Ship pretty, functional things

When Reid Hoffman said that if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your app, you shipped too late, I think he was referring to features and bugs. Not design and functionality. The app has to function well enough to solve a problem. The design has to be pretty enough not to turn off users, but the rest is where Hoffman’s quote comes into play. Polishing features, writing costly (in time) integration tests—I know many devs will hate me for this point—and other things prevent you from launching.

Nail the design. Nail the initial functionality. And ship.

I write this because I’ve noticed that as I focus more on design and UX for my MVPs, I am relying less and less on frameworks and libraries. I’ve found myself writing all my css and styling from scratch. It takes quite a bit longer, but you get a feeling that is unique and not something picked up off the shelf. That, to me, is worth the extra time. And that falls outside of the famous Reid Hoffman quote, in my opinion.

Be embarrassed by your product’s immaturity at launch. Be embarrassed by bugs. But don’t be embarrassed by its design and lack of functionality. This is what I’m applying as I build Perligo.

Would love to know how you all think about this topic.

  1. 13

    Many many years ago we built an E2E MVP using duct tape and bubble gum that stitched together a web, a desktop app, and a hastily made and ugly glue desktop application that brought it all together for an office professional.

    There was nothing usable or pretty about it. It required the user to enter the same information in more than one place, effectively re-doing work that they had already done. It required the user to actively check the status of a long running function we performed (no notifications). Once the asynchronous function was complete, and the user had refreshed their browser often enough to know it was done, the user then had to use the glue desktop app to get the results from the web app into the desktop app.

    It was absolutely the worst possible user experience we could have created. We created it, however to validate if we solved a core problem. In this case it was the automatic entry of data into the primary desktop app and it saved a ton of typing and reduced human error down to near 0%. We believed this to be a 10x improvement over the current way of managing this activity.

    One particular user we tested with was an early adopter and had agreed to try it out and let us spend time with her in her office to watch her using it.

    By the end of the study, we were wrapping up the final call with her and she said, "You aren't going to take this away from me, are you? I need it. I can't go back to the old way. How much can I pay you to keep using it?"

    If you solve a problem 10x better than the next best alternative, people will jump through some pretty ridiculous hurdles to use your product, even if it is ugly and hard to use.

    1. 1

      Do you think this is true across the board though? Or do you think the situation helped contribute to this working out?

      I’ve also been part of projects like this. The difference I’ve seen though is there were existing relationships and partnerships that allowed the hard to use product to even get into the hands of the potential customer. I’m not sure that was your case but it sounds like it might have been similar.

      1. 3

        I'm a big fan of "it depends" since it is flexible and allows for thinking through a particular situation and then applying a set of principles appropriately. There is, of course, no silver bullet.

        So with that..

        It depends. It depends where the entrepreneur is in the journey. If you have zero customers today and you haven't validated your idea the design matters (a lot) less than other things.

        The question now is, how can you inexpensively (minimum time and money) validate that the customer problem you want to tackle is a) actually a problem b) your solution solves it better than whatever they are doing today c) people will be willing to pay for it?

        In my corporate job, we've validated new products by using paper prototypes. We've literally walked down to Starbucks, grabbed random people, and had them "try our product" using sketches on paper to see if people even understood the concept and could do a task that we asked them to do. This helped us validate our "design" as well, even if it was paper and sharpies.

        Another approach we've used (the name of the process escapes me) is where we rapidly prototype on paper and then bring in a potential user that we've recruited. We work with them for 10 minutes testing the concept, screens, and workflows, get feedback, then ask them to take a break. We spend 5-10 minutes iterating on the sketches then bring them back in and rinse and repeat. Then we'd bring in another potential user and do the same thing.

        In my entrepreneurial life, I once had (yet another) idea for a product, in this case an e-book for a popular game. Rather than write a single word of that e-book, I built a landing page (beautifully designed by a professional) that drove home the value proposition. The landing page had multiple buttons to drive purchases. If you clicked the button it would let you know the ebook was being written, and would kindly ask you for your e-mail to get notified.

        Over the course of a week I rapidly drove very targeted clicks using Adwords with different variants, which also let me test what marketing might appeal best to my target audience. In the end, 0 people clicked the buy button. There simply wasn't any demand.

        The founder of Dropbox, famously shared a demo video (smoke and mirrors) that drove his sign-ups to 75000 overnight. He was able to validate demand for his product, and even test out an initial "design" without having yet built the product.

        So I'll end where I started. It depends. If you have a validated idea, your early adopters (the users who will forgive you most for design errors) are paying for your product and you've iterated with that subset of customers and nailed the customer problem, then likely you also iterated on the user experience design with them.

