We Don’t Research. We Build.

The following is a composite of experiences I’ve had in the last year when talking with startups. Some dialog is paraphrased, some is verbatim, but I’ve tried to keep it as true as possible and not skew it towards anyone’s advantage or disadvantage.

As professionals in the user-centered design world, we are trained and inclined to think of product design as relying on a solid knowledge, frequently tested, of our potential users, their real-life needs and habits.

We’ve seen the return on investment in taking the time to observe users in their daily lives, in taking our ideas as hypotheses to be tested. But the founders and business people we often interview with have been trained in a different worldview, one in which their ideas are sprung fully formed like Athena from the brow of Zeus. This produces a tension when we come to demonstrate our value to their companies, their products, and their vision. We want to test; they want to build. Is there a way we can better talk and work together?

Most of my interactions with these startups were job interviews or consulting with an eye toward a more permanent position; the companies I spoke with ranged from “I’m a serial entrepreneur who wants to do something” to recent B-school grads in accelerator programs such as SkyDeck, to people I’ve met through networking events such as Hackers & Founders.

In these conversations, I tried to bring the good news of the value of user experience and user research but ran into a build-first mentality that not only depreciates the field but also sets the startup on a road to failure. Our questions of “What are the user needs?” are answered with “I know what I want.” We’re told to forget our processes and expertise and just build.

Can we? Should we? Or how can we make room for good UXD practices in this culture?

“I did the hard work of the idea; you just need to build it”

Over the past two years, I’ve been lucky to find enough academic research and contract work that I can afford to be picky about full-time employment (hinging on the mission and public-good component of potential employers). But self-education, the freelance “UX Team of One,” and Twitter conversations can’t really match the learning and practice potential of working with others, so I keep looking for full-time UX opportunities.

This has lately, by happenstance, meant startups in the San Francisco Bay area. So I’ve been talking to a lot of founders/want-to-be-founders/entrepreneurs (as they describe themselves).

But I keep running into the build-first mentality. And this is often a brick wall. I’m not saying I totally know best, but the disconnect in worldviews is a huge impediment to doing what I can, all of which I know can help a startup be better at its goals, so that it can have a fighting chance to be in that 10-20% that doesn’t end up on the dust heap of history.

“Build first” plays out with brutal regularity. The founders have an idea, which they see as the hard part; I’ve actually had people say, “You just need to implement my idea.” They have heard about something called “UX” but see user experience design as but a simple implementation of their idea.

As a result, the meaning of both the U and the X get glossed over.

The started-up startup

We’ll start with the amalgam of a startup that had already made it into an accelerator program. A round of funding, a web site, an iOS app, an origin story on (as you’d expect) TechCrunch.

It began with a proof of concept: A giant wall, Photoshopped onto a baseball stadium, of comments posted by the app’s users. The idea was basically to turn commercial spaces into the comments thread below any HuffPo story (granted, a way to place more advertising in front of people). The company was composed of the founder, fresh from B-school; a technical lead also just out of school; a few engineers; and sales/marketing, which was already pitching to companies.

The company was juggling both the mobile and web apps and shooting for feature-complete from the word Go. Though there were obvious issues, such as neither actually working and the lack of any existing comment walls or even any users; they were trying to build a house of cards with cards yet to be drawn.

In talking with the tech lead, I saw that they were aware of some issues (crashes, “it’s not elegant enough”) but didn’t see others (the web and mobile app having no consistent visual metaphors and interaction flows, typos, dead ends, and the like). To their credit, they wanted something better than what they had. Hence, hiring someone to do this “UX thing.” But what did they think UX was?

I had questions about the users. How did they differ from the customers–the locations that would host walls, which would generate revenue by serving ads to the users who posted comments?

I had questions about the company. What was their business process? What had they done so far?

This was, I thought, part of what being interviewed for a UX position would entail–showing how I’d go about thinking about the process.

I was more than ready to listen and learn; if I were to be a good fit, I’d be invested in making the product successful as well as developing a good experience for users. I was also prepared with some basic content strategy advice; suggestions about building a content strategy process seemed nicer than pointing out all the poor grammar and typos.

Soon, I was meeting with the founder. He talked about how a B-school professor had liked his idea and helped him get funding. I asked about the users. He responded by talking about selling to customers.

