Usefulness is job #1

Dropbox founder Drew Houston, in his presentation Dropbox: Startup lessons learned, says the number one risk of startups is to build something that no one wants.

It’s such an easy statement, right? Who in their right mind wouldn’t build something that people want? It seems so obvious. Well, there are many reasons why it doesn’t happen and most of them have to do with whether the design decisions being made are verified with users along the way. This means the designer must be gathering feedback constantly from their users. And it’s why you have people saying “launch early and often”, “MVPs are about learning”, “Get out of the office”, etc. Feedback is the oxygen of product design.

So, for a product designer, usefulness is job #1. If your product is not useful, if humans do not find use for it, then the design has failed. It must help people do something valuable in their lives. In his Jobs-to-be-done framework, Clayton Christensen points out that value isn’t always just functional (my Timex tells the time). It could also be social (my Rolex impresses my friends), or emotional (my watch was a gift from my spouse). In many cases value comes from several of these at once.

As I wrote about the other day, to get started in product design, look for investment. But once you have an idea of what is valuable you have to validate it over and over again with constant feedback from users. Otherwise, you’ll make something interesting, but not something that’s useful and people actually want.

Published: February 5th, 2014