To build a great product or service as a digital media startup, you will likely need the help of software developers, user experience designers and more, but communicating your vision and working well with them is key.
Lizette Spangenberg is an experience designer at Retro Rabbit, a software development and design company in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has extensive experience in helping clients and design teams work well together and shared some of her tips in a recent session with jamlab accelerator teams.
The first fundamental step is choosing the correct team for your work, either in the form of freelancers or a development house. Spangenberg explains that there is variety of approaches to the design process, from the prescriptive to the more collaborative, and finding the right fit will ensure that discussions around changes and compromises run smoothly. She says, “it is important to find someone who works in the way that you do and that you will understand what you want and is not going to try and force you into a direction that you don’t want to go.”
When it comes to starting the process and briefing the team, it is essential that you have a clear vision. “Developers are inherently very practical people, so it helps if you can give them the overall idea of ‘this is the thing that I want and this is the value it will have for the end customer’ and to the think in specifics,” says Spangenberg. Once you communicate the main purpose of your website, app or software, you can then drill down into the particularities of what each part could do and what is important to you, and your various users.
While specifics are important, she warns to not get lost in the details of possibilities but rather focusing on getting a product out that you can then adjust and develop further. Spangenberg refers to the popular idea of a Minimum Viable Product, but prefers the term Minimum Delightful Product, where you match realistic expectations with user enjoyment and functionality. She gives the example of a news app, for which you tell your development team from the start that you’d like various specific functions or to embed video, but in your first version, it maybe important to focus only on the core goal of publishing articles.
Spangenberg emphasises that the development process is highly collaborative and involves many compromises along the way, as your vision meets reality. She says, for instance that “the idea that you have in your head of the ideal thing that you want to make happen is sometimes simply not humanly possibly with the specific tech that developers are using.” She also emphasises that the way designs are accepted, used and understood by users can differ widely. For instance, you may assume that icons are universal or that humour will be understood in different locations and geographies, but this is often not the case, and needs to be taken into account during the design and testing process.
Startups have some particular advantages and challenges when it comes to the development process. Spangenberg explains that it can be difficult to research what exactly is necessary and possible, since startups often have great ideas but are not entirely sure if there is a market for it, or how it would function. She says, “It may be so new that [the potential users] don’t even know they need it yet.”
However, creating tech for a startup does mean that there is more free reign. Spangenberg says, “the one great thing as a startup as opposed to a big company is that you don’t have those constraints of legacy systems, so you’ll very often find that apps and websites that are created for startups are a lot more flexible and you have the ability to have these really cool, new things that have been created that are not constrained by something that was built twenty years ago.“ She says this gives the development teams the opportunity to explore and experiment.