When he asked if I had questions, I asked, “What problem does this solve, for whom, and how do you know this?” It’s my standard question of any new project, and, I was learning, also a good gauge of where companies were in their process. He said he didn’t understand. He said that he had financial backing, so that was proof that there was a market for the app. What they wanted in a UX hire, he said, was someone to make what they had prettier, squash bugs, and help sell.

I got a bad feeling at that point; the founder dismissed the very idea of user research as distracting and taking time away from building his vision. Then I started talking about getting what they had in front of users, testing the hypotheses of the product, iterating the design based on this: all basic UX and Lean (and Lean UX!) to boot, at least to someone versed in the language and processes of both.

This, too, the founder saw as worse than worthless. He said it took resources away from selling and coding, and he thought that testing with users could leak the idea to competitors. So, no user research, no usability testing, no iteration of the design and product.

(Note on one of startups that’s part of this amalgam: As of this writing, there has been neither news nor updates to the company site since mid-2012, and though the app is still on the iTunes Store, it has too few reviews to have a public rating. This after receiving $1.2 million in seed funding in early 2012.)

The pre-start startup

I’ve also spoken with founders at earlier stages of starting up. One had been in marketing at large tech companies and wanted to combine publishing with social media. Another wrote me that they wanted to build an API for buying things online. I chatted with a B-school student who thought he’d invented the concept of jitneys (long story) and an economist who wanted to do something, though he wasn’t sure what, in the edu tech space. What they all had in common was a build-first mission. When I unpacked this, it became obvious that what they all meant was, “we don’t do research here.”

Like the company amalgam mentioned above, they all pushed back against suggestions to get out of the building (tm Steve Blank) to test their ideas against real users. Anything other than coding or even starting on the visual design of their products was seen as taking time away from delivering their ideas, which they were sure of (I heard a lot of “I took the class” and “we know the market” here).

And their ideas might end up being good ones–I can’t say. They seem largely well-intentioned, nice people. But when talking with them about how to make their product or service vital for users and therefore more likely to be a success, it soon becomes clear that what UX professionals see as vital tools and processes in helping create great experiences are seen quite differently by potential employers, to the point that even mentioning user research gets you shown the door. Politely, but still.

I’d like to bring up here the idea that perhaps we, as UX people, perhaps have contributed to the problem. The field is young and Protean, so the message of “what is UX?” can be garbled even if there were a good, concise answer. Also, in the past, user research has indeed been long and expensive and resulted in huge documents of requirements and so on, which the Lean UX movement is reacting to. So nobody’s totally innocent, to be sure. But that’s another article in the making (send positive votes to the editors).

One (anonymized) quote:

“Yep, blind building is a real disaster and time waste… I’ve seen huge brands go down that path… I have identified a great proof-of-concept market and have buy-in from some key players. My most immediate need, however, is a set of great product comps to help investors understand how the experience would work and what it might look like. I’ve actually done a really rough set of comps on my own, but while I’m a serious design snob, I am also terrible designer…”

So: Blind building is a real disaster, but she’s sketched out comps and just wants someone to make it look designed better. Perhaps she saw “buy in from some key players” as user research?

We had an extended exchange where I proposed lightweight, minimum-viable-product  prototypes to test her hypotheses with potential users. She objected, afraid her idea would get out, that testing small parts of the idea was meaningless, that she didn’t have time, that it only mattered what the “players” thought, that she never saw this at the companies she worked at (in marketing).

Besides, her funding process was to show comps of how her idea would work to these key players, and testing would only appear to reduce confidence in her idea. (Later that week, I heard someone say how “demonstrating confidence” was the key ingredient in a successful Y Combinator application.)

With her permission, I sent her a reading list including Steve Blank, Erika Hall, Bill Buxton, Eric Reis, and Jeff Gothelf. I still haven’t heard back.

Another (anonymized) quote:

“We’re looking for somebody who’s passionate about UI/UX to work with us on delivering this interface.

“Our industry specifics make us a game of throwing ideas around with stakeholders, seeing what sticks and building it as fast as possible. Speed unfortunately trumps excellence but all products consolidate while moving in the right direction.

“We certainly have the right direction business-wise and currently need to upgrade our interface. We require UX consulting on eliminating user difficulty in the process of buying, as well as an actual design for this.”

