Design process

Demo, Prototype, MVP, Full Product: What's Different in Your Approach to Design?


mins to read

Our work as a product design agency for SaaS involves helping businesses at different stages of product lifecycles to visualize their ideas with the help of UI/UX design. Sometimes, clients come to us when they just make their first steps into the market. In such a situation, they usually ask for a demo, prototype, or a minimum viable product (MVP) design. Sometimes they want us to build a full product design right away. 

But it doesn’t mean they always understand what this or that word means in terms of design. All these terms may seem almost identical for aspiring startup founders, which is why they may build false expectations from the designers.

However, all of the above are different concepts that serve different purposes, and choosing the wrong one may cause a waste of valuable resources (which you just can’t let happen at the stage of an early startup). To figure out the difference between demo vs MVP vs prototype vs full product and define what approach to design you should expect from your UI/UX designers in each particular case, let’s analyze four real cases coming from our personal practice.

1. Cylynx that started its way in the market as a demo

Cylynx is a data analytics tool that helps businesses process valuable information by turning it into comprehensible graphs so that users can study data relationships, detect trends or discrepancies.

When they came to Eleken, Cylynx had a demo version of their platform and wanted to turn it into a minimum viable product. However, we won’t talk now about an MVP design (we’ll do it a bit later). Instead, let’s focus on the demo version and its role in Cylynx’s go-to-market strategy.

Their demo allowed potential users to perform two essential actions, while demonstrating the platform’s value:

  1. Upload data from the computer (or choose a sample data).
  2. Edit the visualization of it.
demo design approach

The demo version had limited functionality, and users could neither subscribe nor store their files in the software. But at that stage of Cylynx product development, it was not the goal.

What Cylynx wanted to achieve with building a demo was to help investors and potential customers imagine the value this platform could provide when fully-built.

  • It, first of all, allowed the company to understand if they had enough customers willing to pay for their offer.
  • Secondly, the demo let them raise money from investors to be able to move to the next stage of product development (an MVP).

So, after Cylynx proved that their idea is interesting for prospects and investors, they reached Eleken to help them improve the demo’s interface and turn it into an MVP to start getting real subscribers.

Now, let’s talk about what lessons we can take from this story.

In what situations you need a demo

Product demos usually depict a key feature or a certain flow users have when using software. They may come in various forms: a video, slide deck, clickable prototype, or else.

So, what is a demo, and when a startup founder may need it?

Businesses create demos to demonstrate other people the value that their product or service may offer if they bought it/if that product existed.

If we talk about a demo meaning a finished product, it usually serves the purpose of a walkthrough (or a tutorial) that illustrates to the viewer how the software works.

Duolingo shows all its features in a demo video to give the viewer a clear understanding of how the app works

In case it’s an early stage product, the demo helps people assume how beneficial a product would be for them once it’s available. It often comes in a form of a clickable design or a piece of code together with mockup designs.

when to design a demo? demo example
Interactive demo of property management software Ajar

In both variants, businesses use demos to close the deal. Their goal is to convince somebody (in most cases potential customers, or investors) that the concept is worth paying for.

So, as a startup founder, you should design a demo once you’ve validated your customer and problem assumptions, and want to 

  • get enough early adopters that want to pay for your offer
  • find investments for your further development. 

What to expect from demo design

As the purpose of demo solutions is to help businesses close the deal, their success depends not on the accurate and detailed feature representation, but on your ability to demonstrate how beneficial the product will be for those who use it. 

So, here’s what your design approach should be like:

  1. Define the reason you want to design a demo (selling an existing product to customers, attracting investments, gaining first users). 
  2. Research and define the target audience, and what they expect from your product. Consider if they have any previous knowledge of your company, or if you have to present yourself within software that has not yet been released.
  3. Define what form of a demo design will best communicate the product’s value to your target audience (clickable prototype, Google slides, video, and so on)
  4. Create a visual asset. The design should be engaging and memorable as it’s intended to sell. But don’t focus on details too much: you need to build it fast, and it’s not the final version of your product.
  5. Write a script that clearly communicates your mission and sells your idea well.
  6. Run short tests before bringing your demo to the market.

