According to Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma, markets for disruptive technologies may not be known prior to release and therefore often cannot be planned for. Where does that leave UX? How can you do research if you don’t know who to talk to? How can we do any user-centered design if we don’t know who the users will turn out to be and how they may use the product? So what is the value of UX in an early stage start up or similarly innovative team?
While he doesn’t say so explicitly, his research seems to favor an agile approach. Constantly evaluating the product to determine who is using it and what value they are deriving will allow a team to focus their efforts on the goals most important to this new found audience.
This points to two clear uses for UX in the early stages of the creation of a disruptive technology. The first is to give the product the best chance of success by inc0rporating design standards and best practices. The second is in researching the new population of users, their activities, goals, and behaviors.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Leveraging interaction standards will help give a new product the best chance for a positive initial reaction. Design standards may not work for everyone. They are, by definition, generic. However, it will make the product most likely to be usable by the broadest possible audience. In addition, while aiming for ‘just barely good enough,’ make sure that there is a shared definition of the level of quality required and that there is a UX component to that definition.
Once the first release is live, analyze the user activity. Reach out to some of the most active users. Talk to them about what they love, what they don’t like, how they found out about you, etc. Keep probing each answer for more detail. Find some users who signed up but never became active. What made them interested initially? How did they find using the product? Why did they stop? See if you can define the gap that prevented them from becoming active users.
Once similar stories of real people deriving real value begin to emerge, then we can start to leverage familiar UX tools to move beyond best practices to create a tool that supports the unique needs of those using it.
Having UX involved from the beginning will help you recognize the market when it emerges and be ready to meet its unique demands.
Share your experiences designing new or disruptive technologies. When was UX involved? While you’re at it, please rate this post using the stars beneath the title.