Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How - it ends with a “w” cut me some slack). In school we were taught that these fundamental questions must be addressed in the process of creating a strong argument and delivering a legitimate story. In the world of User Experience, being able to accurately answer these 5 questions can be the difference between a product that instantly resonates with the customer and one that quickly makes its’ way to the Startup Graveyard. 

Our guest author this week, Whitney Hess, makes the case that startups without a strong UX input will invariably put too much focus on the “what” and often find themselves lacking when it comes to the long-term product vision and strategy. 

In order to capture that vision and strategy, a User Experience professional should be included at the outset of the project, as they are uniquely positioned to help answer each of these questions:

  • What problem are we trying to solve? 
    Don’t confuse this “what” with “What are we building?” Before we can truly begin building, we must identify what problem this product is attempting to solve? If you can’t answer this question, answering the rest of the “W’s” may be in vain. Take your time and articulate the problem as clearly and concisely as possible. Once you are able to do this, you have a lens through which you can answer the remaining questions, further clarifying your purpose and informing your strategy going forward.
  • Who is the customer? 
    One of the most important questions to answer for any new product. Without a clear understanding of your target audience you run the risk of building something that doesn’t meet or fit your customers expectations, uses cases or mental model of what it is they came to you for. User research, ethnography, and personas are components of the UX toolset that can help to answer this question.
  • Where can we improve on existing patterns and solutions?
    Understanding how others have attempted to solve the same or a similar problem is extremely valuable in understanding what pitfalls to avoid, identifying where an existing pattern failed or needs improvement and revealing the moments in the customer’s journey that you can surprise and delight them when others have failed them. You will find yourself asking this question over and over throughout the entire design process. 
  • When should we begin to get user feedback? 
    Early and often is usually the answer to this question, but that may not always be true. If you introduce it too early you run the risk of letting the user drive the product development (and they may not be in the products best interest). If you introduce it too late, you may miss out on valuable feedback that could have saved you from overbuilding. Understanding who your customers are and knowing where you can improve on existing solutions will help you know when you can begin to incorporate user-testing/feedback into the product development cycle. 
  • Why does our product solve the problem? 
    Having identified what problem we are trying to solve, who our target users are, and where we can improve on existing solutions, we should be able to articulate why our solution solves the problem. This should be the foundation for the short-term goals with a long-term strategy. 
  • How can data help you understand what you are building? 
    There are countless analytics that can be used to validate assumptions, confirm design decisions and clarify your product/market fit. Techniques such as: data mining, eye-tracking, A/B testing, user flows, ethnographic research, usability benchmarking and many others can be used to gain better insights. No detail is too small to test. Copy, layout, interaction—in all of these cases good data can help you understand the results you are seeing and adjust accordingly. 

Companies that start by answering these questions and engaging in a process of UX-driven design have a much greater chance of going on to create viable and longer-lasting products than those that start building without these answers. In the ever-expanding startup world, those who value and apply UX from the start will be those at the head of the pack.