        1. 1

          So well put! It reminds a lot of what John O’Nolan did with Ghost. Threw up a mock up on HackerNews and launched a Kickstarter from that.

  2. 4

    I don't think this is necessarily true. Ux/ui is just the same as any of the other differentiators for a product. If that's what's going to make your product better than your competitors, then yeah, spend extra time on it. Otherwise you're just wasting your precious time ad energy when a mediocre UX would be fine. UX/UI is not any more special than having more or better features, or having a faster app, or having X, Y, or Z. It's no surprise that designers think UX/UI cannot be compromised in an MVP, developers think MVPs should be written with scalability in consideration, and marketers think you need at least 5 analytics integrations before launch. We're all biased toward thinking that way based on our own expertise.

    The fact that you mentioned that building your app is taking quite a bit longer because you're make styles that make your app look unique is kind of a warning sign in my eyes. Do your customers care that your product looks unique? In most cases, I'd guess not.

    1. 2

      Having built many products now, I can say for sure the answer is...it depends. For my current product, yes it matters. For one of my past products, something built on bleeding edge tech and in an emerging market, the design and UX didn’t matter as much.

    2. 2

      I think it depends on the customers and your target market. For us, Bluetooth developers might not care but we've gotten some nice commentary on both our UI and UX from users. We're not targeting the Bluetooth development community until we nail down B2C. But even then, some of the developer tools I've looked at don't seem very user friendly either... so I see an opportunity.

  3. 3

    Funny -- I just wrote about this today :-) The tlwr; (too long wont read);

    I've never had a customer complain about the design.

    It feels worse to have a nicely designed product that does not work as expected (or at all).

    I am not a designer. It is not a skill that I want to improve. Instead I would rather rely on the best practices of frameworks like Bootstrap to get me there (at least in the beginning). In my experience design is something to consider later on the the product lifecycle. I am more interested in how things work vs. how things look.

    If you want to read the rest:


    1. 2

      I like that post a lot and I don’t know that it necessarily contradicts what I’m saying. You mentioned using bootstrap and other frameworks to handle the design. That, to me, means you’re probably shipping pretty nicely designed products. I think a lot of people are getting caught up in me saying I am not using a framework for this product’s design. I didn’t mean to suggest everyone should follow that path. I just wanted to have more control over the design even if it took a little longer (not a lot longer).

      1. 2

        The perils of public writing :-) -- No matter how long or short you leave a lot of room for people to interpret or outright get the opposite meaning.

  4. 3

    I feel though... design is similar in many aspects to everything else. You cannot “nail” it until people have used it and you get feedback.

    I’m assuming here by design you mean UX/UI and not just colors and fonts.

    1. 1

      Absolutely. What I mean is that I see a lot of people shirk the responsibility of creating good UI/UX in the name of “moving fast” and “shipping.”

  5. 2

    This was exactly what I set out to do with Signils. I looked at competing apps and they were, in my opinion ugly. Several of them looked more like excel spreadsheet formats with web UI buttons and links and stuff. Plus each of them does one thing decently well but still sub-par.

    I felt like if we could do a couple of things really well and provide a superior UI and a superior UX, we'd do really well with it.

    It did take us a little longer to ship but in my mind it was worth it. We could've shipped earlier but I wanted to include a feature that nobody seems to care about but me. We do plan on implementing MixPanel so we can make better decisions when we make investments in the future.

    1. 2

      This is a really good point that I don’t think I made well. If you are building in a relatively crowded market where the competition is all ugly and hard to use software, your competitive advantage can be design and usability.

  6. 2

    Kind of reminds me of this blog post on SLC (Simple Loveable Complete): https://blog.asmartbear.com/slc.html

    1. 2

      I loved that post. Can you imagine being a user that is like “yeah, I’d love to use an app that is defined by “minimal viable”? Always hated that term when misused (as it so often is). There’s also the minimal lovable product concept which a lot like the SLC concept.

      I think the biggest thing to be cognizant of is we can move fast (and break thing if we must) while still shipping pretty, functional things.

      1. 2

        lol! yeah I like "minimum lovable". I think that's how my girlfriend would describe me.

  7. 1

    Great points, thanks for sharing.
    First off, I don't mean to be a prude but I want to bring to your notice that your website has a spelling error in a crucial page: In learn more page: "Writing it hard. Getting feedback shouldn't be" where it should be "writing is". I hope this helps and I don't come off rude to you.

    Secondly, my two cents on the topic. I think in terms of product development, design thinking is a way better approach than lean methodology. Design thinking is more about the problem and less about where you are at the product phase. The prototyping enables you to find loopholes fast and fix them.

    Take Care & All the best

    1. 1

      Totally agree on design thinking. And thanks so much for catching that typo! It's fixed now.

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