The Value in Minimum Viable Design

If you’re thinking about designing a software product for your business, it’s understandable that you want it to be perfect. After all, what’s the point in investing money in something that isn’t as good as it can be? However, the problem with that approach is knowing what the perfect product looks like. If you’re going to go all out and include all the bells and whistles, it’s vital that users are going to benefit from them and, ultimately, that your product is going to be successful. This is where minimum viable design helps. Rather than aiming for perfection from the get-go, it gives you a chance to get a simple version of your app up and running so you can have more confidence in the results. 

What is a Minimum Viable Product?

You have probably already heard of the term minimum viable product (MVP). It is a version of a product that has enough features to work and enable it to gain feedback and insight about user behaviour. Far from the finished article, it is the most basic version of the product that could be released into the market. However, it can also be viewed as a version of a product, which allows a team to collect the most insights from customers and then use that knowledge to refine the product.

What Are The Benefits of an MVP

If you’ve got a great idea for a software product and you’ve done your research, it can be tempting to start building. However, it pays to take a step back. A tech-heavy solution, while new, fresh and exciting, isn’t guaranteed to win users over. It is often better to play it safe with the minimum viable product and ensure you are on to a good thing before you put all your eggs in one basket.

An MVP offers many benefits:

  • Identify core proposition – if you are going to keep your design simple, you have to focus on what is really possible. This helps you focus on your audience and the key issues that your app is trying to solve. 
  • Learn what users think – you have a chance to get early adopter’ feedback, which will help you determine if your app fits the target audience and what can be done to improve it further. 
  • Save money – with an MVP, you can get the biggest results at the lowest costs possible. You’ll only be developing the most vital features instead of complex systems and costs are greatly reduced. 
  • Release the product more quickly – when you develop a feature-packed product, you will need to invest a lot of time. On the other hand, with an MVP, you can shorten time to market, beat the competition and start to build customer relationships sooner rather than later. 

How to Design an MVP

The MVP approach raises some important questions for designers. The design will obviously need to be simplified, but not so stripped down that it doesn’t yield the insights that are needed. Meanwhile, with a fixed time and cost to deliver the MVP, it is the design that is variable and subject to change. Designers are therefore tasked with the challenge of providing real value with minimum viable design. 

While an MVP involves the least amount of effort to achieve a certain goal, it isn’t a small amount of effort. Minimum viable design actually requires a lot of effort indeed. Designers need to ensure that while they focus on delivering the smallest amount of functionality that it is still viable in terms of its ability to satisfy users. It’s about finding the right balance between functionality, reliability, usability and engagement. 

With that in mind, it’s vital to consider the following design principles: 

  • Navigation – while perhaps not the most exciting element of design, it’s vital that users can navigate an application or system and achieve their aim. System status, cues and error handling should be seamlessly managed so that users have  confidence in what they are doing at all times. 
  • Performance – when it comes to any piece of software, time is of the essence. Designs should consider system performance restrictions and what is the right amount of information to display on load. Progressive disclosure should also be used to optimise speed and only show users what is absolutely necessary at any given moment. 
  • Accessibility – however stripped back a design, accessibility is a must. Designers need to ensure that everyone has the full experience and can enjoy the product equally. This allows the product to reach a wider audience and enables aspects designed for the disadvantaged to potentially be adopted by a larger group of users. 
  • Emotion – while an MVP is, of course, a pared-back version of the full product, it shouldn’t be completely devoid of emotion. Feel-good features are still needed to some extent and most certainly the design should try to elicit an emotional response from its users. 

When reviewing what needs to be included, it can be difficult to see what is actually being left out. Minimum viable designs still need to deliver products that are easy to navigate, accessible, perform properly and engage and delight users. However, there are other areas that can be compromised.

Minimum viable design should focus on what provides the most value to both the user and the business. Insights from user research and testing can help to decide what these are and, likewise, help to remove features and elements that aren’t fundamental. There is also the good old phrase quality over quantity to consider. It is always better to do a few things really well than to do lots of things to an average standard. Additional features or functionality should be left for the final product, it is the ones that are needed to fulfil its purpose that will lead to a better experience. 

Is an MVP Worth It?

An MVP is the most efficient way to validate a product idea. It enables you to release a product more quickly, save money and validate what users think. This means that your final product can be based on real-life data and will be much more likely to be a success.

However, while it’s a simplified version of the end-product, Minimal viable design needs to take into account more than just functionality. Designers need to ensure that the product will deliver a reliable, user and delightful experience that will allow you to collect user feedback. If the feedback is then used for the next iterations, an MVP is most certainly worth it. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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