#ux #op-ed

Agile product development with UX communities

Dustin Hesse (SKOPOS NOVA) presented at sum.cumo’s “Design After Work”

Continuing education is important to us at sum.cumo. That’s why many of us attend conferences (see our follow-up reports) and why we also host many events ourselves. These events are often public (such as the sporadic Hamburg Vue.js Meetup as well as the Sketchnotes Meetup), but some of them are private, such as “Design After Work.” In February, we had a visit from Dustin Hesse from SKOPOS NOVA. Here he shares publicly what he told us during his visit at our office in the Schlump quarter of Hamburg. Thanks, Dustin!

“Group discussions take too long. I would rather create the product. And then wait and see what the customer does.“ – Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

For a long time, the task of recording the behavior and attitudes of users toward products and services in order to estimate the products’ success was left mostly to market researchers. In the last few years, however, opportunities afforded by the internet for measuring the success of digital products and services have raised the question of whether conventional market research is still necessary.

The Lean Startup method of Eric Ries describes a repeating cycle of four steps:

  1. Generate an idea.

  2. Quickly build a minimum viable product.

  3. Measure the reactions of users to the minimum viable product.

  4. Learn from the data and then either improve or discard the idea.

Here’s an example: Since people want to be able to get around more quickly, let’s start with the idea of a bicycle. We quickly build a minimum viable product. When we measure the sales figures, we learn that sales drop during the winter. So we have the idea of a rickshaw or maybe even a car that provides more protection from bad weather.

Now we might observe that sales increase somewhat, but it’s difficult to judge exactly how customers use their products. It’s similar in the digital sphere. A/B testing, i.e. direct comparison of the performance characteristics (such as hit rates, bounce rates, and conversion rates) of two live variants of a website, is one method of getting quick feedback. The success of an app can be evaluated quickly by the number of downloads and daily users.

But what if both versions of a website deliver poor performance? What if we only ever compare bicycles to bicycles, while the user actually wants a car? Ideally we need to involve users in the agile product development process from the start, and the method needs to be quick and iterative.

A solution for quick user feedback: the UX community

A UX community is a dedicated online platform for potential users of a product or service. Such a platform adapts classical market research methods in order to generate user feedback in various different ways and levels of detail.

  • Brief online surveys highlight overall moods or attitudes toward ideas and concepts. Of course, longer-form surveys are also an option.

  • User journals hosted on blogs shed more light on how products and services are used day to day. The customer journey can indicate routine pain points for which it’s worth developing and improving digital products and services. Image uploads of user experiences are one way to gain deeper insight into customers’ lived experience.

  • Moderated forums allow users to discuss various points regarding products, services and designs.

  • Users can be invited as necessary to participate in video interviews and focus groups on Skype (or similar) in order to better understand journal entries or forum content. Screen sharing makes usability testing easy to implement.

  • It’s also simple to integrate UX tools (such as card sorting, tree testing, and wire frame testing) into the interviews and surveys.

Once a community has been built, the process of gathering user feedback becomes quick and flexible at any stage of the product development process, from determining customer requirements through evaluating concept designs to usability testing. In the ideal case, any Product Owner in the company can simply toss whatever they’re working on over to the community for feedback. Whether the product is a navigation structure for a website or a sales funnel for insurance, the Product Owner can get immediate feedback, allowing them to improve the idea and return it to testing.

That’s how we can be sure – thanks to digital, agile market research – that we’re not selling people bicycles when they’d actually rather have cars.