I recently had the unique opportunity of meeting Ian Myles, who has done extensive work designing software and hardware products. He was leading a discussion amongst startup CEOs regarding the importance of user experience. No one will contest that user experience is important, but Ian took it a step further, and said its not just about making pretty apps. The reason user experience is important is because two products being equal in terms of functionality is when: ”Design becomes the silent salesman.”
I thought about how true these words were, and how I myself had experienced this first hand at my last startup. Say what you will, but design was the key ingredient to Mint.com’s triumphant user growth and adoption over long time rival Intuit’s product QuickenOnline.
There are 3 questions that people need to answer when designing a product for any user base:
- What is going to get people to try the product out i.e. compel them to click the sign up button?
- How will you keep the user engaged once they sign up?
- How will you retain them?
Let’s tackle the first question. As a startup you cannot rely on word of mouth marketing just yet, so to get people to sign up you need to have a landing site with a clear value proposition. I won’t bore you with landing site optimization techniques, you can read about those here. Just know that you need to think about how you will make the user that’s signing up feel like you’ve built an app just for them.
Pat yourself on the back if you’ve gotten users to sign up. The next challenge is to hold the user’s attention long enough so that they will feel like you met their the expectations that you set for them in your landing site’s value proposition i.e. if you’re going to make them more money, well then your product better start making them more money from the initial interaction! This part is hard, because you’re actually trying to do 2 things: making a lasting impression by making a positive impact on the current moment they are using your product. Hence, you’re right on the edge where people will immediately drop off or experience enough value to stick around and login another time.
The final question: how will you retain them? Sometimes I feel like people just don’t care enough about retention. I can’t blame them with advertising being an easy monetization scheme, but with advertising dollars becoming more scarce, vanity metrics like signups aren’t enough. For SaaS companies like my current startup, its even harder, you have to provide a clear value to get users to come back, and continue to augment your offerings if you want to retain users. So how do you retain them? User experience. Everything from the design of the product to clear messaging and customer service affects retention, because each one of these is an experience that your user is having with your company. Sure you can lock people into a long term contract, but those are for companies who are afraid that someone will figure out their product sucks once they’ve used it more than once. Or you can churn through signups but then how will you make money long term? You need a user base that is willing to pay you for something, part of that is paying you for the experience you are delivering.
Hence, putting thought into the overall experience a user has with your company and its products is the reason design is the silent salesman.
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