UX/UI Role in Minimum Viable Product Development

This article was originally published on the Ideaction Blog

The development of a minimum viable product (MVP) is a crucial step in developing any full-scale software or platform. It must represent the perfect balance between several aspects, including usability, UX, design, as well as cost.

However, in a race to release a product, startups often forego certain aspects in MVP development in order to either release a product as quickly as possible, or through over-packing it with features from the start.

One very important aspect in MVP development is user experience and user interface, also known as UX/UI. But what is the role of UX/UI in an MVP and what are the main pitfalls that arise from not prioritizing it correctly?

How to Define a Minimum Viable Product?

There are many definitions for MVP is that you can find online. Most of the definitions are similar to the one the creator of Lean Canvas Ash Maruya provided:

“A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).”

However, at the same time, many experts acknowledge that it’s difficult to define what exactly an MVP is. Take for example the founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) Marty Cagan. Cagan wrote in 2011:

“One of the most important concepts in all of software is the notion of minimum viable product (often referred to as “MVP”). But if you’ve been around software products for a while, you know that term is used in many ways, and while the term intuitively resonates with people, there’s often a lot of confusion about what this really means in practice.”

Therefore, we are not going to delve into the definition of a minimum viable product, and instead will focus on what it’s supposed to do.

What Are the Benefits of an MVP?

Every startup starts with an idea. Then there are questions, such as “who is the core target of the product?”, “what makes the product unique compared to competitors?”, “how much would it cost to develop and maintain the product?” and many others.

An MVP can answer a subset of these questions, therefore being the best way to start. Most successful startups started with a Minimum Viable Product. For example, Facebook started as a website to connect people at Harvard College. And we are not talking about just software. Uber started with a couple of cars in New York City, before becoming one of the largest ride-sharing services in the world.

Even Tesla started with a minimum viable product. The first Tesla Roadster included a Lotus Elise chassis, because Elon Musk wanted to focus on the electric powertrain. Over the years, Tesla continued to innovate and build better cars with more features and higher range.

The fact that both Uber and Tesla succeeded was due to the success they saw at the MVP stage. Both MVPs were simple enough to execute without running the costs too high, and yet allowed companies to gather a lot of data to move forward.

Therefore, the key benefit of an MVP is that it allows a startup to gather data. The data can range from the mistakes and failures that go into developing the MVP to testing the demand and assessing the preferences of customers.

In a software MVP, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI), which is part of the former, is what allows the developers to take full advantage of this main benefit.

Where Does UX/UI Come in MVP Development?

We have already established that an MVP must provide some basic functionality and features. This should attract users and encourage them to continue using the product as you release more features. The tricky part is to find the right balance. The MVP should not be too basic, or users won’t be interested in it.

It also must not be overly complicated and include every possible feature the company wants. This would make the minimum viable product too expensive. In addition, it will include more bugs and errors, which will drive users away.

An MVP is also a way for a startup to start collecting data about its users and their preferences. And while gathering data is very useful, users are less likely to trust a new product. That’s why you might drive them away if, for example, the sign-up form includes 10–15 fields. So, start small and work your way up.

All these aspects are tied to UX/UI. The design, which is part of UX/UI, is the first thing that users notice. If they like the design, they are more likely to continue using the product. They will also pay attention to how intuitive the application is, how easy it is to navigate and take advantage of the features.

What Should UX Do in an MVP?

User experience in software development should be forward-thinking. The concept usually considers all additional features and changes that the startup plans to make over time, so that developers can later include them without changing the layout significantly.

A skilled and experienced UX developer working with a minimum viable product can point out the mistakes in development at an early stage, thus ensuring that the full-scale product avoids them. In addition, they will know what users generally expect from a product and will help navigate the whole team in the right direction.

An MVP with a good UX is the first step the company can take at interacting with outside world. It reveals the brand, the design of the application or the website. It also allows the company to start “communicating” with its core audience. Consecutively, the company can start learning about their preferences, demands and showing them what to expect.

That’s why, when it comes to minimum viable product development, you should not treat UX lightly. If the startup feels that its team of engineers might not have enough experience at UX, it may be a good idea to consider hiring an outside party to take care of this aspect.