3 Valuable Guerrilla UX Tips For Startups

Building up or working in a startup is very much en vogue these days. From Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley to the prevalence of numerous startup accelerator programs available globally, it would seem as though the normative goal of today’s society is to strive to be one’s own boss. A very attractive ambition indeed but the journey to success is tough and unfortunately, many startups just don’t make it.

A ‘startup’ is a company that is confused about — 1. What its product is. 2. Who its customers are. 3. How to make money.” – Dave McClure

Most startups have at least an idea of the product that they’re trying to build even if they can’t explain it well enough to investors or even to friends and family. However, it’s also often the case that startups get so caught up in new product features, development milestones, and launch dates that they completely forget about understanding who their customers really are.

The last thing that any startup founder wants is to dedicate so much effort only to launch a product that is insubstantial and meaningless to users. Fortunately, we can work to avoid that by adopting a user-centered approach to product design and development. For that, user experience design has been touted as that one sizzling ingredient that can make or break a startup.

Going Guerrilla For A Better UX

Whether it’s overhyped or not, the fact remains – a bad UX will seriously hinder your product. Unfortunately, UX experts aren’t typically affordable. And if you’re a daring duo or a one-man band bootstrapping your way towards entrepreneurial aspirations, it’s very likely that UX is a luxury that you just can’t afford. So what’s a startup to do?

A young woman working on her MacBook at a long table in a stylish office

With little actual users and a less than sufficient budget, it’s time to pick up some guerrilla UX skills to hack your way towards a greater chance of success. After all, continuous learning, improvisation, and hard work are all quintessential to the startup experience, aren’t they?

Now, being a guerrilla UXer on top of whatever role you already have with your startup means that you’re not going to be able to master all the UX expertise that’s ever been known to mankind. Nonetheless, it’s important that you immerse yourself in the UX world and really get to know the fundamentals. If you’re building a mobile app, you could start with reading about mobile user behaviour insights and mobile UX myths.

So wait, what do these UX people do again?

Before launching into the topic of guerrilla UX, let’s start with a brief description of who these UXers are and what exactly do they do.

  • The main concern of a UX designer is how the user feels when interfacing with a product. Through insights derived from user testing, a UX designer comes up with design solutions for a product that help to fulfill users’ needs. UX designers look at aspects of a product such as ease of use, perception of value, learnability, utility and so on. They convey design decisions through wireframes, storyboards, or sitemaps.
  • UX researchers, on the other hand, study the users by delving into who they are, what they seek, what their needs are and so forth. User interviews, A/B testing and market research are some of the methods UX researchers employ to figure the users out. They deliver their insights through the creation of user personas, A/B test results, and interview summaries.
  • The roles of these two types of UXers aren’t mutually exclusive.

Going The Guerrilla UX Way

A young bespectacled man with a pipe and a book sitting by the woods and the lake, representing the idea of the modern day guerrilla UX designer

So what are some ways that startups can go about incorporating the UX-based approach into their product development cycle? Here we share 3 valuable guerrilla UX tips that startups can begin to put into practice immediately.

1. Do A Quick Ethnography Exercise

Say that you want to build a discount flight search mobile application because you feel that the ones that are out there in the market are mediocre. You’ve tried them all but the best discounts that you get are the results of hours spent scouring through the web and trying out different combinations of search parameters. As a die-hard globetrotter, you find that it’s a complete waste of time and you believe you could do so much better.

But is this a problem that other travelers also face? Everyone likes a discount, sure, but do they also feel the same as you do about the available flight search applications?

Therefore, the best way to validate your idea is to ask potential users. But where can you find travelers to interview? In comes a guerrilla UX tip you could really do with: a quick ethnographic exercise. It’s a cost-effective way to find potential users without having to spend a fortune on recruiting them. For instance, you could:

• Reach out to your social network and asked to be introduced to fellow globetrotters since everyone knows someone like that these days.

• Go to the airport for a day and start talking to people who look like they’ve been or are about to be traveling.

• Seek out individuals in travel groups and forums or even on Reddit.

• Join an online community like Couch surfing and start contacting random members.

Given that you don’t present them with a 20 page questionnaire, people are usually friendly enough to spare some minutes of their time to help you. Be nice, be humble, and smile.

A young woman smiling while looking at mobile phone, which is the kind of reaction guerrilla UXers should aim for

Ask them about themselves to get a little privy to who they are but don’t get too invasive. Ask about their flight search habits: how often they search, how they usually go about doing so, what matters most to them, when they do it, so on and so forth. Show them a simple prototype to better communicate your app idea.

It might not seem like proper research. There are no labs, white coats, or complex devices involved. But it is time-efficient, cost-efficient and effective. And that’s what guerrilla UX is all about. It’d set you on the path of the UX-based approach to building a startup by shifting the focal point to real users’ needs and not your product features.

2. Live & Breathe Your User Personas

Given that you already have a pretty good understanding as to who your users are, you should create personas that represent different user groups of your product. Personas are meant to be realistic and based on actual people. In that sense, make sure that you’ve done some user research as your personas will only be as good as the insights behind them. Otherwise, they’ll just be phantom users based on your imagination and you’ll be better off writing a novel instead.

If you have a visual designer on the team, create a detailed visual image of the personas. Adding design elements can be very powerful in conveying personality, traits, and emotions. Otherwise, a simple text-based piece of paper per persona together with a portrait image ripped off Google Images will do fine. In any case, creating personas is not a super costly and time-consuming process but it can save you from committing grievous mistakes in the future. This fits in well with the guerrilla UX way.

A graphic showing the different elements of creating user personas

Source: UX Lady

Once the personas are defined, enlarge them, print them out, and stick it around your startup’s work area. From then on, whenever you discuss your product and users internally, refer to ‘Luke’ or ‘Han’ instead of a generic user. Start having conversations with them. Get to know them and build your product for them.

3. Get Down With Guerrilla User Testing

During the starting up phase of your startup, if you always find yourself indoors and completely attached to your computer trying to come up with new designs, new code, or new content, it’s time to get out of the building. Not only is it good for your vitamin D levels, it’s also key to learning about your users and validating your ideas with them. After all, guerrilla UX wouldn’t be any bit guerrilla if it doesn’t involve working out there on the field.

Guerrilla UX methods are a low-cost, time-saving way to get sufficient insights from users to improve your designs and finetune the features of your products. In short, it’s fast, it’s cheap, and it helps.

Designer Martin Belam calls guerrilla user testing “the art of pouncing on lone people in cafes and public spaces, and quickly filming them whilst they use a website for a couple of minutes.” I don’t recommend you start pouncing on anyone but a friendly approach to have users testing your prototypes would indeed be a great way to start.

Doing guerrilla user testing for a mobile app over coffee

Let’s return to our hypothetical discount flight search app for a bit. Instead of holing up in the startup cave perfecting the designs and cranking out working code, grab some index cards and start sketching out your app idea. Then, head out to Starbucks at the airport and ask some friendly faces to test out your ‘app’. Film them with your iPhone and chat with them for a bit. Buy them a coffee even. This guerrilla UX method is a great way to gain insights so as to achieve important interaction design goals.

Test as early as possible and test as much as can be tested. From paper prototypes to fully-functional high-fidelity prototypes. Review the data, learn from these user tests, re-design, test again. Then, repeat.

A designer using a phablet while reviewing user and market research insights

Here are some extra resources for startup UXers to browse: UX Magazine, Nielsen Norman Group, UX Design Weekly, Usability Geek, UX Myths. Not to mention, Medium has a wealth of very interesting and insightful articles.