And remember, all you need from design at this stage is to ensure it helps the viewer imagine what they could achieve if they had your product.

2. Tromzo that asked for the first prototype design of their product

Tromzo is a security app that helps developers find vulnerabilities in their code. As an early-stage startup, they had a great idea to develop a solution that would be both technically strong and easy to use. But to implement this product idea, they needed to find investment.

That’s why Tromzo hired Eleken to help them design a prototype that would convince potential investors that their product is both valuable and competitive.

Our scope of work on this project included designing a prototype from the ground up that would include all the key screens of the software and present complicated technical data in a comprehensive way. As Tromzo’s goal was to attract investors, our top priority was to make the prototype visually appealing and do it fast

We dedicated a lot of time to the research phase to better understand how the app is supposed to work, and in just one month, the prototype design was ready and Tromzo could start negotiating with potential investors.

prototype design example

As you may have noticed, the goals Tromzo wanted to achieve with its prototype are very similar to those that are achieved with the demo. So what’s the difference between a demo solution and a prototype?

In what situations you need a prototype

Prototypes and demos are often used to refer to one and the same thing, especially when we’re talking about early-stage products. And as you already know, demos may come in different forms, including a prototype. In its turn, a prototype may serve different goals.

Let’s try to be more specific. When talking about prototypes, most people would imagine a rough version of a product that you show to prospective customers for the proof of concept (it’s more internally oriented and may be anything, from a pencil drawing to HTML code). Demos, in their turn, are thought of as visually appealing and customer-ready assets.

types of prototypes with design examples

So, a UX prototype is a rough version of a product that allows the viewer to understand what idea, user flow, and layout it has, and how the future product is going to work. A stratup founder may need it to

  • Present the idea to investors and persuade them that it is feasible and worth putting money into full-fledged development.
  • Test the idea before releasing to determine whether it’s actually going to work or not without busting the whole budget.
  • Test the design to see if it needs any improvements, or if it meets your expectations at all.
  • Collect user feedback to define if your potential users like what you build for them and reveal product shortcomings. 

What to expect from prototype design

Prototype design process is quite similar to the demo design. But while demos are not focused on accurate feature representation, when creating a prototype you’d probably want to showcase the functionality people would use in a full-scale product. 

So, when designing a prototype 

  • Keep focused on its goal and audience.
  • Choose an iterative design process as it’s important to deliver prototypes fast and often.
  • You may start with low-fidelity mockups and improve them after receiving feedback.
  • Make small adjustments each time you test the prototype on users.

3. Haven Diagnostics that needed an MVP design

Haven Diagnostics is helping corporate offices improve the teams' health and productivity by using mathematical models for projecting the infection risk. They came up with this idea when the COVID-19 pandemic burst out.

MVP design example

To begin with, Haven Diagnostics was making agent-based models for private clients. As they saw the first positive feedback from customers, they decided it was time to grow. Still, to minimize their own risk of spending too much money into developing something that their target audience wouldn't find valuable, they, first of all, wanted to start with an MVP.

The goal of an MVP was to understand users well before jumping into further development. That’s why our scope of work included the initial research that startups must conduct before launching. It involved defining the value proposition, understanding customer problems, brainstorming, competitor analysis, and more.

design methods we use to design an MVP

In what situations you need an MVP

We can define an MVP as the product with minimum functionality necessary to confirm or disprove your hypothesis. The main difference between a demo solution and an MVP is that, unlike a demo, an MVP solution is a fully-functional product that contains key features allowing real users to experience the product’s value on their own.

Businesses build MVPs to verify if customers are ready to use their products and pay for them a commercially viable price, before investing more in development.

Additional goals for building an MVP might include 

  • A speedy launch.
  • A low-budget market entry.
  • Gathering as much high-quality feedback from early adopters as possible.
  • Determining the product-market fit.

What to expect from MVP design

While designing demos and prototypes can take several days or weeks, with an MVP design you should be ready that it can take months.

