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"Rapid Iteration for Mobile App Design": lecture by Mariya Yao at the Lean Startup Conference 2013

During the "Breakout Session" of the Lean Startup Conference 2013 we had the chance to enjoy an interesting lecture by Mariya Yao about "Rapid Iteration for Mobile App Design", in which she covers the use of lean startup principles when developing prototypes for mobile apps, with a very enriching approach regarding the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept in such a context, and including a wide variety of practical examples and case studies to illustrate the presented concepts.

Here is the video containing the lecture (duration: 44:31).

- "I don’t have the time to watch it."
It's really worth it to use 10 minutes of your time to watch the section between 08:10 and 17:51 time marks, where Mariya Yao explains the principles about what a prototype is and what makes a prototype effective. She focuses on the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and the prototype seen as a learning resource to validate/refute your hypotheses and continue iterating using your validated learning. She highlights, above all, how wrong is to understand the MVP as an interface to let the user try it (focusing on how the app would look like, which icons it would have, which text would appear, etc.), as this approach is not always useful to answer your most important questions ("Will people use this app daily?", "Will they become fans and share it with their friends?", "Will they pay for this value proposition?"). In order to do that, she proposes not focusing on product/interface but on supplied value/experience, introducing the concept of "core loop" (a paradigm used in game design) defined as follows:
"Core Loop: main set of actions that your users have to take in order to make themselves and your business model successful."
In order to better illustrate this concept she mentions that, in consumer-oriented online products, your core loop (the set of actions you need your users to do) will probably fall into one of these four categories: return regularly, contribute content, invite friends, make repeat purchases.

After developing this approach, Mariya Yao lists the three basic principles to take into account as a starting point to prototype your app:
  1. A prototype is useless if it does not answer the right questions.
  2. When we think of the MVP, we should not think of product/interface but of supplied value/experience instead.
  3. It is key to understand which your core loop is, why your users will be willing to go through it, and how often they will do it.

- "Ok, I’ll give it a try."
Here is a time&content structure of the lecture, so you can organize your time better:
  • (00:00-02:46) Contextualization with average figures of app developing costs and expected revenues, differentiating App Store and Google Play. Introduction to the lecture, focused on early prototyping of mobile apps.
  • (02:46-07:00) Main difficulties in rapid iteration of mobile app prototypes: high fragmentation due to diversity of device features, waiting times for a new version to be accepted and available through distributing platforms, very different design paradigm from desktop solutions (small devices, users utilize the app in highly distracting environments, data input is more complicated...), millions of competitors in the same downloading platform.
  • (07:00-08:10) Presentation of the three main blocks on which the lecture is divided, in order to analyze lean iteration to develop apps: Principles (what is a good prototype iteration based on?), Strategy (what should I focus on, according to the kind of app?) and Tactics (advice to guide your prototype's implementation).
  • (08:10-17:51) Principles (detailed above).
  • (17:51-34:20) StrategyShe describes, using several case studies, four important points to be focused on, according to the type of app you are developing:
    • Simplicity. How to capture in a simple way a complex experience in a mobile device (small screens, distracting environments, it is difficult to retain users' attention and create an immersive experience). When creating early prototypes, it is necessary to only focus on 1-2 features, i.e. the most important ones to convey users the experience you want to replicate in this environment.
    • Emotion. She presents the close relationship between an app's success and its emotional connection with the user (such a connection increments the chance of using the app again and sharing it with friends). She introduces the concept of the "tear test" ("¿how would you feel if you could not use the app any longer?").
    • Engagement. It is possible to test your app's ability to retain and engage users, allowing users to tinker with early prototypes.
    • Distribution. Specific things to be taken into account in cases where "distribution is more important than the product itself", i.e. when network effects and virality have a great relevance. 
  • (34:20-42:48) Tactics. She uses several examples to describe four possible kinds of prototypes:
    • Concierge prototypes. Manual simulation (or through basic mechanisms such as sms/email) of the service/value to be supplied by your app.
    • Prototyping on platforms. Use of external tools that facilitate a fast and easy creation of early prototypes.
    • Prototyping with competitors. Analysis of the features shared with competitors and, more importantly, additional features which you focus on and which you think that will mark the difference.
    • Creative prototypes. For example, taking advantage of tools such as spreadsheets to easily simulate some of your app's components.
  • (42:48-44:31) Final key takeaways, e.g. following the Principles-Strategy-Tactics flow to make sure that you are prototyping in the right direction.

 - "Sounds cool, I'll bookmark it!"
If you want to explore this topic further, as I mentioned in another entry, "Extreme Lean TV" online channel has published an interview with Mariya Yao, where she delves into the concepts covered in her lecture.

[Haz clic aquí para la versión en español de esta entrada]

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