User Research & Design Sprint
Product design and especially “user-centered design” involves user research and building low-fidelity prototypes to validate your understanding–to actually see if your product will achieve what it’s supposed to achieve.
Before building a product, understanding who you’re designing for is very important. Product designers and engineers often end up designing features around their own understanding of a problem, which could be very different from the problems users might actually have. More often than not, the mantra “we are not our user” holds true. By learning how people ‘actually’ accomplish certain tasks, we might even find surprising aspects that could yield clues that would eventually differentiate our product.
The second important piece of product design is product validation. Making sure that your product is on the right track — that people will actually want to use what you build—before you spend time and resources to build, polish, and take your product to market, can save yourself a lot of headaches and hassle (and money and time). Test your idea as quickly as possible through the simplest prototype you can get together to best convey the ‘feeling’ of the final product. Sometimes doing this on paper works, but more often you’ll have to code a quick prototype. Getting the feeling of the final product down is very important. Asking potential users “Would you want a product that does X?” doesn’t always work as expected, as people might say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without really knowing what the final product will be like.
Google Ventures has a brainstorming and prototyping idea they call a design sprint. Although I haven’t put it to use yet, it seems worth trying out: http://www.gv.com/sprint/
What This Means for the Monkey
Not much, actually. I thought I’d put the ideas out there, that user research and prototyping are both necessary in a ‘real’ product, NovelMonkey is much more a product for myself than for a specific target user. Hopefully, other people will find this app as useful as I will find it. I prototyped NanoWrito a couple of years ago to both learn MeteorJS and to help me finish NaNoWriMo. This time around, I’m doing it to learn React and Meteor, and to again help me finish NaNoWriMo.
In some ways, I am the a subset of my target audience. Though I’ve completed NaNoWrimo a handful of times already, I still understand the struggle of putting your words down on paper, of second-guessing your writing every few seconds.
If NovelMonkey ends up attracting more users than I plan for (less than a thousand), I’ll probably want to do some research and prototyping to see what I could do to differentiate, but I’m not going to put the cart before the horse.