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In this article here, http://www.andersramsay.com/2012/09/24/the-ux-of-mvps/, and many others from respectful resources about MVP - design supposedly takes a backseat (read section, "Go Ugly Early"). This is something which I strongly disagree, and have an opinion that even for a MVP, good UX, and overall aesthetic quality is fairly important. Obviously there are mixed views, so would like to ask the same to the community.

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    "MVP" seems to be "Minimum Viable Product".
    – Uwe Keim
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 7:45
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    Yes it is @UweKeim
    – Amit Jain
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 8:04
  • '...good UX, and overall aesthetic quality is fairly important'. If it's only fairly important then it doesn't belong in an MVP. MVP is, by definition, the minimum that is needed. It has to be fundamentally important in order to be included.
    – JonW
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:16
  • @JonW copy aside, the intent was to mean that good design is critical for an MVP too. :)
    – Amit Jain
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 10:00
  • It depends what the MVP is used for. To go live with? Perhaps. To complete usability testing against? Probably not.
    – JonW
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 10:06

4 Answers 4

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It depends on what you mean by MVP. Strictly speaking, an MVP is the quickest possible working prototype focussed on one or two features that can be reasonably tested, either in one-on-one settings or by limited release with customer followup.

The reason is that minimal resources are used to develop the MVP because testing may show that it's not what is needed and a pivot is required, i.e., to "fail fast." Failing fast and pivoting are two crucial aspects of a true MVP. If the company is not open to the possibility of trashing the entire MVP and changing direction, it's not an MVP.

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Now that's not always how it works in real life. I worked at one company where they just labeled releases MVP1, MVP2, MVP3 and so on. By the very definition of the term, there cannot be multiple versions of a minimally viable product. Needless to say even their "MVP1" was much more than an actual MVP; it had multiple features and was released widely to an established user base. In that case, despite the labelling, it was a full-fledged product that required extensive UX work and user testing before release.

So the question is what does your company mean by an MVP? If a true MVP, then it's not necessary to have a usable UI because you're basically testing an idea to see if it provides a useful central function (i.e., "Will X buy something that does X?" not "Will X buy something that looks like X or does X in a particular way?"). You don't spend a lot of work refining something that can be thrown away. If your company uses MVP as a buzzword to mean "version 1.0" then it requires the full spectrum of UX work, including planned upcoming features beyond 1.0.

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  • So if you say, its not necessary to have a usable UI for testing an idea - then don't you think, bad usability could hurt the testing itself? And, that a good UX could go a long way in helping the test process lead best results?
    – Amit Jain
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:42
  • Imagine Uber as a test concept. You say "Hey, look, here's an app. Press this button and a driver will pick you up shortly." And your interface is a button -- no map, no estimated arrival time, no driver name, no ability to specify destination. That's an MVP. And the UI is a big button and a place to enter your credit card info. If it's really that simple, you can test it to see if people like the basic idea of having an app that calls someone to come pick you up. If you validate the idea, you start adding features and then you need user testing. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 22:21
  • @EricStoltz Imagine you test Flipboard as a concept: Flipboards couldnt be sucessfully tested just have some pictures and share buttons. Most of it is the aesthetic appeal. Here UX is important for MVP.
    – FrankL
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 12:57
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Considering that MVP can stand for any kind of product, including B2B solutions, user-centered design might not even be a part of the technologies used because there might be no users. The product has to be a B2C to even include design in some cases.

Another thing to consider is that MVP signifies only the state of the product at the moment of release, and what this state consists of is decided by the Product Owner by analysing what the product needs to survive and thus pass the test of viability. In other words, MVP is a subjective entity. If the PO decides there is no place or resources to include the design, then there will be no design.

The design itself: MVP requires a very basic UX design, and the designer should be able to do that. That takes a seasoned and well-trained professional, and not all teams have the luxury.

Finally, viability. Design IS a factor in the success of the product, but it's not the vital one for MVP UNLESS the company that releases the MVP is famous for their design work and are the industry design leaders. These kind of companies rarely do MVPs, though.

