Creating a Product from Nothing: A UX Perspective

It can be a dream assignment, or a nightmare task. Your goal is to make a product from nothing, to come up with the ‘next big thing,’ and the only stipulation is that product must grow the business. You may have a very high level topic (like forms, for example, but more on that later), or you may have a completely blank slate. Where do you start? And just as importantly, when is it time to move on to the next idea?

There are many approaches you could follow if you want to come up with concepts and test if they are going to be successful. Here are a few key ways to develop your company’s next big idea.

Approach One: Find The Problem First

Developing a brand new product idea is like working at a startup, except you have no idea what that startup does. A good way to start is hypothesize a problem, establish it exists, and convince people it’s worth solving.

A great way to do this is to follow a Lean UX methodology and put out value propositions to a target group. You talk to people and see the ways the products and services they use could be improved (faster service, lower price, more accessible, more convenient, more intuitive). By watching what gets them excited, you can hypothesize a problem to address.

This leads to some contextual research on their workflows; interview a lot of potential users to understand their day, so you can identify pain points and get a clear idea of the unique problems they’re facing. It’s here you can develop a solution that becomes a product.

Approach Two: Prototype The Solution First

While finding a problem to tackle first seems like the most logical way of conducting UX research, there is another approach that can be very successful. By creating a prototyped solution first (based on assumptions, intuition, or past research), you can quickly determine if your product is a home run, or not.

This requires a certain amount of ‘buy in’ from your stakeholders; they need to believe in you and your idea, at least to a certain degree. This can be a tough sell when you don’t have a clearly demonstrated problem you’re solving.

Sometimes your instincts are right; the product you prototype ends up being a big success. But even if your idea doesn’t land it may spawn another idea that does. This is a great thing about prototyping and exploring solutions first: it can lead to unexpected breakthroughs.

This is what happened when we were tasked to develop a product to help people create forms. We did a lean startup type project to help people find the right form to use, and nothing came of it. What did come from that failed idea, however, became a highly successful product. After a few pivots along the way, we decided to concentrate on form completion. We created Adobe Fill & Sign DC, a 5-star rated mobile app that makes filling out paper forms as easy as snapping a picture of them with your phone.

Take A Shot, And If It Doesn’t Go In, Try Again

It can be very frustrating working on projects that may, or may not, actually become products. When I think back to the times our ideas were scrapped after months of work, it makes me queasy.

Here’s how I deal with it: I’m a big basketball fan, so I imagine myself being a shooter in a basketball game. He or she always believes the next shot is going to go in. Even if they don’t land the shot, they believe they will next time. That mentality will keep you going, and eventually you will get ‘nothing but net.’

It’s also important to keep learning from failed projects. That will help keep you motivated; you’ll try things differently next time. You’ll set different expectations, structure your team differently, do user research at a different time.

Know When To Throw in The Towel…and When Not To

No matter your approach, being able to tell when your project is succeeding and when it’s failing is important. When you’re trying to create a viable product from a blank slate, you have to know when it’s time to pull the plug on your idea. There’s a fine balance to giving up too soon, and letting a project drag on forever.

You don’t want to give your idea just a couple weeks, that’s too short, but you will want to make the call within a few months. You have to give yourself time to explore the space you’re learning. At a point when you realize you’re not learning anything new about the space and you’re desperately fishing to support your hypothesis, that’s when you go back to the drawing board.

Of course, if you hit a breakthrough in that time, get ready to feel like you just nailed a 3-point shot with a second left on the clock. If you’re able to create a viable product that serves a need no one knew existed, your company will consider a slam dunk, and that will just make you just want to shoot more and come up with the ‘next big thing.’