User experience workshop

Why MVP is the antithesis of UX

I joined the UX/UI team of a multinational luxury goods company around six months ago, excited for the chance to help launch a new customer service product, starting with the Chinese market.

Since then, I've heard Product Owners, Business Analysts, and Developers all use the phrase "MVP for China."

As I am sure you know, for UXers (UX Designers), consistent and engaging user experience is a fundamental part of designing a good product and that is our mission. However, working on this Minimum Viable Product (MVP) project has been a particularly rough, challenging effort.It makes me think that the UX of Minimum Viable Products is not a happy marriage, but rather a fighting contest between two opponents.

And, like any other fighter or boxer, UXers need to get used to getting beaten up, to lose, to get rejected and to get smashed.

Let me explain you why

Our 'MVP for China' has a collection of features that are required for various user flows. Benchmarking our ideas and offers against other industry competitors is a key part of our process. Before going on to wireframe design and prototyping our options, we also do some research on UX guidelines. Finally, we present our work to a committee of stakeholders; this is when we enter the ring as a UX warrior, fighting for the users.

Imagine the scene: UX is represented by a team of expert UX Designer-fighters, equipped with Brazilian Jiujitsu 'heuristic' kicks and Jedi 'Use-of-the-Force-don't-make-me-think' skills.

In the opposite corner, you'll find the MVP, who will be represented by a committee of stakeholders who will pose difficult questions and provide business 'uppercuts.'

Finding the correct problems and proposing the proper answers in the name of our users is the value of fighting the good UX war. On the other side, it is the job of the stakeholders to analyze the costs and benefits and try to strike a balance that meets both user and company demands. So far, everything has gone well.

However, we know that UX has been 'knocked out cold' when stakeholders argue that "the UX concept is fantastic but it will take more time to implement; thus, please include only a basic feature, saving your proposal for a second release."

An MVP can be defeated by even the most powerful 'affordance' punch or UX standard 'kicking.' MVPs, on the other hand, have a bigger influence and can make or break any UX advice.

So, you might think: “What’s the point of having a UX team for an MVP, if ultimately, the release will be a mediocre and user-unfriendly solution?"

To address that question, we must first understand what a Minimum Viable Product is.

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, defined an MVP as "that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers, with the least effort".

Cool concept, right?

Yes, especially for entrepreneurs still in the early phases of development, with limited resources (both financial and human), who cannot afford the luxury of developing a fully functional product or thinking about user experience, but must demonstrate the viability of their concept. As a result, a product release can deviate so far from UX that it becomes a terrible user experience, putting a company at danger of losing customers. No respectable firm or stakeholder committee would accept such a risk.

The primary conclusion is that an MVP that neglects UX and fails to provide a consistently engaging and worthwhile experience is nothing more than a shoddy product that is doomed to fail. An MVP can be the polar opposite of good UX if it's not properly balanced. As a result, we must rethink the term "minimum viable."

We're in the midst of a period of heightened competition and extraordinarily short product development cycles. In this setting, UXers must not only be able to fight for users indefinitely, but also to compromise with business requirements and stakeholders. We must establish a balance and be certain of the sacrifices we are making. So, before a product goes live and reaches a consumer, double-check that'minimum viable' contains non-negotiable UX criteria.

For example, in our 'MVP for China,' we had to come up with a non-obtrusive manner to ask customers to explain faults when mailing a device in for repair. Following a benchmark analysis, a number of solutions were wireframed and presented to various important decision-makers (technology and business sides). We went from an original "choose to select" concept that required less time from users to a basic text field that required the user to fill in information by typing, which is never a pleasant activity and may be tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone.

What minimum UX criteria may we apply to this specific element?

By retaining assistive components such as:

  1. a placeholder text (a hint of the information necessary),
  2. a character counter (to tell about character limit),
  3. an error message (when text input isn't accepted, the system displays directions on how to repair it), for example.

Although UX may be degraded and not as good as it once was, it can still be inclusive, accessible, and useable by everybody. This is what a minimum viable UX should be, and we are inextricably linked to this user obligation. When designing for an MVP, making a compromise on the experience is worth it. MVPs can still go beyond results-driven figures and offer actual value for the user if minimal UX criteria are agreed upon in collaboration between UXers and stakeholders.

The team behind this project

Paulo Lourenço - UX/UI Designer

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