Since MVP’s main goal is to test the concept and define how users will adopt it, your design approach should be focused on

  • Researching the market, and competitors.
  • Conducting interviews with potential/existing customers to define their problems and expectations.
  • Creating user flows and customer journey maps
  • Verifying all the ideas your team produces with real users.
  • Designing core functionality only with the help of wireframing and prototyping.
  • Organizing all the visual elements into a UI kit to be able to follow a consistent visual style across the whole product as you grow.

4. TendrX that requested to create a full first version of their product

TenderX is a freight tendering platform that connects global shippers and carriers so they can get to know each other.

When TendrX's founders came to Eleken for design help, they already had a freight tender platform that automates the entire tendering process, successfully operating on the market. TendrX was supposed to become a pre-step in this process.

So, taking into account the fact that the TendrX team had a great experience of working in a logistics industry and already knew their target audience with their pain points well, they decided to omit building MVP and jumped straight into full product development.

It took us about three months to design the first version of the TendrX platform. Our scope of work included working out the product details first by building wireframes and then turning them into mockups.

turning a wireframe into full scale design

In what situations you need a full-fledged solution

A full product solution is the one that offers customers more than just basic features and this way exceeds their expectations.

A full product is the next step of a minimum viable product. If your MVP proved to be viable, and customer feedback shows that people like it and are willing to pay for your solution, it’s time to move further.

When you go beyond MVP it means that you'll have to constantly improve your offering by making iterative changes.

What to expect from full-product design

Once your MVP is adopted, you start receiving feedback from users that would give you many ideas on how to improve and evolve your product into a fully-fledged solution. 

Your design approach would probably look like this:

  • Gathering customer feedback to define what challenges they face by conducting user interviews, analyzing support tickets, and so on.
  • Ideating possible solutions to those problems with the help of brainstorming techniques.
  • Creating a working prototype to embody your ideas.
  • Test prototypes with users to reveal what works and what doesn’t.
  • Repeat the whole process again.
design thinking approach to full scale product design

Summarizing key facts about demos, prototypes, MVPs, and full products

Despite a common belief, you don’t have to start implementing by building an MVP.

  • First of all,  you should quickly create several variants of your idea with rough prototypes, show them to as many potential customers as you can to collect their feedback, and try to identify which version solves customer problems best.
  • After it’s done, build a demo to present your commercial offer and prove its value to prospects to see if they are willing to pay for it, and to investors, if you need additional resources to continue working on the product.
  • Next, when you know there’re enough people willing to buy your product, you can design an MVP to test how the market reacts to your idea. And by the way, Eleken can help with that.
  • Finally, if everything goes well, and people buy your offer, you can continue with a fully-fledged product to meet the maximum of customers’ expectations.

After all, demos, prototypes, MVPs, and full products are all useful tools in the early stages of product development. But you should carefully choose which one you need to build first for your specific case.

And if you need a dedicated design partner to help you implement your product idea, contact Eleken for a consultation.

Kateryna Mayka


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Top Stories

Design process
min read

Gmail Redesign: Learn How to Improve Your App Without Pissing Everybody Off

Most SaaS startups come to this world simple and coherent, in the quiet, pastoral atmosphere with the user experience clear as mountain air. Then startups begin to grow, and this growth is like honey, sweet to the founder’s soul.

A newborn startup be like

But growth has its dark side since it has no limits. The new functionality often goes beyond the original project scope, shattering the app’s information architecture and consistency. 

Adding new features to an app is more addictive than smoking. You never know when to stop, and one day, what was a cozy and coherent startup is getting a pretty overloaded scale-up.

The tower of SaaS Babel
  • New features, updates, and optimizations turn the app into a mess. 
  • Customer support notices that users struggle to find what they need and do what they want.
  • The marketing team runs a lengthy, costly customer acquisition process, but conversions stagnate.

The symptoms above alert you that it’s time to think of a product redesign — one of the most frequent requests we get at Eleken UI/UX agency

For instance, recently we’ve redesigned a cloud phone system called Ricochet360. Their main problem was a brutal learning curve. Before the redesign, it took a month for the Ricochet360 team to help clients set up their software. Our other client, Gridle, hired us to refresh their CRM app design and make it more valuable from the user experience standpoint. And then Enroly entrusted us with their student engagement app.

We’ve been redesigning SaaS apps since 2015, and we know from experience that redesign is always a challenge.

