Fast & smart design for startups

This is the third part of an article series. To read the introductory notes about user experience research and design tips, click this link: READ PART I.


As long as you avoid transforming it into a linear process, design can be a powerful tool in the course of building a product or a feature. Innovation is not a singular event, it’s an iterative human-centered process, so we will always need the rationality to analyse and fit a solution to the context, by constantly improving it.


In this last part, I’ll briefly describe the steps we should follow to create a truly iterative process, where we are constantly building small things, learn from them, and then we continue to build (or destroy, if necessary) based on what we’ve learned.





Truly understand the problem: know exactly what you are trying to do before you figure out how to do it. For example, do you simply want to add comments to your product? Why? If your research shows that users don’t have any way to communicate with one another, and that’s affecting their engagement with your product, then adding comments might be a problem-solving feature. But not the other way around.


You should find the need, the intention, the desire first (not necessarily the solution), while focusing on individuals: build point of view statements (that will serve as a foundation for a future persona).





Find an objective way to determine whether the designed product was a success or not. Define a measurable goal and figure out the way in which you are going to measure it. This should happen even before the actual design.


Wrong solutions can theoretically be fixed by future iterations, but non-existent problems aren’t something you can adjust. If the problem is non-existent, the product becomes meaningless and people won’t use it.





When brainstorming ideas, at first you should stay away from judgement. Go for volume instead, be visual, build on the ideas of others, and encourage wild proposals. Nevertheless, you should all remain on topic, and don’t forget to ultimately take a decision and pick something to build or test.





Radical ideas, by nature, are not yet fully defined. That is why designers should master the ability to show unfinished work. Their goals is to fail early and learn new insights when that doesn’t cost the business a lot of money.



Test and iterate


A good designer knows what things can be improvised (to minimize the time until you get something valuable) and what things should be done by the book. When doing user testing, take time and make sure your approach and your implementation will actually end up working for your users. But when building the proposal to be tested, design the necessary, solve only the important problems. You can do your job with a diagram, or a sketch, a set of wireframes, an interactive prototype, or, if the situation requires, visual design.






Shipping a product


The design process does not stop when you ship the product that you just developed: it’s not an iterative if you only do it once. Ideally, your first version should work with what is absolutely critical and don’t waste time on anything that isn’t necessary.


To maximize efficiency, aim to build the smallest possible thing you can, in order to validate or invalidate a hypothesis conclusively. And once you reach that conclusion, make sure you act based on new insights (the role of a good metric is to be actionable). There you go, you now have the actual definition of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This is how it should be structured:





In a nutshell, defining what the RIGHT product means will reduce wasteful time spent working on the wrong thing for customers. It also builds momentum for your entire team, creates shared understanding, and prevents teams from spending too much time and money on the wrong initiatives.



Photo credits:   Jo Szczepanska Krisztian Tabori