A non-negotiable process every early-stage founder must go through is testing their assumptions.
Without any positive indicators that your assumptions - the ideas that must hold true in order for you to have a viable business - will hold true, you're batting in the dark. We learned this the hard way when we closed the doors on our first venture in 2017 and vowed to never to build a product again, without doing so.
We went through a rigorous UX process, infused with design thinking and human-centred design principles, to build our new platform AllEyes.io. Here's a play-by-play of how we did it.
“User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.” — InteractionDesign.org
What you’ll need:
- Your next business idea
- ‘The 4 Ps’ — Post-its, paper, pens and patience
- Sticky dots / different coloured pens
- A laptop screen recorder (Quicktime player will do)
- A voice recorder (Phone works fine)
- A great network of insiders, plus some drinks and snacks to offer them
Stage 1: Prove there's demand for your core concept
We're on a mission to reimagine the way brands forecast fashion trends, and we had a hunch about fashion trends emerging bottom-up (from consumers and culture) rather than top-down (from gatekeepers and magazines). So, first up, we needed to validate that there was a need for street style and social media trend forecasting. Our first, and most core assumption to be tested - do people want what we intend to build?
The plan of action, was to launch a trend report - in PDF form - and gather feedback.
The latest All Eyes trend report (2020)
We scoured social media, gathered a group of budding fashion photographers, took to London Fashion Week, and photographed influencers in the thousands and from this, produced our first ever street style trend report.
We forwarded this onto our network of advisors and assumed personas (for us, this was designers, buyers and stylists) for honest feedback and went about iterating our reports in time for the next London Fashion Week.
They were a hit.
Stage 2: Workshop your brand differentiation
Our UX design process kicked off with a workshop aimed at deciphering who All Eyes is as a company, and who we aim to be. The only people present for this workshop were the founders. It was split into two parts:
- Product Personality, and
- Design Principles.
The product personality workshop made us question ‘How will the world see our brand?’ It started with the below exercise:
- Write down 5 personality traits you want your brand to embody… and 5 you do not!
- Share > Critique > Vote with sticky dots
The mission of the design principles workshop was to establish the guiding values that drive our brand. To decide this we completed the below task:
- Write down 5 core principles of your brand
- Share > Critique > Vote with sticky dots
After we’d settled on these top 5 principles, another fun exercise that we completed was to assign a celebrity based on their personality and outlook on life. We came back with Leonardo Di Caprio. Gotta love him. Now we often find ourselves asking ‘What would Leo do?’
All Eyes Product Personality Workshop
Stage 3: Build user persona's
The next core assumption we needed to test was related to our users. We needed to understand if our assumed personas, would, in fact, be interested in our proposition. We needed to ascertain what our users would want, need and expect from a new trend forecasting company.
We designed a survey to this end, compiled a list of job roles we thought would be interested in using our new proposition, and sent it to approximately 30 participants per job role.
Remember to ask open-ended questions that help extract specific stories. Some questions you may want to consider for your survey:
- What does your job involve day-to day?
- Do you currently use any tools? If not, why?
- What tasks take up most of your time?
- What are the most challenging/annoying/frustrating aspects of your job?
- Who do you interact most at work and how?
Once we had received around 80 responses back, we turned this into detailed user persona's.
All Eyes Persona Document
Stage 4: Uncover your user stories
Now that we had a better idea of who our users were, and what problems they were facing, we wanted to delve deeper, so ran a workshop designed to compile user stories.
User stories are short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability, usually a user or customer of the system. They typically follow a simple template:
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that I can <some reason>.
In short, user stories describes the type of user, what they want and why.
All Eyes User Stories Workshop
We rented a workspace for a couple of hours and invited around 12 industry guests along (working within our persona roles). Provide popcorn and wine, and watch conversation start to flow.
We split our workshop into small groups, and asked each team to complete the following tasks:
- Write down as many needs for each persona as possible in a time frame (3–5 minutes, for example)
- Then organise these ‘needs’ into personas and similar categories
- Discuss, and narrow these down into core needs and reword
Here’s a few examples of what we came back with:
“I need regular contact with other industry professionals to share ideas.”