So: To him, it’s all about implementing an interface. Which, to him, is just smoothing user flows and, you know, coming up with a design. Frankly, I’m not sure how one could do this well, or with a user-centered ethic, without researching and interacting with potential users. I’m also not sure how to read his “upgrade our interface”; is that just picking better colors and shapes, in the absence of actual research and testing on whether it works well for users? That doesn’t strike me as useful, user-centric design. (During the interview process at Mozilla, I was asked the excellent question of how I’d distinguish art and design; I’m not sure I nailed the answer, but I suspect there’s more to design than picking colors and shapes.)

And I wasn’t sure even if he was receptive to the idea of users qua users in the first place. Before this exchange, when he described his business model, I pointed out that his users and his customers were two different sets of people and this can mean certain things from a design perspective. Given that his response was that they have been “throwing ideas around with stakeholders,” I gathered that his concept of testing with users was seeing what his funders liked. That did not bode well for actual user-centered design processes.

When I asked how they’d arrived at the current user flows and how they knew they were or weren’t good, he said that they internally step through them and show them to the investors (neither population is, again, the actual user). He was adamant both that talking to users would slow them down from building, and that because they were smart business people, they know they’re going in the right direction. It was at this point I thought that he and I were not speaking the same language.

I referred him to a visual designer I know who could do an excellent job.

I do not have the answers on how to bridge this fundamental gap between worldviews and processes. A good UX professional knows the value of user research and wants to bring that value to any company he or she joins. But though we can quote Blank, though we can show case studies, though we can show how a Gothelfian Lean UX process could be integrated into a hectic build schedule–when all this experience runs into a “build first” mentality, the experience and knowledge loses. At least in my experience. What is to be done?

Posted in Big Ideas, Process and Methods, Usercentric | 24 Comments »

24 Comments

  • Hilary

    February 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

    I’ve written a few blogs on this topic also, so won’t reiterate those same ideas here:

    http://hilarycinis.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/ux-advice-for-start-ups-especially-in-emerging-technology/

    http://hilarycinis.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/171/

    http://hilarycinis.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/ux-activities-in-australian-startups-tech23/

    I have many strong feelings on this topic, and the startups themselves are only a part of the machine.

    VC’s aren’t asking for ux evidence (in Australia, anyway) and so are making assumptions it’s included in the business and marketing plans.

    The startups are often very confused about how to talk to customers and don’t understand they will have a range of needs from multiple user types. Blank and Ries are great reads but I also feel they have repackaged user experience work where it could sound like we are nagging about stuff the start ups feel they are already doing. I often go to great lengths to unpack the segments in the BCM where UX fits, and how these activities are extensive in order to get a clear picture.

    I also have quite strong feelings about marketing strategies having too large an influence in this conversation. Marketing comes later when the business knows it’s product or service and how it fits in with people’s lives. It’s totally arse-about.

    I also suggest that business school educators start to look at user/customer experience seriously as part of the curriculum. I find it very difficult to get traction in conversations with business mentors about how early ux activities can assist in selecting a direction with more confidence, rather than setting up a business around a feature or a product and hoping for the best. The jargon used obscures the pain that startups can experience – pivoting and the culture of failure are nice terms for very difficult periods of time.

    I see many similarities between StartUps VC activities and the entertainment industry funding machine.

    We know that ux isn’t a magic wand to ensure success but when added to domain expertise and customer/user feedback it can add structure and assist with decision making when there are too many unknowns.

  • Jordan

    February 19, 2014 at 1:38 am

    I recently worked for a Lean Startup coming from an Information Architecture/UX background and while there wasn’t a robust UX team in house I appreciated the emphasis on listening to customers outside the building and building minimum viable products, rather than UX deliverables, to quickly test our assumptions, and see if we’re building products our customers wanted. I think it’s a refreshing approach if done well.

  • Stefan

    February 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Hi Dan,

    we have all kind of been there.
    These two TED talks helped me
    understanding and getting past
    the “We build”-mentality:

    - http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_harford.html
    - http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

    Cheers, Stefan

  • John Locke

    February 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Our industry is largely complicit in feeding the beast by building the Startup Mythology. Is it any wonder that young business school and computer science graduates travel to Silicon Valley to be a Startup Hero with stars in their eyes? They haven’t been taught what the real design process looks like yet, and many VCs aren’t interested in having them learn.

    Our industry rewards those who continuously ship. We have a great memory for people who have launched a startup; our collective memory gets fuzzy when asked how long those startups survived before they were sold, acquired, or the founders lost funding or interest.

