Designing an MVP

image source: paul.li

image source: paul.li

We get a lot of clients asking us to design an "MVP" that they can show to potential users, investors and partners to get feedback or raise funds. In most of these scenarios, the hardest challenge is defining what is the minimum set of features that will prove there is something viable in a product that solves a need for the target user

Here is our process of designing an MVP. 

1. One line definition of the product

We work with the client to define the product in one (short) sentence. The shorter this line is, the more clear the product is. This helps in filtering out the toppings from the doughnut.. Contrary to what most people expect, this is the hardest challenge. 

2. Branding

An MVP does not mean a poorly designed prototype. It means what is the minimum representation of the product that clearly and effectively communicates the usefulness to the user. In order to do this, we find that an MVP should still excite the user about the product. It should tell the story in a concise, appealing manner. The tag line, the logo, the typography, the wireframes, the designs - all of these are very important in telling the story and assessing the user's excitement to use the product when it is built out with all the promised features. 

image source: socialmediasocialmarketing.com

image source: socialmediasocialmarketing.com

Very often in our design process, we find that the images that we sift through for branding impact us hugely in deciding what is minimal, what is viable and what the wireframes should flow like. We find that this is an often overlooked aspect of building an MVP, and we think this is critical. 

3. Wireframes

Once we have a good idea of what we want to put in front of users to get feedback and see if there is something viable or not, we build the wireframes. We sketch on paper or design using photoshop and we put these into prototyping apps like Marvel or InVision or POP.

After several iterations of putting wires into these apps, showing the flow to friends of the company, early adopters, and folks in communities like meetup groups, we then get onto designing the refined visual designs. 

4. Design

The actual design is only a third of the effort, since by this time the wireframes and flow are defined in detail, in collaboration with some feedback from early adopters. The branding exercise also makes designing easier and more effective since a lot of the visual and aesthetics are already well thought through. Once the designs are done, they are uploaded again into apps like Marvel/POP/InVision and these are again iteratively demonstrated to early users and improved upon. 

5. Feedback

A good chef tests his dish every step of the way. Similarly we think feedback is critical at every step of the design process. It's important to have original thought and a strong opinion, but this should be edited with user feedback. Once the designs are completed, we try to get these up on some user forums to get some feedback from people who are not friends of the company. Nothing like some honest criticism. We improve the designs again through a couple of iterations. 

In this way our clients, our community and early adopters are all part of our process of designing the MVP. 

An Apple a year....

....and everyone perks up to hear. 

Apple had their big event last week where they announced several product news in their usual well rehearsed theatrical performance. 

We haven't played with the iPhone 6, nor have we laid hands on the Apple Watch. So we can't comment on those, expect that we can't wait to have them in our hands...or on our wrists. We want to write about some of the other announcements made by Apple. 


1. Over 1.3 Million Apps

Apple announced that there are now over 1.3 million apps in the app store. You have 20 apps on your home screen and an average user probably uses about 40-50 apps on a regular basis (no matter which smart phone one uses). The apps that you have on your home screen are all Unicorn companies. 

What about the apps that don't make it to your home screen? They can't make a significant ad revenue if they don't have enough eyeballs. We think this will drive more transaction and commerce based business models in the app ecosystem. Businesses that provide security, user loyalty, payment processing, user support and other such services through an API for apps should see increased adoption.

2. Default Apple apps falling behind

Apple prides itself in providing the best user experience. We think they succeed in doing this like no other company in the industry when they combine hardware, software and services. But in just software apps, they fall behind. There is a startup or a large company that makes a better app compared to every single one of the apps that Apple ships on the iPhone. Some that we use on our phones - 

  • Sunrise over Apple calendar
  • Mailbox over Apple Calendar (we have some extra betacoins for the Mailbox mac beta. Ping us if you want one).
  • Evernote over Apple Note
  • Google Maps over Apple Maps
  • Here's a complete list from Digital Trends Link

This ties into the rumor that Apple might acquire Path. Path probably has the best design and user experience among mobile social network/messaging apps, but is struggling for adoption compared to Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and other mobile messaging apps.

3. Apple Pay

NFC technology has been around for a while, and has been integrated with phones and payment terminals for a while. But Apple Pay will finally give this payment technology the kind of commercial success that it has lacked with the integration of the fingerprint scanner, and the adoption by several of the popular apps in the Apple ecosystem. Most importantly, Apple is working with the credit card companies and not trying to replace them. 

Unlike several of the payment solutions which try to store the user's data and build seemingly clever business models around the data, Apple has taken a different approach. They don't save the user's data, and focus instead on the security and the user experience.

4. Music Albums delivered right to your phone

Even without making much hype about it, Apple might have just changed the music delivery game. By putting U2's new album directly (and freely) available on iTunes, Apple has created a new model. With their acquisition of Beats, Apple also has access to Beats' superior curation in the music streaming service, and Dr. Dre's knowledge and connection of artists. 

Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Google Play and others have good music businesses and products, but Apple just upped the bar again for all players.