Meet the redesign dilemma

A redesign is typically a nasty job. It will cost you a ton of money, it will be incredibly time-consuming and it will take your best talents away from more lucrative goals for a long, long time. 

What is more, nobody would ever say thank you for a redesign.

Your aim is to improve users’ experience. But as a reward for this tricky undertaking, you will likely receive outrage and criticism as soon as you roll out the changes.

Remember Snapchat’s redesign disaster in 2018? The company shocked its customers with unfamiliar navigation patterns to receive smashing reviews and a historically low growth rate.

Snapchat’s old & new design

Another example of a failed redesign was Instagram’s horizontal scroll update. People complained so fiercely that the vertical scroll made its comeback in an unprecedented hour.

In this context, a tiny recent Gmail redesign, that went almost unnoticed, looks like a success story. 1.8 billion people who live inside Gmail would have gone wild if Google had broken anything.

Gmail’s case history 

Once upon a time, Google created a simple and elegant email service. It didn’t make people delete emails and allowed them to search old threads just like they search for information at Google’s main site.

Users: Wow!

Google: Great, but can we foray into messaging services?

*Launches Google Talk*
*Launches Hangouts Chats*
*Kills Google Talk, launches Google Allo*
*Kills Allo, recall the existence of Hangouts Chats*

Google: Now, why don’t we add something to compete with Slack?

*Launches messaging rooms called Rooms*
*Rebrands rooms into Spaces*

Google: We forgot about video chats. Everyone is doing video chats. 

*Launches Hangouts Meet*
*Rebrands Hangouts Meet into Google Meet*

Hangouts, Spaces and Google Meet weren’t initially planned as parts of Gmail. Google’s apparent love of launching new services and its inability to combine products under one roof brought what was a simple and elegant email app into a feature creep situation.

Gmail before redesign

Gmail’s menu became a cluttered bunch of squeezed drop-down tabs that all worked in different ways and became totally unusable when you’re flooded with messages, chats, and meetings. 

It was uncomfortable to use Gmail because Meet and Hangouts blocked half of the sidebar. So to check spam email, for instance, you had to scroll down to the bottom of your label list, click More, and then scroll down again. 

It was also uncomfortable to use Meet and Hangouts as they were floating alongside emails, and worked pretty inconsistently. Meet opened in a new window, and Hangouts opened as a pop-up. 

So the key idea of the redesign was to better integrate Meet, Spaces and Chat with Gmail. Let’s see how Gmail coped with this task.

Fix what doesn’t work (but allow customization)

Gmail created a new big left sidebar where you can switch between Gmail, Meet, Spaces and Chat. This novelty finally made all their apps stay out of each other's way. Maksym, Eleken’s Design Director, endorses the new Gmail’s navigation: 

They finally made the main menu which clearly shows you that you are in an email tool, for instance. Next to the main menu, we have a submenu that is entirely dedicated to emails, cleared from any integrations. Chats, Spaces, and Meets are divided from each other, and finally, work in a uniform way — each of them has its own fullscreen window.”
The new Gmail layout

With this new type of integration, Gmail transformed from an email app to a collaboration multitool. And this brings us onto the shaky grounds because some people have no interest in starting video calls or chatting in Gmail. They open Gmail to, you know, use Gmail. For them, the new sidebar is basically a banner ad for Google Chat and Meet. 

The redesign made users furious when they faced it for the first time, but only until they realized that Google let them take control over the app. Outrageous posts on Twitter were quickly covered by posts of relief from those who found how to collapse a new sidebar with a very quick search through the Settings.

And speaking of Twitter, remember the platform’s recent redesign fallacy? Back then, Twitter screwed up with the new contrast mode and that made users suffer from headaches. In Eleken’s article about why people hate the Twitter redesign, we admitted the absence of customization capabilities for users to change the contrast to whatever works best for them as the main mistake.

People are different, and you’ll hardly create a one-size-fits-all interface. So be like Gmail, and make your settings as flexible as possible

Don’t touch what works

With all that hype around the new sidebar, the refresh of an overall Gmail interface had been overlooked. The last Gmail redesign was quite recently, in 2018. Therefore, they didn’t radically change anything in the UI — just did a little facelift, but it did much of a good thing.