    The success stories are the ones that know what hole their product is filling, who is interested, and how it will ultimately make money. Perhaps the kool-aid tastes really good in the Bay Area. I’m not sure how else business school graduates forget the basics so quickly.

  • Edgar Fleming

    February 20, 2014 at 6:36 am

    I am currently banging my head against the wall with this very same situation. Thanks for writing this.

    One would think that with all the customer data, companies would actually plan on using it for more than just cold calls…

  • Sebastian Hickey

    February 20, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for a great article. I’ve bookmarked it for later reference (for when I need help articulating my frustrations). It was really helpful to hear your own experiences and measure them against the business attitudes of the people I have worked with.

    What did you tell Mozilla was the difference between art and design? For me, design is art with a purpose (beyond the communication of artist and audience). That sounds a bit up its own arse, when I write it here. But hopefully it gets the point across. Design is all about purpose.

  • Gabby Hon

    February 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    As I told Dan on Twitter, every single conversation I’ve had with a startup, or a guy who had an idea for a startup, hit a wall as soon as I said, “Well, you’ll want to do user research.” One guy asked me where he could find a Jonny Ive who could just make the magic happen.

    These are, by and large, people with more dreams than common sense. Their business idea is driven by personal needs/desires/insecurities, rather than actual business/customer needs.

    I have, however, gotten quite skilled at getting off the phone with them quickly.

  • Bernardo

    February 24, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Thank you for the article, I’ve been there. Great links in the comments as well.

  • Dan Turner

    February 24, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for all the great thoughts and comments! And it’s both good to know and sad that this seems to be a pervasive issue.

    Hilary, you’re probably right that a lot of it comes from what is taught and how in business schools; I’ve seen similar and thought about a long rant about it. Thanks for the links, too – good reads. And I’m now looking for any excuse to use “arse-about” in a conversation

    Jordan hits on the “test our assumptions” point. That’s a winner.

    Thanks for the links, Stefan!

    Mr. Locke (and we should talk philosophy), that’s an interesting point about complicity, and also about confirmation bias. I’m trying to find the meme that shows Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg dropped out of college, along with an image of a fry cook; the caption is “YOU dropped out of college”.

    Sebastian, I wish I had a good answer to the Mozilla question. To the interviewer’s credit, he prefaced it by saying that he knew there was no “right” answer. In any case, I hemmed and hawed and contradicted myself, though I think I ended up somewhere similar about design must have application.

  • Dan Turner

    February 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    And thanks, Gabby (here and there)! Yes, my initial whinge on this topic was met with, “Well, that’s a good way to weed out people you don’t want to work with.” But wouldn’t it be great if we could turn those resources into ventures that actually did address real problems that real people face? I just abhor waste.

  • Mike

    February 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Great article! Happy to see a conversation starting to happen around this issue.

    I think one way that consultants have dealt with the perception that user research is a waste of resources is by emphasizing how cheap and fast it can be. So you have discount usability testing (Nielsen), bargain basement usability testing (Krug) and now the Lean UX methodology. This tendency is short-sighted and contributes to the perception that user research and design isn’t valuable.

    For those who don’t see its value, the preferred price point for user research is $0. They see two or three weeks of research as waste, but think nothing of sinking months or even years of developer time into untested features. So it’s not really that they’re cost conscious people, they just don’t believe in the value. So one thing we can do is stop talking about our fire sale prices and start emphasizing the value we bring instead.

    For business people who may have never heard of user research, it can help to bridge the gap with a name they’ll recognize. I really like Clayton Christensen’s anecdote about a fast food restaurant trying to improve sales of milkshakes. One of his colleagues spent 18 hours observing and interviewing people buying milkshakes in one of the stores. He came away with the insight that many people were buying them to deal with boredom on long morning commutes and used this to improve the product.

    It’s a great example of what we would call a user research activity, but coming from someone with a huge amount of credibility in the startup and business world.

  • Charles Brewer

    February 26, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    Dan, thank you so much for concretizing a pervasive problem that has left me–an IA/UXer for 18 yrs. & startup veteran, SF & LA–frustrated and burnt out.

    I hit a wall last year when I realized that every single employer, interview or networking conversation I have had for the last 7 years has been the exact problem you describe. Every. Single. One. (At least I’m better at recognizing it up front now.)

    They were all some version of building out the founder’s idea. They had either already sunk millions and hired dozens into the buildout, or they wanted somebody to build out their concept for investors.