5. Partnership with IBM

Apple didn't announce this at the event, but this is a very significant development. Think of all the enterprise administrators and their apprehension in using Apple or Google platforms, and a lot of the hesitation is due to apps and not devices. With the partnership with IBM, expect to see a whole series of apps for enterprises like banks, transport, consulting, law firms etc. and the enterprise market will be flush with apps. 

Launching our new brand

Put Your Ideas On Wheels

We created Beagles Labs because we are approached by friends, business associates and acquaintances all the time to help them build apps for different ideas they have. These ideas come from a wide range of verticals - commerce, fashion, travel, healthcare, finance etc. When we decided to build Beagles Lans, we wanted to keep your idea at the center of all our activities. Our job in branding, design and development is to help your idea shine through the best possible mobile app or web product that we can build. So this formed the backbone of our brand. 

We are also really excited about the quality of people and ideas that come into our door every single day. We're working on some really cool ideas and brands and we'll announce some beautifully crafted apps very soon. 

APP FRAGMENTATION

The last two years have seen extreme fragmentation in apps. Take messaging apps for example. Just a small survey of all the Beagles Labs folks shows that we use an average of 4 messaging apps each. We use Google Hangouts for work messages. Most of us use a combination of iMessage and text messages to communicate with friends. In addition, we all use a combination of Whatsapp, Viber, Snapchat, Path Talk, Facebook Messenger, WeChat depending on our personal preferences. 

image source: theguardian.com

image source: theguardian.com

Fred Wilson had a great post on this, where he writes that such fragmentation is here to stay, and will only increase over time. 

Just in our own use, we see this type of fragmentation in several apps. Here's another example - we use these apps regularly for content sharing

  • Buffer - To schedule our daily sharing on social media
  • Pocket - To read articles later
  • Mightybell - To share content in the company to different workgroups
  • Evernote - Some of the folks use this for bookmarking

We live in an age of unparalleled personalization. Every one of us likes our own app for the specific 20% of the features that that app does differently than the other apps. Given how much time we spend with messaging, email, content. work flow management, scheduling and other functions on a daily basis, being able to do this last 20% efficiently is very important and the use of more fragmented apps for this will increase. 

This also opens the door to a phenomenon that we internally like to call as "Disrupting the disruptor". Whatsapp disrupted text messaging with social messaging, and Snapchat is disrupting social messaging with messages that disappear. We think in order to disrupt the incumbent, any new app should do one function in one small niche very very well. The age of broad ranging functionalities for apps has been obliterated by super focused apps. This also gives the app a competitive moat protecting it from newer apps that have to find a new niche to wrestle into the space. 

Does your app solve a highly focused niche problem, that a large number of people have? Answering that question honestly might be one of the first and most important steps to product market fit.  

UNENDING MOTION

We believe that anything that is not in a state of unending motion withers and dies. This applies to companies, products, and just about anything else. 

Even after we ship a product, whether it is a product we launch ourselves, or a product we build for a client, we believe in continually improving it. 

 
startup quote keep shipping.png
 

Here are three ways in which we help improve a client's product even after we have shipped it.

1. Best Practices for design and code maintenance

We provide all our clients with a customized set of best practices that we recommend for optimum maintenance of the design and code elements. 

2. Roadmap for design and code improvements

On request, we provide a roadmap to our clients that will help them assess, budget and plan for future releases and iterative improvements to the app/product.

3. Engagement with analytics/customer success teams

We like to have periodic engagement with the analytics/customer success teams of our clients, so we can make recommendations on metrics to track and improvements to make to the app/product based on the data.

Our motto is to put your ideas on wheels, and what good are wheels if the product is not in unending motion?

BABY STEPS

Most good developers and designers follow methodologies that allow them to build small modules and push them out for feedback on a regular basis. Agile Methodology, Lean Principles - these are all based on the same foundation of small, regular, incremental progress. 

We think the movie "What about Bob" with Bill Murray explains this in the most uncluttered way - 'Baby Steps'. 

 
 

We really believe in baby steps and this is our normal process with clients when they want an app or a web product to be developed.

IDEAS ON WHEELS

Our whole process is geared towards putting your ideas on wheels by developing the best possible concept, branding, and design and then engineering it into a brilliant web product/mobile app. We break this down into four phases. 

1. THE BRAND

We come up with several concepts and brand themes for your idea based on the product idea, the target user base and the market you want to address. We do two iterations of this with your input and then craft the perfect brand for your idea. 

2. THE ANIMATION

We sketch the concepts into several wireframes and convert them into an actionable demo, giving you a feel for how the app will look, and what the user interaction will be like. Before we open photoshop to do any designs or start writing a single line of code, we make sure there is complete alignment between your goals and our direction. 

POP app.jpg

3. THE DESIGN

Once we all agree on the wireframes and the user flow, we design the whole app experience and show you how exactly how every pixel and interaction will work. 

 
 

4. THE CODE

Only after you've approved the design and the interaction, we write the code. We ship code every week and make small incremental releases every week. You can install these incremental releases on your phone or web browser and see real time progress. 
We keep you engaged with our design and development process at every step. 

It is your idea that we're putting on wheels after all.