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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.