I’m in Atlanta visiting some college friends, and I peep over my buddy’s shoulder to see an email about a website design. This immediately piqued my interest, but I was hesitant to say anything because I knew whatever it was going to be on the attached Power Point would make me feel unsettled — so I stayed quiet… He clicked through one slide after another. I could tell it was a user interface showing some type of flow, and then the inevitable question came up.
Hey Austin, what do you think of this design?
Woof. Well my initial impression was that it was not made by any UX or Product Designer, and it had some major process gaps. I looked past this though to dig a little deeper and discovered that it did a decent job of communicating the business opportunity. Traveling is become more and more common these days, and businesses are trying to find a niche to make that service a more enjoyable experience. The idea is to connect a traveler to a local in their destination city to get personalized travel advice and insights. It would potentially save hours of research, and de-risk activities that otherwise could turn out to be a total flop for the potential of identifying the highlight of a trip.
What concerned me the most was the plan to execute. This design was going to be passed off to a developer or two to build, with a release planned to come out in 6 months. Based off my initial impressions I observed a couple of things:
- There are numerous features described as necessary, but not validated as a need such as travel categories, pricing models, or a messaging service.
- The current design had a numerous technical and users assumptions baked in, such as payment methods and custom profiles for locals.
My goal was to spend a minimal amount of effort to help lean out the website design, by appreciating Paul Graham’s ideology Do Things That Don’t Scale. Luckily, this entrepreneur was extremely welcoming to both advice and collaboration, so I jumped in to lend help where I could.
I helped with conceptualizing some branding, and worked on tailoring deliverables based on the founder’s vision.
These simple business card ideas set the tone for the application to come, and help set the identity by visualizing key branding elements, like typography, color, and style.
I built a handful of high fidelity mockups using Material Design in different settings to test showing specific content and feeling out the main user journey. It was beneficial to start with a mobile design first because it helped us focus on what content and features would be really important to the end user.
We then took that mobile design and scaled it for a desktop web app experience, to see what other bits of content were missing and see how it worked.
Ultimately, some of the final design decisions were not up to me. Such as incorporating a large hero image, however, I was less concerned about this and more proud of the fact that were able to move quickly while dedicating very little time to this. All in all, I probably spent somewhere around 40 hours between meetings, designing, sharing, and deciding what to build next.
It’s funny how my initial suggestion to build a single web page experience was initially dismissed, and then came back around to be what was built due to its simplicity. The beauty of what worked well was the fact that we vetted bad ideas in the prototyping phase.
It quickly became apparent that the user journey could be greatly reduced by doing more manual work. By simplifying what we asked of potential customers, the business opportunity could be tested more readily, which is far more valuable than a product that can do it all right away.
I am most proud of helping get this designed and built by our developer in a month. Instead of waiting six months, the founder could start testing his business idea without waiting longer. Learning fast and pivoting is critical for entrepreneurs, and this was a great experiment for doing so.