“I have an app or product idea. What do I do? Where do I start? What are the next steps for moving forward?”
We encounter the same question over and over again when talking to clients and friends who want to develop an app or game.
Starting from a blank slate like this can be discouraging, especially because many people have the misconception that digital product development is an extremely complex and expensive process – achievable only with a large team, lots of experience, and lots of resources.
While it obviously depends on the scope of the product being created, we’ve learned that with a well organized production process most digital products can be brought to life by a small team for an affordable price.
Additionally, to be a successful Product Founder, you do not need any technical experience.
It is, however, essential to structure your development process the right way from day 1, and set product goals early in order to avoid common pitfalls.
In this blog series we will teach you how to design a product from conception to release, as well as the tools we use to streamline this process and save our clients money & time.
Step 1: Defining the Core Product Idea
In the earliest stages of pre-production, we always define an idea in writing with the following structure:
Problem / Solution: What problem your idea solves, and how it solves it.
Key Features: Pretend your software will be sold in a box at Wal-Mart, and then design the labels on that box. What are the key features you’ll list on this box that solve the above problem? Try to make this list as concise as possible, and cut anything that is not absolutely necessary.
Elevator Pitch: Combine the two points above into an elevator pitch for your idea. You should be able to easily explain the “what” and “why” of the product to a random stranger in around 30 seconds or less. For games, this will include the design pillars upon which the product will be built.
Now you have an initial product idea! It is important, however, to realize that this product idea is fluid, and may change quite a bit as we go over the next few steps. Try to remain open minded and let the needs of the market and users guide you throughout this process.
Step 2: Market Positioning & User Personas
Now that you’ve solidified what your product does and how it does it, the next step is to figure out how it will fit into the current market.
Who is your target audience and how will they use your product? How will they find your product, and what will make them pick you over the competition? How will your product make them feel? Once you figure out your product positioning goals, you can then plan your development process to meet them.
You should be constantly returning to and re-evaluating your product idea if you find any of the following questions hard to answer.
We like to break this positioning stage down into 4 questions:
1. Why does the market need your product?
You know your product solves a problem, but that’s not always the same as meeting a market need. Why do consumers and the market as a whole need your product? What does your product offer that customers can’t live without?
If you find it difficult to answer this, return to the ideation phase and tweak your problem/solution and key features. Maybe it needs to solve a broader, or more specific problem. Maybe you need to pivot your focus a bit.
2. How will your product stand out from the competition?
The need may be there, but your product still has to have some sort of competitive advantage to win out in today’s crowded tech market. For users, the benefits your product offers need to outweigh the hassle of switching over from a competitor’s product.
If you are struggling with this, spend some time using and researching competing products. Figure out what they do well and where they fall short. Figure out how to innovate on their successes, and shore up their flaws. What frustrates you about other products and how can you fix this?
3. Who are your users and what are their needs?
Spend some time trying to understand the types of people who will be using your product, how they think, and what their needs are. It’s important to create multiple distinct user personas here and not to lump everyone under one umbrella.
Let’s say you’re designing a fitness app. Your personas may include hardcore fitness enthusiasts, people who work out occasionally, and people who have never worked out a day in their life.
Many people try to define an “ideal user persona” for their product – a focused professional trying to accomplish their goal as efficiently and as possible. Ideal users, however, are usually not the same as who your actual users will be. To get a more realistic version of this, we like to take this person, and imagine them on 4 hours of sleep, overworked, distracted, and that their car broke down that morning. Consider the worst case, the best case, and everything in between.
We like to do a mindmap of our user personas using RealTimeBoard.
4. What about your product will resonate with people?
Take a look back at your elevator pitch, and figure out what, on a core level, is appealing about your product to your different user personas. Look at your product through the user’s eyes. What emotional associations do you want people to have with your product? How do you want them to feel when using it? What about the product will create these feelings?
If you’re struggling, think about products that you’ve enjoyed using in the past. How did you feel when thinking about using it, starting it up, and been in the process of using it. What about these processes were enjoyable to you? You can also think of products you strongly dislike. Why did you dislike them so much, and what would you replace those feelings with as a consumer if you could choose?
Once you’ve satisfactorily answered the questions above, you should have a solid idea of your product’s core features, user personas, and market positioning.
Write everything down and make it visible! This is your project vision board. It will influence everything from your feature list, UI/UX design, and marketing strategy.
The next step is to combine this information and translate your core features into user stories. User stories are features viewed through the eyes of someone using your product — and will form the basis of your technological scope and UI/UX breakdown.
We will cover User Story Creation in our next blog post, How to Design an App from Scratch Pt. 1 — Core Idea & Product Positioning — coming soon.