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Wednesday 01 April 2020

Why MVP is
the Antithesis of UX

About six months ago, I joined the UX/UI team of a global luxury goods group, excited for the opportunity to take part in launching a new customer service product, starting with the Chinese market first.
Since then, I frequently hear the term 'MVP for China' being used by Product Owners, Business Analysts, and Developers alike.

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 set of required features for different user flows. An important component of our process is to benchmark our ideas and proposals against other competitors in the industry. We also research UX standards, before moving to wireframe design and prototyping our choices. Finally, we showcase our work to a committee of stakeholders - this is when we enter the fighting ring to prove ourselves a UX warrior, fighting for the users.

You can imagine the scene: in one corner, you have UX, represented by a team of elite UX Designer-fighters, with Brazilian Jiujitsu ‘heuristic’ kicks and Jedi ‘Use-of-the-force-don't-make-me-think' skills.
In the other corner, you have the MVP, represented by a committee of stakeholders with challenging questions and business ‘uppercuts’.

The value of fighting the good UX fight is that we find the right problems, propose the right solutions, in the name of our users. On the other hand, it is the stakeholders' responsibility to weigh the costs and benefits and try to find a balance that complements both user needs and business requirements. So far, so good.
However, when stakeholders argue that "the UX proposal is good but it will take more time to develop and therefore, please include only a basic feature, saving your proposal for a second release”, then we know that UX has been ‘knocked out cold’.
Not even the most powerful ‘affordance’ punch or UX standard ‘kicking’ can beat an MVP. On the contrary, MVPs have a greater impact 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 remember exactly what Minimum Viable Product really means.
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 startups that are still in their growth stages, challenged with limited resources (both financial and human), that cannot afford the luxury of reaching a full-featured product, nor worrying about UX, but need to show the viability of their concept. Consequently, a product release can be so far from UX, that it becomes a frustrating user experience and a company risks losing their customers. That is a risk no responsible company or stakeholder committee is willing to take.

The main takeaway is that an MVP that sacrifices UX and does not deliver a consistently engaging and valuable experience, is nothing more than a badly done product that paves the way for its own death. If improperly balanced, an MVP is the antithesis of good UX. So, we need to redefine what ‘minimum viable’ means.

We are living through a time of increased competition with incredibly short product development cycles. In this context, UXers need the endless capacity not only to keep fighting for users but also be able to compromise with business requirements and stakeholders. We need to find the tradeoff and always be sure of the sacrifices we are making. So, before a product goes live and reaches a customer, please make sure that ‘minimum viable’ includes minimum UX standards that are not negotiable.

As an example, in our 'MVP for China' we had to think about a frictionless way to ask customers to describe issues they have when sending a product for repair. After a benchmark analysis, several proposals were wireframed and presented to different key deciders (technology and business sides). From an initial "pick to select" proposal requiring less time from users, and after some iterations, we ended up with a basic text field, making the user fill in information by typing, which is never a pleasant task, can be frustrating, time- consuming and more error-prone.

How could we apply minimum UX standards to this specific element? By keeping assistive elements, for example (1) a placeholder text (a hint of the information required), (2) a character counter (to inform about character limit) and (3) an error message (when text input isn’t accepted, the system displays instructions on how to fix it).

UX might be weakened and not that great but it can still be inclusive, accessible and usable, by everyone. This is what minimum viable UX should be, and we are inescapably bound up with this responsibility to the user. The compromise on the experience is worth it when designing for an MVP. And, if minimum UX standards are agreed, in collaboration between UXers and stakeholders, MVP's can still go beyond results-driven numbers and create real value for the user.

Paulo Lourenço, UX/UI Designer

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