There are currently an estimated 644 million websites online right now. There are roughly 3.8 million apps in stores. Let that sink in. Nearly 100 million startups launch each year. Look it up for yourself. These numbers are mind-boggling. Do you know how many of these are actually successful? Me neither, but If I were to take a guess, I'd say .005%. Why is that you might say? I'm sure it's a number of variables, bad timing, bad product or service, lack of marketing, lack of a generally good idea? It could be anything. It could also be that starting something online has become so accessible that anyone and everyone can do it in hours. Where am I going with this? There is a lot of competition, a lot of bad decisions and a lot of assumptions floating around in the digital space. In order to be one of those .005%, you can't just look good anymore, you have to be strategic. That is where Validated Design comes in.
What is Validated Design?
For starters, I hope it's fairly obvious. It's the process of validating your assumptions. Being flexible to make adjustments. Iteration. Asking the audience their preference. Taking the road less traveled and checking yourself before you wreck yourself. Validated Design can be applied to anything, corporate branding, a marketing campaign, an app or game design, software functionality, a new peanut butter and bacon jelly sandwich recipe.
My Process for Validated Design
Step 1: Don't Get Started...
The first thing most designers, programmers, entrepreneurs, and creatives do is think of solutions. Stop! There is so much to figure out first! Who is your audience? What do they like? What do they hate? What do they need or don't need? What core problems are you trying to solve? What problems have already been solved, by who and how well did they do? What is your unique value proposition? Start here. Define your mission in more detail. Understand your audience in more depth. Create a list, elaborate on that list, throw that list away and start a new one.
Step 2: Define Your Customer/User Stories
Customer or User Stories aren't just for software designers, they can be retail customers, people walking by billboards or picking up magazines. What is the experience you want your customer or user to have? How do you want them to feel? What is their experience when they walk through the door, click on your link, download your app or walk past your business? Dig into the details, write a story about that person. What is that person like?
Step 3: Find Your Audience
If I have learned anything, people love giving their opinion. You have gone to great lengths to define who your audience is, now find them and talk to them. Validate that your assumptions about their needs and who they are is accurate. Ask them questions about your business, product or service and understand their preferences. Give them a taste of what you are offering and gauge their initial thoughts. It doesn't take a lot of people, 3-5 would do just fine.
Step 4: Design, Create, Do...
Now is the time to start designing. Take everything you have collected in the previous steps and make sure that every decision you make is honest to that data.
Step 5 and Beyond: Validate Often
This step is where you start the feedback loop. Toggle between design and validation as often as possible. Iterate. Get feedback often. Hold interviews, be specific with your questions. Hold focus group sessions, make your selections diverse. A/B test your assumptions.
Sum it up.
Without validating your designs, your software, your experience, your platform or your service you are taking a gamble, a big risk. Being successful is about taking calculated risks. By validating your assumptions early and often, you are refining your perception of the needs of your market and becoming more tuned in. I'd be willing to wager that 99.9% of those millions of websites, apps and startups fail in one big area and that's not validating their design.