For instance, the app's main menu, collapsible panel, and header became gray to differentiate from the email list and message body. That’s a little touch, but it provides clear indicators for where an element starts and where it ends.

Unlike with the sidebar, the subtle changes to the layout caused no outrage since they didn’t disturb the user flow. Nothing changed in what people have already learned about using the interface

Image source: gigazine.net

Gmail redesign was performed by professionals, don't try this at home

So, here are the main lessons learned from Gmail’s little redesign:

  • Don’t break the logic behind things that work fine;
  • If things don’t work fine anymore, rebuild the logic, but give people customization opportunities.

As you might have guessed, a successful redesign takes a little bit more than that. So if you need SaaS redesign experts to revamp your app without pissing everybody off, contact Eleken — we have years of experience in such things.

Design process
min read

Master the Secrets of UX Research Without Users. Tips from Designers

When creating or redesigning digital products, you cannot do without UX research. It helps you dive deeper into your customers’ pain points, explore how they perceive your product, and take the user experience to the next level. Which, in turn, may raise your conversion rates by up to 400%. In other words, your design will perform much better if you talk to your users and study their actual needs.

But wait a minute. What if there are no users you could talk to? No interviews, no usability tests, no focus groups… Wouldn’t it be worthless, then?

You might think there’s no point in conducting UX research if users don’t participate in it. But it’s not quite true. In fact, with the right approach, alternative UX research methodologies can be no less beneficial for your business. While designing SaaS products, we at Eleken often turn to studying the product audience without involving target users. In this article, we are going to share with you the most helpful tips for conducting UX research without users.

But before getting closer to the point, let’s start with a UX research definition and reveal the main reasons for conducting it.

What is UX research and why do you need one?

UX research is a comprehensive study of target users, their core needs, and the challenges they face when interacting with a digital product. Most often, it relies on collecting and analyzing information about users, including qualitative and quantitative data. UX research can be conducted at any design stage. Moreover, it is worth repeating it regularly throughout the design process. With the help of research, you will be able to track changes in your users’ requirements and improve your design.

Here are the most significant benefits of conducting UX research:

  • Your design improvements are based on data and users’ feedback, not on your assumptions.
  • You can validate your ideas regarding the necessary design improvements.
  • Exploring your customers’ needs leads to better product value. 
  • Improved user experience leads to higher conversions.

To get these benefits, design teams turn to various methods of user research. Some of the most common ones are field studies, user interviews, design reviews, usability testing, and more. And all those methods make sense if your target users are active research participants.

So the fair question pops up:

Is it possible to conduct UX research without users?

Nielsen Norman Group clearly states that UX without user research is not UX. And let’s admit it, research is much more effective if you get feedback directly from your target customers. However, many companies are still looking for a way out.

On popular forums like Reddit and Quora you can find questions like: “How to conduct audience research without users?” or “Can UX without user interviews still be called UX?” But why would a business want to avoid talking to users? The most common reasons are:

  1. Lack of time or budget (or both). UX research process may take up to three months and require significant investments. Not every startup can afford it. 
  2. Protection of confidential data. Strict NDAs and security-focused projects often face certain limitations when interviewing users.
  3. No clear idea about the target audience. At the earliest startup stages, you may still not understand who your target audience is. So it can be challenging to find the right people for the feedback.

Whatever the reason, testing your product directly on users is not the only possible approach.

Yes, from our experience, it’s totally fine to analyze the current product and user journey without users’ direct feedback. We at Eleken regularly help our clients evaluate features and information architecture to enhance consistency and remove UX flaws.

And here’s how our design team conducts UX research without users.

Methods of UX research without direct access to your users 

Let’s take a closer look at the most effective methods of exploring your audience if traditional approaches can’t be applied.

1. Study the available feedback

When we can’t ask questions directly, it’s time to get more flexible and look for alternative communication channels. And, most likely, there are plenty of those on the web. In particular, it’s a good idea to turn to the existing social media feedback, App Store reviews, YouTube videos, and so on.

Besides, if the product has been on the market for a while, you can explore the feedback already left by your customers.

