Sharing the million dollar questions

Sara Doltz

Hello, Greg Nudelman, author and CEO at DesignCaffeine, welcome to From Business to Buttons on April 21.

How did you get into this line of work, what’s your background and education?
– My background is actually in medicinal synthetic chemistry. Maybe that’s why I’m so impatient when I do my user research! I started my info-tech career by working as a DBA for a biotech company, and then moved to software engineering and architecture. But one day I discovered Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things and never went back. I think hands-on experience of the entire technology stack from HTML to Oracle makes me a better designer, because I know how long things take to build. I don’t blindly accept engineering work estimates, and can speak to deep aspects of UX like what is specifically meant by Solr search relevance. And if something is inherently difficult to build because of legacy back-end considerations, I can usually design around it or suggest an effective technology solution. I often say I know “just enough to be dangerous”.

Please tell me about your talk “The $1 prototype”, what will you be talking about and what can we expect?
– I'm very excited to be speaking to the audience of seasoned UX practitioners. The $1 Prototype idea is what I call an MVP – a Minimum Viable Prototype. How MVP is expressed evolves throughout the project.

I start with a simple assumption that the state of your prototype must reflect the state of completion of your system. This simple guideline is also very profound. The project starts with a rough storyboard which is highly uncertain and full of assumptions: No one knows if the audience will find the product useful, if they will pay for it, or even if the product can (or should) be built. As the design process progresses, the prototype becomes the pack of sticky notes with specific workflows, layouts and on-screen controls. As the confidence in the design grows still further and more questions are answered, the product coding begins. Both Alpha and Beta releases become the prototype until finally the confidence level reaches a local maximum and the product is released. At this point the cycle of improvement starts again.

– In essence, this methodology is about institutionalizing failure – in it's cheapest and most expedient form. The faster the product team fails, the faster it gets back on track and addresses solving the customer’s challenge with realistic, functional solutions. The sooner we get to the experimental stage, the more innovative and functional the solution will be, and the less any team or management egos will be able to influence the product direction. This helps the product team escape endless arguments and three-hour meetings in favor of rapid, inexpensive, open-air experimentation focused on solving real problems with real customers – the perfect marriage of time-honored UX design principles and Lean Startup methodology.

You talk a lot about “The million dollar questions”, what are they? And why are they so important?
– With over a million apps in each of the App and Play Stores, all of the low-hanging fruit is pretty much spoken for. Yet fantastic services like Uber and Waze seem to appear every day. How do you know if your app is valuable enough to be built? Should it even be an app and not a web site?

– The answer is the magic question: “If this app was in the App Store/Play Store, would you pay for it? If so, how much?” This million-dollar question puts specific monetary value on the experience your prototype presents. Price is a sensitive issue and asking this question often reveals all kinds of useful details that are hard to get to otherwise, and helps you accurately gauge the level of customer’s general affinity for your product. Using the UX techniques from my talk, you will be able to test your business model from a single morning at a coffee shop for about 20 dollars worth of coffee and 1 dollar worth of sticky notes and before writing a single line of code.

What in your day-to-day working week do you find most rewarding and/or funny? In short: Why do you do what you do?
– I really enjoy teaching UX design. Seeing people get new design concepts and come up with innovative design solutions to old problems is incredibly rewarding. I also love leading group brainstorming sessions where the combined understanding of the problem helps create a powerful solution that would never have been possible if we worked as separate individuals. Seeing this happen everywhere I work, from Silicon Valley to Buenos Aires, Rio, Berlin, Moscow, Tel-Aviv and Dubai – fills me with tremendous hope. Working together we can design elegant solutions to the most wicked of problems!

Thank you Greg, we look forward to seeing, and listening, to you at From Business to Buttons!

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