“I need more streetstyle — all current services are focussed too heavily on catwalk.”
“I need a cheaper option.”
By organising these needs into categories, it provided the basis of our product features and user stories. Things began to get exciting — we began to visualise the All Eyes platform features and how our personas might use it.
All Eyes User Stories Workshop
Stage 5: Collaborate with your users on product design
Next up we held an open design session with potential users that, again, reflected the primary personas we locked in at stage 3. The aim of this was to collaboratively design basic wireframes for the new All Eyes platform.
From looking back at our user stories from the previous workshop, we were able to put together some tasks for our session. Ours went a little something like this:
Design the ‘search results page’ for a designer who needs:
- to know and keep up with the latest trends
Design the ‘collaborative tools page’ for a stylist who needs:
- to streamline client involvement
Our main goal for the Design Studio session was to rapidly generate ideas, and design collaboratively. We followed the below format:
- Sketch > share > critique > vote with sticky dots
- Come together and create a final design for your product feature/page
We found it really helpful to voice record this session too, as we had honest insight into the pros and cons of other pre-existing platforms. This particular session was when it all started to come to life — for a designer like myself, this is the exciting bit. These final collaborative wireframes were the beginnings of our new product.
All Eyes Design Studio Workshop
Stage 6: Prototype Design
Using the wireframes from the previous session, we went about designing AllEyes.io V1 — a very messy-looking thing, but the key features and information were all there, albeit ugly.
For V1 I designed the prototype on Sketch, and used Invision to link up all the screens for testing purposes. For V2 and onwards, I moved onto Photoshop. No reason really, just felt more comfortable that way.
Stage 7: Testing the prototype design
Testing Sessions are pretty odd - especially the first. I was standing in front of a kind stranger outside of London Fashion Week at 8pm in February, asking them to complete random tasks on a website I know they think is ugly, while I film it. The weirdest part? When they ask you questions about what it is, all you can do is shrug, or reply “What do you think it is?”
The trick with these testing sessions is to say hardly anything at all — you’ll quickly see that they fill the silence with opinion and UX insight. It’s worth the weird.
How to test:
- Get to know them + their day-to-day work processes — what we call ‘Pub Chat’ (5 mins max)
- Explain why you are doing this, not what.
- Give them a scenario and ask to complete the task on your website. Try to give 3 for every person tested. Ideally, you’d be able to film the screen as they perform the task on your platform.
- After each testing session, collate your findings and categorise — you’ll soon see themes between the notes and then you can adjust your designs accordingly. If they’re unable to complete a task, it might be something as simple as a change to the button placement. Small things like this can be the difference between keeping a user and losing a user.
How to set the task for your kind stranger:
“As a <role>, you are interested in <need> and have visited <website> to help you find this information. Using this prototype, <task>.”
Some tips while testing:
- Don’t answer any questions during the session, instead, say things like “Why did you think that? What did you expect to see?” etc.
- There are no wrong answers — everything is interesting.
- Try not to rush them — see where they take the mouse.
- Ask them to think out loud — they’ll find this strange, but you’re recording and the insights they’re giving are extremely useful to you!
- Allow for awkward silences — they will fill them.
Stage 8 is simple: Test > Iterate > Test > Iterate > ...
Over the past couple of years we’ve held testing sessions with potential users on approx 10–15 different occasions, in many different environments (streets, cafes, Skype, co-working spots, our house, swanky offices, you name it), so in doing this process 50 or so times, you soon get used to it.
Always remember that these initial testers have the potential to become your brand ambassadors, so treat them well and keep them sweet. You might also discover personas you’d never thought of before, just through having conversations with people.
All Eyes Testing Sessions
To close, our team decided to keep UX at the heart of the business, as we had learnt from our past mistakes. Looking back on all of this research, we’ve found it to be essential in so many areas of our business. Not just in understanding our target audience and product better than ever before, but current problems in industry, competition, pricing structures and so much more. The whole team feels equipped with the knowledge because we’ve chatted with so many personas IRL (and online), and understand them back to front.
After our mammoth UX journey (which is still on-going), AllEyes.io is finally close to launch. One final piece of advice from us — always test your assumptions.