Philips's MVP vitality will heavily rely on UCD, noname startup's won't.

The necessity of the design presence will also depend on the market the product is released to, including technological state of the market and cultural aesthetics. Different regions can tolerate different kinds and amounts of design.

Bottomline: UX is important and better be present if done right, but can be overlooked in a number of cases, if affordable.

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  • I really enjoyed reading your last statement Zoe. But don't you think, when its "affordable" to forego UCD is a tough call? Also, you made an interesting point about design vs regional tolerance. Any research there?
    – Amit Jain
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:45
  • Thanks, Amit. Regarding research: this is my assumption based on the research of the general UX/design/aesthetics perceptive differences for various cultures. Example: different understanding of design semantics (what is good design and good UX) in North Europe and, say, South Korea, etc.
    – Zoe K
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:48
  • And by foregoing you mean choosing UX over, say, some core feature? I think UX should be seen in fact as one of the core features, because it is totally conveyable to users "we have 3 great killer features AND a great UX". And in this situation when you are choosing between two of your core features, you will just have to weigh everything very carefully to make a choice.
    – Zoe K
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:49
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    Bottomline: this is a responsibility of the PO to choose, and that is why POs should be at least basically trained in UX. Because they will know if UX should be overlooked in the sake of the business survival.
    – Zoe K
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:53
  • @ZoeKulsariyeva Reading your post and comments, Im not really sure what UX means to you. UI Design? And is UX and UCD same for you? Sounds very interchangeable.
    – FrankL
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 8:27
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I believe that UI design is a very important part of any kind of product development and it is equally important, if not more than other things like features addition or making the product bug free, especially if we are talking about MVP. A good UI design can be the difference between a wildly popular product and a product that failed to make an impact.

People using your product typically decide within a minute whether they like it or not. And if you carefully examine, users would not have tried more than one or two features that your product provides within a minute.

So, what matters, especially in the case of MVP, is that it should be easily usable. A good UI, a properly designed navigation and an overall smooth and pleasant UX go a long way in making your users come back again for more. Your product is not just code and features, it is an experience and if you want to retain customers, you need to make your MVP an amazing experience for your user.

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Yes, for some products UX is a key driver and UX should be included into the MVP. If your core product value comes out of aesthetics, social, connectivity, joy, fun, identification or stimulation, you should test a Minimum Desirable Product. Otherwise you know the features are right, but it couldnt be engaging enough. But with this products the engaging factor is crucial for success.

Some products needs to be a Minimum Desirable Product

Andrew Chen made a fine distinction between vialbe and desirable on his blog.

Minimum Desirable Product is the simplest experience necessary to prove out a high-value, satisfying product experience for users

And he gave some good examples when there should be a different work set:

Examples of MVP versus MDP

Let me make some quick distinctions about sites that might be Minimum Viable Products, but perhaps not Minimum Desirable Products, and vice versa.

  • If you build a really viral social network that is profitable but has terrible user churn – you have built an MVP but not an MDP.

  • If your profitable dating site gets lots of users to buy subscriptions at $20/month, but none of them find hot dates they were promised, you have built an MVP but not a MDP.

  • If you build a magic box that spits out money whenever you hit a button, that is certainly desirable but not viable at all.

  • If you create an amazing board game that your friends and family love and are addicted to, but you can’t get a game company to distribute it, you have created an MDP but not an MVP.

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  • Super Informative comment Frank, thanks. I thoroughly enjoyed Andrew's blog post. I think its becoming increasingly clear where design/UCD fits in this whole MVP perspective. However, one thought intrigues me - What about cases where there is a cross-over between MDP and MVP (which are many)? Suppose, in the social n/w example that has terrible user churn - the solution would be an MVP which is also desirable. Possibly, it boils down to a fine balance, which as even others point out, comes with product experience and market awareness. Interesting!
    – Amit Jain
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:25

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