UX 101 for startups

“Customers don’t care about your f#$%*g solution, they care about their problems.”
—Dave McClure
  1. Useful first, usable later: Is a Banana Peeler a useful product? Product & services must be useful before being usable. They must have clear utility value by fulfilling a physical or a psychological human need.
    Why is your product useful?
  2. Laser focus: What’s common between Instagram, Dropbox, Basecamp, and Airbnb? All they do and they all do just one thing & do it damn well!
    “If you chase two rabbits, you catch none.”

    Have one key product promise. And, have laser-sharp focus to ensure the key promise of the product is fulfilled in a great way.
    Startups itch to add too many diversified features making bloated products, which are neither useful nor usable, let alone buyable.
    What key promise have you made to your product’s users?
  3. Minimum payable product: People talk about minimal viable products, however, MVPs are usually crappy. Not because they are made by incompetent people but because they are made for early release, not from a buyer’s or users’ point of view. Not because these products cannot do things, but because these products do things that users really do not want to achieve.
    So, throw useless MVPs out of the window and start with releasing a minimal product people are willing to pay for. Start with a minimal product that delights users!
    What is one big reason a customer will pay to use your product? What really is the soul of your product?
  4. UX is not just UI: If you think beautiful looking interfaces with fancy buttons is good UX, you are in for a rude shock:
    User eXperience (UX) is really about being useful, usable, and meaningful to users while UI and Visual Design ensures that the product finally ‘looks’ good.
    Would your product rather be useful, usable, and meaningful OR a good looking?
  5. UX is all about users: UX is about being useful, usable, and meaningful to users. So, if you do not deeply understand the users of your products, you cannot do any meaningful product design.
    Its never too late to find some real users, go and observe what they do throughout the day or ask them to show what they do. You will know a lot more about how to design your product in a fundamentally different way. Remember, users are definitely not your grand-mom, dad, girlfriend, or a colleague!
    Have you met atleast 10 real and potential users of your product?
  6. Use Empathy: Many startup CEOs believe that Axure and Photoshop are the most useful UX tools. Interestingly, they are all thinking of UI and not UX!
    Have you heard of this amazing tool called Empathy? Empathy is used by the leading innovation professionals across the globe to design amazing products.
    Yes, I am talking about simple, plain human empathy. Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by others—your users. You empathise when you feel what the other person is feeling, when you mimic their expression, hopes, desires, and pains.
    If you keep building products in isolation, you usually build products that no one wants. When you empathise with your users, you build great products.
    Can you tell 5 amazing user stories about your product?
  7. Nail concept design on paper: When you design a concept with pixel perfect accuracy, the user feedback is all about colours, fonts, and alignment. The feedback is never about the concept.
    However, when you sketch the concept on paper or whiteboard, the users talk about usefulness and usability of the product, that’s what you really need! Paper prototypes are quick, easy, iterative, and come at zero cost. Plus, you get feedback about the product concept.
    Once you have nailed the concept, it’s time to move to detailed wireframes using early prototyping tools.
  8. Design is iterative: Marketing guys use market simulations and software engineers make tests. Designers also need to test to understand design problems and refine. In design profession, the testing is done with real users using various stages of prototypes.
    The best designers in the world swear by design > user test > design cycles. If you don’t test with real users, you really don’t know what is going wrong with the design.
    Test early and test often, that will give you the confidence to build an amazingly useful and usable product. Throw away designs early if they do not work, don’t be afraid to design again. Iterate, iterate, and iterate.
  9. Scrap surveys: It is easy to ask users ‘What do you like?,’ ‘What is good and bad about this product?,’ or ‘How can I improve this product?’
    All the above questions will give you user opinions, which are known to be very biased, not good at all for a startup product. So asking opinions is what you must NEVER do!
    Surveys are biased opinions, throw survey results in the trash can, their perfect place! What you need is to understand user behaviour.
    “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
    —Steve Jobs
  10. How to test with users: To understand user behaviour, it’s fairly simple.
    Follow these 7 simple steps, and you will be a pro in understanding users’ behaviour in no time:
    a. Make a list of 3-5 key tasks that users will do regularly using your product. The tasks will be something like making an invoice, resending an invoice, check if a particular invoice was paid, and sending reminder for delayed payment.
    b.Bring real users in your office, one at a time, make them comfortable.
    c. Show the user the first screen and ask to complete task 1. Encourage the user to keep telling you what they are doing.
    d. Wait and closely watch the user do things, don’t answer questions related to usage of product. Once complete, either successfully or with difficulty, give user task 2.
    e. After each task, ask questions only about why things were done is a certain way—not about likes and dislikes.
    e. Give a small gift to the user at the end. A cup of coffee and some cookies should do.
    f. Don’t worry about analysis, your mind is already buzzing with several ideas to solve the problems!
    Now you have joined the select rank of people who understand the dark art of Usability Testing (UT), promise me to do this regularly with your product.
    You can use WebEx for remote users. And you do not need working prototypes, you can use paper prototypes easily—just keep pushing the next screen on the current screen.
  11. Analytics PLUS Usability Testing: Analytics is a great way to know where people came from, what they did, and where they left. Analytics is a starting point to pinpoint possible usage issues.
    However, analytics is pathetic when you want to understand the reasons for users’ behaviour: why people are coming, why are they doing what they are doing, and why are they leaving or not doing something. Usability testing is a lovely tool to understand the why’s of user behaviour—you anyway are a pro now!
  12. I depend on user feedback: Users call or send emails when they have issues they can’t reasonably solve. Most users do not bother to send feedback at all, they just leave your product. You will never be able to find a huge number of user efficiency or task workarounds with user feedback.
    Usability testing gets you closer to users and understand real issues very early. You will solve a huge number of issues before product release, saving you a lot of headache later.
  13. Wireframes using Keynote or Powerpoint: I have made paper prototypes and I have tested them—users love my product, now can I use UX prototyping tools?
    Yes, this is the time to use all the greatest prototyping tools out there. The key issue in this stage is feedback from several stakeholders—clients, users, subject matter experts, and others. So, choose a tool that helps in getting great feedback.
    The tool that gives you maximum value in this stage is either Keynote (on Mac) or PowerPoint. You can detail out your design very well in both tools. The best part is that you can send to several people for review or project it for review easily, and anyone in your team can do that.
  14. 5 UI questions to ask: Follow the great design principles and keep ogling at the greatest visual design out there.
    Don’t forget to ask these 5 questions in each screen/user interaction for a really usable product:
    a. What is the information needed by the user now to complete this task/sub-task/field?
    b. What can be done to provide the missing information here?
    c. What is the logical, most likely/probably, next step of the intended user?
    d. How can we help/guide the user go to the next intended step?
    e. Where is the user now and what will be achieved after completing this task?