Product development for digital media cheapskates

Developing or refining your digital media product? Let me guess: as a start-up, you don’t have any budget but it’s gotta be slick.

It’s OK; it happens to us all. At the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco last month, I picked up some tips from Dan Olsen, CEO and founder of YourVersion, Alexa Andrzejewski of Adaptive Path and John McCree from Effective UI that you can use in your business.

User testing for cheapskates, er, value-seekers

Alexa Andrzejewski’s session focused on using a low-cost system for designing and “paper-testing” a product that includes a great user experience. Most start-ups are cash-strapped and can’t afford the time or money to build clickable prototypes in the early stages of product development. Alexa’s step-by-step instructions provide a process for developing a great product with little or no budget.

  • Craft a set of experience principles that can inform decision-making – it defines the rules of engagement for the product development team and helps keep everyone focused on the goal
  • Create an “artifact from the future” (an ideal and sometimes magical product) that captures the imagination and articulates what your product will be like when it’s complete – it gives you an ideal product vision to aim for and provides context during user testing
  • Map out the ecosystem in which your product exists – it defines the market opportunity, the target customer and identifies the competition
  • Tap into metaphors and “make believe” to frame your thinking and inspire ideas – it removes creative barriers often allowing you to take your product idea down unconsidered paths
  • Tell your product’s story clearly using fuzzy, low-fidelity sketches – it keeps costs low and allows for rapid iteration of product design
  • Assemble an experience poster that brings it all together – it acts as a catch-all for the outcomes and best ideas that come user testing feedback

Alexa’s slide presentation is available here on Slideshare.

Product development

Dan Olsen’s talk offered tips and best practices for understanding customer needs, product design, usability testing, how to interpret user feedback and using metrics to optimize your product. He outlined how to:

  • Find optimal solutions to the problem through user feedback and rapid iteration
  • Revise the feature set, user interface design and messaging to improve product-market fit
  • Ruthlessly prioritize features based on ROI
  • Define the equation of your business: How will you make money?
  • Identify and track key metrics
  • Launch, learn and iterate: Don’t wait until the product is perfect to launch

Dan’s presentation provides a basic and efficient product development framework that can help digital media start-ups develop on-target products that maximize customer value. Download it here.

Ease of use

John McCree is the lead user experience architect at Effective UI. While his session included different methodologies for product development requirements gathering, what I found most valuable was his emphasis on the importance of ease of use in product design as a key to business success. A study done by IBM on “Cost justifying the ease of use” states, “For developers and manufacturers, the advantages of creating usable products far outweigh the costs. The rule of thumb: every dollar invested in ease of use returns $10 to $100.” You can see John’s slide presentation here.

Quick ‘n’ dirty overview

So, what should digital media entrepreneurs keep in mind when planning and engaging in product development?

  • Define a solution that aligns with your market and target customer
  • Envision an ideal product
  • User test your ideas using low-cost methods
  • Iterate rapidly and re-test
  • Decide what NOT to include based on ROI
  • Design for ease of use to delight your customers and enhance product adoption
  • Don’t wait until its perfect to launch