Design the Beginning

The middle is how everything should work, when everything else is working.

In the middle, the main character already knows what New Thing is and why it’s useful. In fact, everyone — including all her friends — are already on New Thing. There’s tons of great content in the system. Everyone is doing exactly what you were hoping they’d do.

Nobody cares about the thing you’ve designed, unless you can get them past the beginning.

The “beginning” is how you introduce something new to a person, and how you will get them to understand its value such that they incorporate it into their lives. When you set about designing the beginning, you are forced to consider the following hard questions:

  1. What should people understand about your product at a glance, and is that compelling enough to convince them to go through the trouble of trying it out?
  2. What should people’s first-time experience through your product be, and how do you plan to demonstrate to them its value within the first minute?
  3. How will you build out the social graph, content inventory, marketplace, etc. if the success of your product is dependent on those things?
  4. What would compel somebody to come back and use your product a second or third time?

These questions ought to be considered almost immediately after you have your initial North Star, and I can think of no better tactic to do so than the following: design the marketing page and design the new user experience.

Design the marketing page: this could be the app store submission, or it could be a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and there’s no need to get all nit-picky with the visuals or the words. Seriously, you’re not designing something to ship right away, so don’t waste your time on refinements. The point of doing this is that by the end of it, you should have a very clear articulation for your product around what problem it solves, and why someone might be interested in trying it out.

An incredible benefit of designing your marketing page and your NUX early is that right away, you can start getting feedback from people.

You can put the designs in front of people and start getting early signal on whether what you’re proposing is compelling and understandable. For our Moments product, we user-tested multiple versions of an early marketing page (really, it was just a headline and a few paragraphs of text describing all the things we thought Moments could help people do), and it was immensely helpful in getting us to focus on a few key use cases, cut out a bunch of other features, and dial in how we talked about the app.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.


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Julie Zhuo

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Product design VP @ Facebook. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.