Operations

Lisa Margetis

Can A Product Brief Really Make A Better App?

Dec. 7, 2017

When we start a new product at 20spokes, the first deliverable is not the design - but the Product Brief.

Nothing makes warm and fuzzy “my product is really happening!” feelings happen like seeing those very first branded designs. All of the meetings, notes, ideas and concepts come alive in a gratifying visual scene: your new product’s layout!

Yet, the first design alone is not the beginning. We have to understand your users before we can build a powerful product, and the Product Brief is the first map of exactly how your users will experience your product.

How has user experience expertise gained such value and prevalence in the digital product realm? Because good user experience retains users and makes products downright enjoyable to use.

So where does this ethereal user experience design come from?

The truth is that the users are at the center of any app’s user experience. To put users first, we have to answer hard questions about every product:

  • Who are your users?

  • Why do they need your product?

  • Can you define exactly what you’re making, and who you’re making it for?

  • Is there a map of the user’s interactions with your product?

We help make this process easier, because the Product Brief creates a sharable template for the product you want to create.

An actionable and cohesive plan that addresses exactly who your users are and what they’re going to do with your product doesn’t just help the team to make the product - it helps make the product better.

The goals come first.

The product brief identifies mission critical features.

When you can limit the scope of features through a clear goal, you can avoid spending money to develop features that don’t fit your vision - and get your product to market faster.

We focus your product’s features by understanding your product’s goals. The Product Brief evaluates your product through the lens of:

  • What problem you are solving

  • Who you are solving this problem for

We couple a clear roadmap of your goals and capabilities with a clearly defined user audience. Your Product Brief directly influences functionality, inspires a more useful product and aides in the generation of thoughtful user interface design.

Let’s use a real world example: an app to make driving safer for teens. That’s the goal. From here, we know exactly who the app is for. Since we know that the app is for teens, we can focus on specific features that will help us achieve our goal. Maybe we monitor speed zones and clearly display the car’s speed. Perhaps we alert teens when there’s congestion or a traffic accident ahead. We could even silence incoming calls or texts while the app is on to limit distractions.

By knowing our audience and our goal, we are able to generate focused features. Some features like red light camera alerts could be tossed out - we don’t want to help teens run red lights - and other features emphasized. You save time, money and effort on features that don’t get used.

Limiting product scope with the powerful vision of a Product Brief frees up project resources, reduces turnaround time and keeps the product on schedule - all through a goal-oriented approach to product planning and design.

A unified client and team: one vision, with clear expectations.

Context is everything. The Product Brief is the context for our team’s contributions to the product, enabling smarter decisions during development.

Our briefs contain an overview of the research that aided in the product’s development process, providing a clear rationale for important details. This isn’t just reassuring for the client, it’s immensely helpful for our team during development.

Onboarding new team members, other departments or simply answering the question of “why is it this way?” becomes a faster, easier process - just show them the brief!

The overall direction of the product can be hard to pin down when a team is deep in the weeds of a bug or some other errant detail. The Product Brief is valuable for calculating what’s mission critical. Expectations are set for our team: we know what we’re aiming for.

The foundation of a positive and effective working relationship is often centered on a great Product Brief. Since the Product Brief is a tangible demonstration of how we’ve heard the client’s idea, it creates clear expectations between the client and the team. Trust is built, everything is laid out for all to see, and a challenging problem is broken down to be solved piece-by-piece.

The warm fuzzy “this is really happening” feelings don’t have to end with the first screenshots. A good plan that everyone can come back to keeps momentum going in the right direction. We use our Product Briefs as a template for success, right from the very start.

How do you think a Product Brief could improve product development? Do you need a Product Brief for your idea? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Lisa Margetis

What People Are Reading

News

10/18/17

ChangeMaker Launches!

In a world where marches and protests are making weekly headlines, people are always looking for the next cause to get behind.

But what do you do when a cause or issue you’re passionate about needs more awareness and support? How do you find people to come together? How do you organize people, activities, events, and whatever else you might need to do? And if you do find people, how do you manage all the different moving parts?

And, well, what does that have to do with us at 20spokes?

Meet ChangeMaker -- a project we recently completed and launched.

Similar to sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, ChangeMaker allows organizations to add a project and find fellow activists to donate to or join the cause as a volunteer. The interface provides organizations the ability to detail an issue or problem, outline a solution, and how donors or volunteers can help. When people join the project as a volunteer, they can specify their particular skillset in fields such as marketing, design, legal, or data so project managers can delegate tasks to the right people.

With funding from donations, users can work on projects for their cause by using the free website. While most project management tools have some sort of fancy, pay-to-use features, ChangeMaker is completely free to use because it is donor funded and donor maintained.

We branded, designed, and coded the ChangeMaker platform in a Rails environment. We also integrated Stripe Connect, which enables organizations to receive those donations they need to power their projects.

Putting all this together sounds like it would take a good chunk of time, right? But we kicked off this project on August 8 and launched the website this week. A little more than two months. Not too shabby, eh? Just in time for the Newfounders Conference. ChangeMaker will have a big presence at the conference with donors ready to help out organizations that have ready-to-pitch projects for its demo night. Nothing is too small or too large for ChangeMaker to help its users and organizations tackle.

Give ChangeMaker a whirl at changemaker.newfounders.us.

Technology

11/20/17

Cross-Platform mobile development is cost-effective and faster to launch

Two years ago, if a person approached us for mobile app development, the first question would be what platform to launch on first - iOS or Android. It was almost double the cost to deploy on both and double the maintenance.

Fast forward to today, we can deploy on iOS and Android quicker before, at the same time, and with the expected native quality.

So what has changed? Technology has gotten a lot better. We particularly use React Native, an open source framework from Facebook, that allows developers to develop in a common language, Javascript, and deploy on both iOS and Android.

And it is native! Previous technologies for cross platform mobile apps would create a wrapper of a web view. Think of the older experience as using the browser on your phone for a site with a few more bells and whistles. It was close but the difference is noticeable when switching to native applications, from scrolling to the overall experience.

How does this impact everything now?

Cost is no longer double for both platforms. It can even cost less due to wide spread community support developing open source libraries.

Maintenance is a lot easier. A majority of the issues can be fixed in one code base and of the same language.

Recruitment and team knowledge is easier. Your team only need to know one language and most developers know Javascript. iOS is written in Objective C or Swift and Android is written in Java.

Reusable code for desktop web views. With React Native, we are able to share over 50% of the code with the web view, saving all of the above even more.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be going more into the technologies and other benefits.