For instance, in our recent project, the Eleken team conducted user research when redesigning SEO Crawl. We did not involve product users directly. Instead, our study was based on the existing user feedback on the previous version of the product.

We also read all available online feedback about competitor products and found out that the most significant challenge users faced was the lack of customization.

Thanks to the results of UX research, we came up with the idea to build a customizable dashboard that can be adjusted to individual users’ requirements. We also let users add new sections with the Configure widgets button and allowed them to choose between a default and a custom view.

SEO dashboard redesigned by Eleken

2. Analyze key industry trends

The Internet is full of various data reports about key industry trends, market specifics, and user needs. Keep in mind that you may need to pay for many of the latest quality reports on respected platforms like Statista, Forrester Research, Gartner, and eMarketer.

Still, such information complements other available insights and helps the design team understand the niche better and make the right decisions.

3. Explore forums and communities

Forums and online communities are full of valuable insights, too. There, skilled UX specialists can gather the required feedback without conducting user interviews. Pay attention to the question-and-answer platforms and discussion websites like Quora and Reddit. They are a goldmine for user research.

When joining specific communities on Reddit, you can walk into your users’ shoes. You will see which problems they often face and what they expect from products like yours.

Question on Reddit: What are the most common problems with Slack?
Image source: Reddit

With the help of Quora, you can discover which questions your target audience asks most often. Check the profiles of people answering those questions. This will allow you to investigate more potential user issues they’ve responded to. And, if your product serves the goals of certain specialists, you can ask questions yourself and make conclusions based on their answers.

Questions on Quora: What are the disadvantages of using Slack? Is Slack any good?

4. Use analytical tools

Most likely, you already use Google Analytics, Smartlook, or Mixpanel to track your product’s performance and user engagement. Or, at least, your marketing team does. But did you know that such a tool can also serve great for UX research? We always ask our clients to share analitycs if possible. It helps us monitor how users interact with the  product, which pages or sections are the most popular, what people are often looking for, and so on. With the right questions, user-product interactions tracked by a tool like Google Analytics will get you covered.

Google Analytics dashboard
Image source: Indeed.com

5. Read niche books and publications

Where data reports can’t help, a good book may come to the rescue. Reading materials and publications related to a certain niche is a good idea for designers that need to find user insights without asking users directly.

Books help you better understand the most common UX challenges your target users cope with, as well as their behaviors and average needs. That is why our team never neglects the opportunity to read a couple of subject-related books or articles when conducting user research.

6. Ask your support team for help

While working on digital solutions, companies often forget to get internal insights from customer support teams. But they definitely should. Support workers are in close touch with your users and understand their needs better than anyone. Ask customer support about the challenges your customers often deal with and the feedback they give about your product. This information will add some missing details to your investigation.

Benefits of UX research without end-users’ feedback

As you can see, UX research without users is absolutely possible. Moreover, it has some advantages. With indirect feedback methods, you can achieve:

  • A deeper insight into the market. With the help of UX research without users, young startups can explore their audience and market specifics at the earliest design stages. In particular, a competitor analysis delivers many helpful insights into the niche and discovers users’ needs.
  • Collect valuable data. Quantitative data gathered during UX research is no less important than qualitative surveys, tests, and interviews. Our team often analyzes the existing reports and UX statistics to better understnd the target audience.
  • Prepare your team for primary research. ”Secondary research” takes less time and is based on the available data. It can help your team and stakeholders be on the same page. This is also an excellent way to prepare for more detailed surveys in the future.

To sum up

From the product design point of view, the value of user research is obvious. But depending on your goals and resources, the research methods vary. And one of the most helpful UX research tips is to stay flexible and prioritize approaches relevant to your individual case.

A UX research without direct user feedback can bear fruit for your business if the right methodology is applied. We at Eleken practice direct and indirect UX research depending on our clients’ objectives and project specifics.

If you’re looking for a reliable design partner to conduct audience research based on your individual goals, get in touch with us. Eleken is ready to dive into your product’s niche and find the right approach to exploring your target users.

And if you want to dive deeper into the UX research topic, you should deifnitely read about fourteen crucial UX research methods.

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