    I’ve had to learn the hard way to look out for the tell-tale signs:
    1. “We/my investors say we need some UX for our product.”
    2. “I need someone to build my idea to show to investors.”
    3. “We have a really great development team and lots of features we need to build. This cannot be slowed down in any way.”
    4. “You’re a UX Designer? I have this idea I want some help with.”

    I’m sure there are other similar ones that we have all heard.

    So what’s my take on all this? What have I concluded? What can we possibly do about this?

    First, we gotta face up to some harsh truths.

    1. UX has failed to sell the value of UX.
    We haven’t made the value of what we do clear enough. We haven’t even made what we do visible enough. We’ve been happy to be a “priesthood” instead of shock troops. This was a problem even back in the 90′s with the emergence of Information Architecture and I’m as guilty of this was anyone. I used to take pride in the fact that what I did was invisible, that if I had done my job properly, the end user would not notice my work but get on with enjoying the experience. But this is a huge problem. Ordinary founders, VCs and end users don’t think about a “great user experience.” They just see an awesome app. What we do gets lost. Another thing: When you’re explaining, you’re losing. UX explains itself over and over in terms of process. To UX-enlightened business owners, there is value…and so UX professionals do get jobs. Sometimes great, fulfilling jobs. To startups in a race against bankruptcy, this sounds like a bunch of b.s. It sounds like “slow.” It doesn’t sound like “awesome product out the door.”

    2. Pitch Culture is the dominant culture.
    Silicon Valley is exactly like Hollywood and exactly like Madison Avenue. Money & deals culture. There are a small number of people who control vast amounts of capital. People who want some of that money pitch their ideas. They sell the concept and then they get some money to go make the concept. This is sales. The deal-pitchers and deal-makers run the show. Everyone else is the hired help. Of course the “show runner” wants the very best, most skilled people with the most experience and the best processes. But they will be in the service of the concept that has already been sold in. That’s the Producer & Director’s role. Everybody else is there to make it happen. This works because the punchy concepts of the pitch and the personal reputation of the pitchmaker form a functional, good-enough information filter for the money to make sense of the deal flow. It’s the Law of Large Numbers. Eventually, somebody’s going to get a hit. The system works.

    So what?

    3. This won’t change until UX sits in the Founder’s chair
    We see Steve Jobs and Jony Ive and think “that’s what I’m hired to do.” (Put aside the often-overlooked reality that these icons are famous for hardware, not software, not really.) Trying to do that on a hired job/in the wrong role is like the film school grad working as a P.A. on set who is absolutely sure the Director will welcome their questions about character motivation in the shooting script. The Director welcomes the stage door hitting them in the ass on their way out of the company.

    So we have to put ourselves in the Director’s chair. In the Founder’s role. We have to make our own pitches and make our own products, and use UX done the right way to get there. But we have to give up the priesthood when we do that. We become responsible for the whole business of the show: Money, talent, schedules, keeping investors happy, marketing, operations.

    4. Lean Startup looks like a good way to get there.
    Lean Startup talks about customers & users & great products. So does UX. They focus on users. We focus on users. But Lean Startup is getting major attention, adoption, traction. Why? Simple: Lean frames everything–innovation, user-centered design, multi-disciplinary approach, research, measurement–in terms of business value in a way that UX has historically failed to do. Lean takes a Founder mindset. Lean talks a punchy list of business benefits and positive outcomes. And Lean is co-opting as “innovation techniques” many of the proven methodologies from our UX bag of tricks. I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, it’s time to “Lean Up.” Lean Startup and User Experience have so much overlap that the 2 communities should merge. We have every reason to welcome Lean. UXers should start seeing themselves as Lean UXers. Start using Lean Startup language to sell UX. Start thinking of ourselves as Founders who can design. As innovation executives in large organizations. Start putting ourselves in the Founder’s chair.

  • Lynne

    February 27, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Thanks so much for writing this post, Dan. You’ve articulated perfectly everything that frustrates me about our current startup/VC culture. I know there is this whole ‘fail fast/fail often’ mentality and people seem to see nothing wrong with tossing $1M in the trash, but I, too, abhor waste. I can’t imagine the number of real world problems that might be solved with the kind of money that’s been flushed on poorly executed ventures (ie. Color? $41M?).

