Our guest author this week is Whitney Hess. Whitney is a user experience design consultant based in New York City. She writes about improving the human experience on her blog Pleasure and Pain, and can always be reached on Twitter @whitneyhess. Learn more about her work with startups at http://startUXs.com.
Startups start up with a single idea: a solution they believe the world has never seen. And while no one can argue that they’re the source of much of the industry’s innovation, they’re almost all lacking in purpose.
Most people believe that User Experience is just about finding the best solution for your users — but it’s not. UX is about defining the problem that needs to be solved (the why), defining the types of people who need it to be solved (the who), and defining the way in which it should be solved to be relevant to those people (the how). Yet as a rule, startups are being built on the what.
Don’t agree? Show me a startup with no programmers. They are all building something. Even if it’s nothing.
Yet fewer than 1% of startups have a full-time user experience designer on staff, and their obsession with the what is in large part why.
The challenge lies in the lifeblood of startups: the venture capitalists. Most VCs put their money in whats — not whys or whos or hows. No startup is going to close a Series A round of $5 million without a highly functional what to demo. The product (what) is a lot sexier than the business (why, who, how), and sadly, sex sells. But it also kills.
In Paul Graham’s essay, “The 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups,” #10 is “Having no specific user in mind.” A few great paragraphs, but it can be said in just two words: no strategy.
You know what happens to products with no product strategy? Joost. Wesabe. Pownce. Ning. Tipjoy. I Want Sandy. Bebo. Yahoo!
I once saw a startup demo its product at the NY Tech Meetup, and when someone from the audience asked the founder on stage, “Why would someone need this?” he actually said, “I don’t know.” He sure didn’t.
We as user experience designers can develop the strategy that startups need to survive the hype. Some founders rest on their laurels, but it never lasts. Eventually they step back and realize they need a plan. Understanding. Focus. Differentiation. Framework. Process. Meaning. Think maybe you can help?