Do I need a UX Designer for my MVP?

Is it OK to launch an MVP without getting UX design input first? Can I just get by at first with a bootstrap interface? When is the best time in the process to bring in a UX designer?

I get these kinds of questions a lot from startup folks who aren’t sure if they need a UX designer now or later. The main question to ask yourself is, what is my MVP supposed to do? “MVP” has just about as many definitions as “happiness,” and once you can get clear and specific on what your MVP is, and why you’re doing it that way, then we can start talking UX design strategy.

Scenarios where your MVP might NOT need a UX designer from the beginning:

  1. If your MVP is intended mostly to validate a concept, build an audience, get your message out, know your audience better, etc. For a lot of startups, MVP means a landing page with a blog and an email list, so they can start engaging with their audience online and building brand recognition before they ever mention their upcoming SaaS product. For other startups, MVP is an interactive click-through mockup in Keynote that they put in front of 20 hand-selected test users to get reactions on whether or not this product would be useful. In these cases, you’re probably fine getting the feedback, getting to know your users a little better, getting clear on your messaging before you invest in UX design help. At this point in the process, you may even get more value from a content strategist, a branding strategist, or a web designer who can help you nail that landing page or approach potential users with the right strategy.
  2. If your software is pretty straightforward, and it’s based on really, really common software patterns. If you think you can make a decent go of it in bootstrap, then you probably can. An example of this is, a startup based here in Colorado that allows homeowners to post their renovation jobs online and be matched with handymen/women in their region. Think for homeowners and contractors. Since the whole app premise of “matching people who need something with people who have something” is pretty much all the rage these days, there are a zillion examples of other software that you can essentially copy.
One of my favorite strategies for understanding and emulating a competitor’s UX is to start from their login page and take a screenshot of literally every click you need to take in order to log in and complete a task.

Take your screenshots and dump them in order into a big ol’ pdf file and BINGO, you have a very detailed template for your own software’s workflow. This is a really rudimentary thing I do at the beginning of any start-from-scratch software project because it helps me get a broad perspective on all the little bits and pieces that need to be present in order for users to get anything done on a particular type of software.

That being said, there are a multitude of reasons why someone in either of these scenarios would benefit from having a designer on the team from the beginning. You may want everything you put in front of potential users to look polished and legit so that people get excited for when the real deal is launched. You may want to try out your MVP at a conference or trade show and need that interactive mockup to be spot on. But as a general rule, a lot of MVPs are simply tools for gathering the first round of feedback. If this is you, then you can probably hold off on UXD until later in the process.

Scenarios where you do need a UX designer for the MVP:

  1. If your software isn’t straightforward, and nothing else out there really encompasses the functionality you want to provide. If you’re having trouble thinking through how to get all the things on the page, and how the heck users will be able to find the things they need, then bringing in a good UX designer from the beginning can help you get clear and focused. (And then your software will be clear and focused too.) By doing some targeted user research and pinpointing the most important user tasks to focus on, you’ll be able to pair down the features in your MVP to something more manageable. Then you can make sure that what you DO release will generate excitement in users rather than disappointment.
  2. If your MVP is actual working software for an internal audience. That means this software is either for internal use by one company, or you already have buy-in from a few companies who want to use your software for something very specific. In this case, your software’s raison d’etre is founded on deep knowledge about a very nuanced problem faced by a very specific group of people. Essentially, your concept is already validated, and your users are ready and waiting — now you need to impress them. A UX designer will be able to help you organize your existing knowledge about your users, and fill in any holes by asking users the right questions. Together you can plan and execute an MVP that will get to the real heart of your user’s needs.

Which scenario do you fall into? Are you somewhere in between? Trying out a Strategy Month is a low-cost way to dip your toe into professional UX help, and understand for sure whether hiring a UX designer is the right investment for your business right now. Check it out and drop me an email if you have any questions.