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 you may know, a consistent and engaging user experience is an important aspect of building a solid product for UXers (UX Designers), and that is our objective. Working on this Minimum Viable Product (MVP) project, on the other hand, has been a very difficult and demanding endeavor. It makes me think that the UX of Minimum Viable Products is more like a conflict between two opponents than a blissful marriage.

UXers, like any other fighter or boxer, must become accustomed to being beaten up, losing, being rejected, and being shattered.

Let me explain you why

Our 'MVP for China' includes a set of features that are essential for different user flows. Benchmarking our ideas and offers against those of our competitors in the industry is an important component of our process. We do some study on UX principles before moving on to wireframe design and prototype our ideas. Finally, we present our work to a group of stakeholders; this is where we step into the ring as a UX warrior, fighting for the users.

Consider the following scenario: UX is represented by a squad of experienced UX Designer-fighters, who are equipped with Brazilian Jiujitsu 'heuristic' kicks and Jedi 'Use-of-the-Force-don't-make-me-think' abilities.

The MVP will be represented by a committee of stakeholders who will offer uncomfortable questions and provide business 'uppercuts' in the opposite corner.

The importance of fighting the good UX battle is identifying the right challenges and delivering the right solutions in the name of our users. Stakeholders, on the other hand, must weigh the costs and advantages in order to create a balance that satisfies both user and company needs. So far, everything has gone according to plan.

When stakeholders argue that "the UX concept is wonderful but it will take more time to implement; consequently, please include only a simple feature, saving your proposal for a second release," we know that UX has been "knocked out cold."

Even the most forceful 'affordance' punch or UX standard 'kicking' can defeat an MVP. MVPs, on the other hand, have more clout and can make or break any UX recommendation.

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 answer that question, we need to first define a Minimum Viable Product.

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, particularly for entrepreneurs who are still in the early stages of development and have limited resources (both financial and human), who cannot afford the luxury of producing a fully working product or considering user experience, but must establish the viability of their concept. As a result, a product release can stray so far from UX that it becomes a bad user experience, potentially costing a company consumers. Such a risk would be unacceptable to any credible company or stakeholder committee.

The main takeaway is that an MVP that ignores user experience and fails to deliver a consistently engaging and meaningful experience is a substandard product doomed to fail. If not correctly balanced, an MVP can be the polar opposite of good UX. As a result, the term "minimum viable" must be reconsidered.

We're in the midst of a moment of fierce rivalry and lightning-fast product development cycles. UXers in this situation must be able to not only fight for users endlessly, but also compromise with business requirements and stakeholders. We need to strike a balance and be sure of the sacrifices we're making. So, before releasing a product to the public, double-check that the "minimum viable" specification includes non-negotiable UX elements.

In our 'MVP for China,' for example, we had to come up with a non-obtrusive way to ask clients to explain defects when sending a gadget in for repair. A number of concepts were wireframed and presented to various key decision-makers after a benchmark analysis (technology and business sides). We went from an original "choice to select" design that took less time from users to a simple text box that forced the user to type in information, which is never a fun activity and may be laborious, time-consuming, and error-prone.

What are the minimum UX standards that we can apply to this particular element?

By preserving supportive elements like:

  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.

Even if user experience has deteriorated and is no longer as fantastic as it once was, it can still be inclusive, accessible, and usable by everybody. This is what a minimum viable user experience should be, and we are intrinsically related to this user responsibility. Making a compromise on the experience is worth it when designing for an MVP. If minimal UX criteria are agreed upon in collaboration between UXers and stakeholders, MVPs can still go beyond results-driven metrics and provide meaningful value for the user.

The team behind this project

Paulo Lourenço - UX/UI Designer

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