Sexy VS viable products: is your product viable, or just sexy?

Societe Generale Design
5 min readSep 5, 2018


Over the course of the last decade, I’ve worked across several industries, from retail, to real estate, luxury goods and finance. I’ve worked with some of the most dynamic and inspiring entrepreneurs in Europe, and — no matter what the project — their goal was always simple, and it was always the same: make it a success.

But there isn’t always a straightforward path to a simple goal. Without careful forethought, you might find yourself on a dead-end road from the moment you set out. The secret to success, then, is being able to decide whether your project is viable or just sexy, and having the right team in place both to make that call, and to maximise the concept’s potential.

Consider this cautionary tale…

Set-up to succeed?

A few years ago, I worked with a London start-up on a promising real estate project. The founders were, respectively, a successful UK estate agent, and a technical expert based outside of the UK. The challenge was to create a property-finding app for the London rental market; the app allowed users to create buddy ups based on common interests they might have. The founders’ complementary expertise, and the head start they had on the competition was enough to convince investors and landlords that the app had real promise. But sadly, they were never able to attract sufficient end-users to their platform. Onboarding plateaued and the venture failed.

Why? It came down to a lack of specific expertise. The company knew their business model inside out. But they did not know their end-users. This gap in their knowledge crippled their ability to respond to unforeseen issues. They were unable to adjust their strategy on the fly at critical moments of the design process.

With the right team member on board — someone to coordinate targeted end-user interviews, define the customers’ needs, and establish how to engage with them through the proposed app — they may have had a genuine success on their hands.

Business-to-business and retail markets have different constraints, but there will always be an end-user, and it’s essential to understand their needs. When applied to your product’s design, it is that understanding that will keep your customers coming back, to use your product frequently as possible.

My recent experience working on the design system revamp at Societe Generale could not have been more different to the story above. Here, the team has been structured and set up to avoid the pitfalls that hampered the real estate tech firm whose missteps I outlined. Our developers were able to work more efficiently because they were accustomed to our methods, having come from the team in charge of the implementation, support and maintenance of the old framework.

The visual designer assigned to the project showed a deep interest in complex user interfaces, demonstrating true expertise in this field.

For my own part — as a UX (user experience) specialist with over 50 SG Markets projects under my belt — I was able to maintain a complete and comprehensive overview of our stakeholders’ needs, throughout the project.

To break that down for you another way, when you work with the SG Design team.

Lucas, the designer, will define WHAT your product is.
Fabien and Douglas, the developers, will tell you HOW your product works.
Louis (that’s me) the UX expert will tell you WHY you need the design system, and the entire wider design team is on hand for rapid feedback.

It’s a setup that allows us to move speedily to the stage where our MVP can be validated by the entire design team. Beyond that point, the product can be iterated and enhanced with the feedback the whole team provides.

Got a problem that needs fixing?

As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. A successful product is often born out of an irritating problem.

You might be pitched a product with an amazing interface, that everyone is very happy to spend their time working on, but if you cannot clearly define what problem the product solves, then it’s not viable… it’s just sexy. The value proposition is absent, or at least too weak to be obvious.

If a product is viable, the problem it solves should be the very first thing you notice. Its value proposition will appear organically through the MVP.

A good example of this is the online storage and file sharing app Dropbox, which used a video that was as clever as it was cheap and efficient to pitch their clearly viable (but not massively sexy) product. Five simple steps outline things out neatly for the potential end-user:

  1. They state the problem, conjuring a painful scenario that everybody can relate to.
  2. The introduce their product — the solution to the problem!
  3. They state their advantage over competing products and sell their own expertise.
  4. They describe their value proposition clearly.
  5. They finish with a call to action — if you’re interested, reach us at…

The importance of KPI

It’s important that you are able to measure your project’s performance in a meaningful way. So defining the types of measurement that will benefit the project is crucial. It may something as simple as the number of sales per visit, or something more specific to your project, such as — to use Dropbox as an example again, user acquisition, data storage costs, or conversion of free to paid users.

Whatever you’re measuring, make sure your key performance indicators are understood, and develop a strategy that will allow you to track KPIs in a way that is as close to real world experience as possible.

The truth is, by the time you’re thinking about KPIs you’ll already know you have a viable product on your hands. You’ll have identified the problem that it fixes, and you’ll be on your way to understanding precisely what your end-users’ needs are.

If it happens also to be sexy as hell, well… some products are just born that way.



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