    I also agree with the comment here that we shouldn’t keep stripping research down to it’s barest, cheapest form just so that we can get our foot in the door–though I’ve done this and found it can be a good ‘gateway drug’ in terms of proving user feedback value. I will never understand the mindset wherein it’s fine to invest months of developer time into writing code but not a couple of weeks into validating assumptions. I keep telling potential clients that ‘genius designers’ are actually very rare, and that most good design is simply evidence-based and data-driven. If they aren’t willing to accept that reality, I generally view that as a sign to move on.

  • Dan Turner

    February 27, 2014 at 2:13 am

    Wow, more great points and discussion! Thanks, all of you. I’m sorry to hear others have had this frustration (or maybe I’m projecting), and I’m grateful to see all the context and insight people have offered up.

    Charles, I really like you parallels between Hollywood and the startup culture. Funny, each looks down on the other, probably pointing to the very things you note that each has in common. I bet you could write a great article on that. Hint.

    Lynne, I’ve found myself in a similar situation: protesting that real research can be done in a flash, for a song. But that’s a good point that you (and others) have made, that we’re possibly complicit in some of the attitude we run up against. And I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on how the actual point behind the “fail” idea (try, learn from the results, iterate) have been fetishized to the point where people throw millions away and take this as a badge of courage to be rewarded with more millions. Except, you know, with less bitter.

  • Tomer Sharon

    February 27, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Hey Dan, what a great read!
    I spent a lot of my free time in the past year on interviewing startup founders (120 of them), VCs (about 40), and UX thought-leaders (about 40) on this topic exactly. My main interest was what questions founders ask themselves about their users and how they answer them. I also asked them questions about the problem their product solves and UX knowledge questions. Here are the primary findings (drum roll):
    1. Founders have no time and budget to spend on research with users.
    2. Only 12% of founders and VCs know what UX is (and I was very generous here).
    3. A startup idea is born from a founder’s personal pain (86% of the founders I interviewed).
    4. The idea is mostly focused on a product or service rather than on a problem to solve.
    5. Founders perceive startups as a coding exercise. A coding exercise does not require getting insights from users.
    6. Founders ask themselves excellent questions (e.g., 95% of them ask themselves if people need their product).
    7. Founders answer their excellent questions in invalid and unreliable ways (e.g., “Of course they need our product. It’s because we develop it!”)
    8. VCs make go/no go investment decisions on hunches and vanity metrics (when available). I did not hear about one VC that did any type of user research to gain insights about a need for a startup product/idea prior to making an investment decision.

    So these startups and VCs are taking huge risks in developing products nobody needs.
    Very sad, yet this is an opportunity. I am working on a book for founders to guide them through their own research (http://leanuxresearch.launchrock.com). A book is not going to solve the problem but it’s a start. We UX design and research practitioners need to help these founders and VCs in recognizing their assumptions and doing their own cheap, quick research. We should also inform them of when heavier research is needed. Yet the latter IMHO should be second priority.

    It’s hard work and sometimes it’s just impossible. I always believed in working with people who want to work with you on the right things. Some of the founders have hope. Let’s work with them and show the others the path to less risk and more success.

  • Charles Brewer

    February 28, 2014 at 12:29 am

    Thanks, Dan!

    Actually I want to write a book on what SV can learn from Hollywood, and vice versa, based on my experiences at startups and also producing independent film.

    But an article would be a great way to start, yes? I will take you up on that.

  • Peter Mah

    February 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I think there’s a bias in the industry. If an engineer just said they needed to do something in order to do their work it would likely be approved. But if a UX designer says we need to do research they sometimes will have to jump through hoops to get approval for it.
    Also, I think it would be interesting to see stats on the success rates of startups who involve UX design in the process of building their product and those who just build it with trial and error process (without user input).

  • Luis Daniel Rodriguez

    March 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I think a good narrative can bridge the two sides and generate enthusiam for any cross-functional team, see my preso “Design Stories are the New User Stories”: http://www.slideshare.net/uxcodeline/ux-intel-2

