Fail-fast… how and why you should validate ideas at the design stage before investing in software development

Every time I create a new IT product, I can’t wait for the reaction from people who have never used it before. I’m very curious about what the user’s interaction with the software will be like. Is technology simple? Is it intuitive? Does it make sense? In the end, there is nothing worse than creating a tool that makes the user feel stupid.

To minimise the risk of high costs associated with making changes to software after it has been released, collecting user feedback is crucial. This can be done at various stages of product development.

1. Wireframe

A wireframe is a draft project with a small amount of detail, designed to effectively outline the main aspects of the final product. It should show the most important elements of the project, give an idea of the structure of information, and include a description and basic visualisations of the interfaces and interactions. It is a simplified product plan, intended to give an outline of the project to people who are involved in its creation, as well as the users. It is very useful for collecting preliminary feedback at the initial stage of product development.

2. Mockup

A mockup graphically presents the final product as well as shows its content and functionalities. It is more detailed than a wireframe, but unlike a prototype, it is not clickable or interactive. Mockups are especially useful for analysing the visual side of the product. They are attractive to the recipient and more cost efficient to prepare than prototypes. They also facilitate understanding of the most important software functions.

3. Prototype

The appearance and functionality of a prototype is very similar to the final version of the product, but it doesn’t show the finer details and there is no integration with the back-end. For example: if the prototype is a mobile banking application, you can go through the process of defining the transfer, but after clicking ‘send’, nothing will happen, because there is no integration with the database or the authentication. The prototype allows you to simulate processes and test interaction with the user interface. From this, you can collect valuable information, especially about the logic of the solution, and any appropriate can be introduced at an early stage of the development.

4. Creating a product following Agile Methodology

It is impossible to create a good product without frequent validation of its usability. Therefore, incremental software development, where testing is part of the production cycle, is very effective. Users test each subsequent version of the software, and their opinions can be collected to provide valuable insights allowing the solution to be tailored to the users’ needs. For me, the most exciting moment of product development is testing new solutions in small groups of people asked to use the solution every day. It provides the perfect opportunity to collect opinions at various stages:

  • during the first contact, without any instructions
  • just after the first contact, with a little bit of help
  • after a week or two, to check how the users’ experiences have changed after going through the learning curve

There are also different methods of collecting opinions, such as the following:

1. Surveys

One of the most popular methods to gather feedback is a survey. It is a simple and relatively quick way. Once created, the questionnaire can be used repeatedly, and the data obtained in this way has a clear form. It is also convenient for the respondent – all they need to do is answer a few questions.

2. Face-to-face interviews

A face-to-face interview is nothing but a direct conversation with the respondent. In this form of contact, sometimes graphics, text and multimedia are used to achieve even better results. The face-to-face interview is a great opportunity to get more detailed opinions about the product or to ask additional questions about the most interesting issues. The downside, however, is that collecting data in this way can be time-consuming.

3. Suggestion box

This tool allows you to collect suggestions and comments from users. Such data make it possible to better adapt the product to users’ needs. Information can naturally be collected digitally, and the key element is to encourage users to share their ideas.

Most users are happy to help with product improvement, but some of them take this step to a whole new level. In my experience, on several occasions, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of a suggestion box.

Unusual inquiries

How often does a tester install the software on two different phones? As you probably guessed, it isn’t often. I remember in particular one situation when the user decided to test the product on two phones with different operating systems: iOS and Android. He not only compared the operation of the program, but also compiled the data in a sheet, and he shared all his conclusions with me.

Sixth time’s a charm

Sometimes it happens that you have to adapt the product of another person to your needs, instead of creating it from the beginning, which can cause users problems with understanding it. Once, after five people were unable to do a task and slowly began to get irritated because of it, one woman approached the test methodically. Step by step, she solved the successive stages of the task until she was successful. The functionality she tested was highly unintuitive and most people gave up after just a few unsuccessful clicks. I was impressed with her perseverance and I told her so. She replied that it wasn’t the first time in her life that someone had called her stubborn. By the way, it explained why she was so high in the bank’s hierarchy: persistence in achieving the goal, regardless of whether it is an action on the application’s prototype or the transformation of the entire bank branch.

Everything for people

Listening to users’ opinions can’t be overestimated if we want to improve quality and functionality. The technology has to serve people – there is no point in releasing a product if the user isn’t able to use it freely. Although investing in collecting feedback from the beginning may seem to be only an additional cost, it absolutely pays off in the end. After all, there is a reason why we have two ears and only one mouth 😉

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