that's done, then continue working on content and design.
Another way to get a design done really quickly is to buy a stock design. I suggest browsing at http://templates.bigwebmaster.com/. You can purchase something for $50 to get you started, and then implement your own design later. Again, focus on content for now.
I'm a fan of "launch now, improve later". I've done so successfully in the past, launched with a quite imperfect design and only later improved it.
I feel this has helped me in two ways:
So in my personal experience, launching a mediocre design earlier will help you in the following ways:
Last but not least, if your sales are mainly done through your website (mine were online but mostly via direct contact) you should at least launch with a simple design but professional design. You can obtain this easily via oswd.org (check licenses, though) or from a designer with a good ROI.
Getting something useable out there as quickly as possible is more important than nailing the perfect design on the first try. It's inevitable that your design will evolve over time regardless of how much time you spend on it initially.
Look at Craigslist. Definitely not the sexiest design in the world but the site is extremely useful and useable. Facebook continues to evolve it's design to this day. Get something out there for people to respond to and give you feedback on, and evolve from there.