Why products should be “slick”, not just viable
I hate the term MVP.
Over the past decade, it’s been overused and misunderstood to the point where something labeled as an MVP is automatically assumed to be pretty shit. Most MVPs are unfortunately too M to be V, and the culture of “ship it while you’re embarrassed by it” tends to lead to products providing users with an embarrassingly bad experience.
The problem is that your users hate MVPs.
Building products is a difficult and time-consuming effort. Figuring out what the problems, finding a potential solution to that problem, and then building that solution all take a decent chunk of time and effort. It’s due to this process that the minimum viable product was born. The motivation for building an MVP is still valid. Build something small and easy to test, launch quickly, and pivot or trash it if it doesn’t perform as desired.
There is another, less selfish way.
I read an article by Jason Cohen a few years ago which changed the way I think about product development. Instead of building MVPs, we should be building SLCs. Something Simple, Loveable, and Complete.
When something is simple, it is easier to modify, build on, and maintain (all of which are very important in the early stages of product development). This is different from something being minimal as something can be minimal but not simple. Conversely, few things are simple without being minimal. One of the pieces of feedback I get regularly for JustSketchMe is how simple the interface is, and how easy it is to use. By having a small set of powerful tools we keep the simplicity of interaction while providing the ability to create complex scenes.
Coming from game development, it has always been a priority of mine to ensure my creations elicit joy. It needs to be loveable. If people aren’t getting that “ooh, this is nice” feeling from your early-stage project, they’re unlikely to stick around. Both Bear Blog and Some words for me were explicitly built to be loveable. From the copy to the way that the user interacts with them, everything is built with Marie Kondo in mind. (There’s even an Easter egg on the Bear Blog home page. Happy hunting!)
This is the most important of the three traits. The product needs to be complete.
I don’t mean that your product cannot be worked on and expanded anymore. It means that the product is not reliant on additional features for it to be useful to your users. A good way to test this is to think: “If I don’t expand and improve this product anymore, will people still use it?”. If we take a look at tech products that are doing fairly well, you’ll notice that most (if not all) of them were built as complete products initially. Twitter is so similar to the initial concept, while Facebook has morphed into something else entirely; but both products were completely useable in their inception.
To use one of my projects as an example again, JustSketchMe started out with just 2 characters (male and female) and only one in the scene at a time. This was very useful and had I walked away from the project at that point, it would have still been complete. I have since built out the functionality to add many characters to the scene, along with props and saving to the cloud.
Design by subtraction
With SLCs (as opposed to MVPs) the trick is to design by subtraction. My favourite example of this is the game Ico. It’s a fetch quest game where you need to escort another character and prevent her from being dragged to the underworld by little beasties. The developers started out by designing combat, weapons, and upgrade systems. Loot systems. Health and damage counters. They then sat down to examine which features actually emphasise the core mechanic, and which ones do not. Long story short, they ended up removing almost all the systems we would traditionally see in a game like this. The character now has a stick that is used to fight off beasties (instead of a complex weapon/upgrade system). The character can’t even take damage. The lose state is if the character you’re escorting is dragged to the underworld.
This culminated in one of the best games of the generation. The developers went on to build the iconic Shadow of the Colossus using the same techniques.
Here are some steps to think about when building your next project:
- Keep the feature-set small and manageable (as opposed to large and hastily built).
- Make the product delightful to interact with.
- Stay focused on the core idea of the project.
- Have fun with it!