  • Ha Phan

    March 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    You’ve articulated the problem perfectly. In my case, the company did an offline MVP and that provided contextual understanding of the problem, personas, as well as price points to validate one business model. So the company understood the problem space. I collaborated on a Concept Car with the CEO knowing full well that we were light years away from being able to implement it. That Concept Car provided a frame work initial work on IA and planning of product platform. The journey to that pie in the sky experience for us is a long one, because it relied on data – lots of data that has to be ingested from users and from external sources over time. We had to determine how to get to funding to arrive at the pie in the sky experience. So in our case, the CEO drove us to build a product that will help him get deals not the user. He’s drawn to models that has worked before – ala chasing someone else’s tail lights. The CTO and CPO and I wanted to approach it from a different model but we lost because our solution had yet no financial backing. The product ecosystem has continued to evolve based on the deals we made. When you inject money into the problem it changes the balance. What I realized is that there are those of us whose religion is building a good product and there are those of us whose religion is the money game – to extract money/value from the market place. The kind of product you build is determined by the value of the person at the helm. The world is not a perfect oyster for UCD. If you believe in your bedfellows you should still sign on. There are many opportunities to provide value. The path to good UX starts at the organization level and that requires credibility and building relationships.

  • Hilary Cinis

    March 5, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Wow… I am so heartened by this thread. Thanks Dan :)

    So a list of short responses below, in no particular order….

    Charles, I also feel Startup and film industry culture have many similarities (my husband is in film). Looking forward to reading your article/book! I keep meaning to read My Adventures in the Film Trade by William Goldman to see if the similarities are just that close. For a while there I had his classic phrase bouncing around in my head “nobody knows anything” when watching pitches and the like. (Myself included).

    Tomer – thanks for your research, it correlates with mine also so that is really nice to read. I love you are writing a book, I am running courses at some accelerator/incubators locally as well as in my full time job, and once you’re done I’ll happily review and recommend the book. I have taken what I think is the same approach – to teach them how to fish rather than bang them on the head about how they suck and try and sell them a service.

    Something that occured to me the other day is that building something is the way founders and developers can express their ideas and it’s important to respect that. However, it’s also important they welcome being challenged when they build because a designer who wants to help is a lot gentler than an uncaring public who ignores or worse, slams their offering.

    And as for Lean … it isn’t new, it’s normal! Overblown documentation was a result of certain types of folks emerging in the design industry and in large organisations for reasons very different to initiating a small business. We were all doing Lean before it had name :)

    I have had a couple of awkward conversations about ux and business… I am not strong in this area and am really keen for tips on how to approach it. When I do it gets reduced to “well yes, ux is great for product, but we’re trying to coach these startups on business”. I kind of get stuck when the answer to me is quite obvious – that without anything to sell there is no business, and if you don’t know what you are, what are you offering? I feel like I need to wow them with insights that I possibly don’t have or aren’t convenient to hear… maybe it’s because sometimes we serve, other times we provide direction and maybe that’s a bit too confusing.

  • We Don’t Research. We Build. | UX Central

    March 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    […] Add to your collection | Read article […]

  • 5 Push-Backs to Push-Backs on Conducting Qualitative User Research

    March 16, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    […] Start-ups folly in this area frequently; however, this is probably the best time for implementing user research, as getting it right the first time makes all the difference. If you haven’t set up processes to observe and understand how your customers respond to your product, how do you know if you’re meeting a real need; that is, you’re solving a real problem. […]

  • Dys

    March 17, 2014 at 1:33 am

    The people with “build-first” mentality need to be slowly trained to accept UX processes.

    Like how visual designers come to value UX – not in one morning you would awaken to this continuous struggle.

    Continuous struggle – I state – because even if you’re already adept to the value and process of UX, you still need to perpetually uphold it amidst tight deadlines and varying opinions of teammates.

    So be kind to these people – one day they will learn.

  • David Villa

    April 10, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I think this article is very accurate in portraying the mindset companies have when looking to hire someone for UX. The build first mentality is ineffective in part because there are no prototypes made, no research being done, it’s just being thrown in front of consumers and they are expected to use it effectively with no background work and processing. In order for any product to be successful in the market, customers need to have prior knowledge of the services and what their potential is. Building first also has higher chances of having problems that would have been fixed during the concepts and the research process. A huge portion of the design process is being overlooked. Companies are looking to invest in a single process rather then spending more time developing concepts that will actually be effective and provide what customers need. Product comps provide companies with experience of how their product will play out its role in the market. This leaves more time for refining and tweaking. After the main ideation is down, some of the most crucial points involve refining which can make a world of a difference for the customer and consumer experience. Companies are investing to their advantage and thinking they are taking a head start. In the end, they will be loosing revenue because of the faults in planning and concepts. Clients want designers to do everything quickly and they expect it to be effective without prototyping. This is not possible, any idea needs research, concepts and reworking in order to be regarded credible in the market by other companies and consumers.

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