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UX Science: A 3-Step Roadmap for User-Centred Startups

Far too often, a startup senses the business viability of an idea, gathers funds and jumps straight to “We need a designer and a programmer!”

What typically follows is an ascetic disappearance into the proverbial garage. And, if everything goes to plan, the team emerges from the dark, after many months with a manifestation of an idea that’s not only very old but also very likely invalid!

This can and must be avoided.

So I’m here to give you an actual roadmap (not just words of wisdom) for doing it right:

Step 1. Study Your User – Observation

It’s hard enough to create something, but what makes it a business is when you manage to sell it to customers for a profit. So, understanding customers is key!

Certainly, have a good idea about your product, but don’t rush to build it without talking to people who you think will use it. But be aware that user study is not the same as testing market fit. User study is about understanding behaviour, mental models and emotional indices.

Try to understand the users’ reality – identify the motivation, then the choice between available solutions in the local context. Next, observe their decision process and finally how the available solution(s) perform in the given timeframe. This is called “contextual enquiry”.

Do a lot of observing, silently, inconspicuously – try not to influence the context. And if you do talk, make it about getting the users verbalize their mental model, e.g. “how do you normally…?” or “tell us how you make decisions on…”

Conducting a Contextual Enquiry session in Vietnam with Nghi and Kien from vsource (which is a candidate acquisition platform combining smart technology with human intuition and recruiting experience)

It’s understandable that as an entrepreneur, you will struggle to maintain so many points of view. Hire a UX Designer, look for someone who is passionate about ethnography to set up contextual enquiries and interviews. I’d recommend you tag along as well, get to the essence of the problem, go on an ethnographic tour!

Expected outcomes:

1. Deep, intuitive, broad, personal, subjective understanding of the problems and opportunities

2. Extensive materials: tangible (photos, videos, audio recordings) and intangible (ideas and hunches) for brainstorms and discussions

3. Broad User-centred idea of the solution (I’m deliberately leaving this open-ended from a delivery POV, the exact representation of the idea is dependent on many factors at this point)

Permissible timeline: 1-4 weeks


Step 2. UX Strategy – Theory

Hopefully, you’ll appreciate from the earlier step that the solution has many shapes and forms – it’s not as simple as an app or an IoT device or a website, there’s a full stack of touch-points and hidden steps that go towards building the customer experience.

The next task for you / your UX Designer is to make a big drawing of the whole machine, the total solution. The UX strategy will cover aspects of the business model, but try to focus mainly on the User’s journey and possible delights and frustrations within it.

Refrain from jumping straight to detailed wireframes. Concept sketches are okay though – especially the back-of-the-napkin variety.

User Journey Maps are useful for mapping experience.
Sketch 0 of a webapp from vsource
Sketch 1: More detail but still essentially a sketch

Expected outcomes:

1. The primary outcome, of course, is the UX strategy – aim for coverage, not detail

2. And there will be intermediary results, crucial for shared understanding: User group definitions, ecosystem analysis, goals and tasks analysis, User-story maps and competitor studies

3. Confidence!

Permissible timeline: 2-6 weeks


Step 3. Prototype and Validate – Experiment

You surely notice the total solution is massive and foolishly beyond budget.

In your total solution, you must now identify your Minimum Viable Product. You must draw on your business insights and your user insights to decide the least expensive but fundamental part of your idea that can be tested very quickly and conclusively. Protip: It’s usually better to start with something you are quite sure will succeed the test.

Design at this stage should aim for detail. Perhaps you need to accelerate the design work? Simply, hire more designers. Your UX team, led by your UX lead will now have to produce representations of the final solution so that they can validate it with your potential customers.

Hopefully you’re still friends with your potential customers from step 1, perhaps they can test your product?

Hi-fidelity wireframe to capture the level of detail needed
Production-ready UI Design by our designer Rikke

With User testing, the primary aim is to find if your prototype misleads the User to form an incorrect mental model about how things work. Secondly, find out if your prototype is making the Users emotionally averse to respond to it.

The UX lead shall also be responsible for upholding that most important maxim of Jeff Patton: “Your job isn’t to build more software faster: it’s to maximize the outcome and impact you get from what you choose to build.”

Expected outcomes:

1. User-Tested Prototype

2. Hopefully a very short, qualified list of changes – the rest can be put on a backlog, for future iterations

3. Launch!

Permissible timeline: Timelines can vary greatly, but 1-3 months is commonly spent on the first release.

Experience Design is a science: a systematic progression from observation to theorisation to validation Click To Tweet

I hope that I have been able to help you (re-)think about the User Experience Design process for entrepreneurs like you. And I wish that, following these steps your startups can secure your success!

Need more help turning your startup User-centric? Get in touch!

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