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Can you look for product-market fit with a badly designed MVP? It depends.

I’ve written about minimum viable products, or MVP’s, before in An MVP is not a Product. You can read that post first, before you come back here. It will give you some more context.

Welcome back! The post I mentioned generated some interesting ideas that I would like to explore further. One person stated, and I’m paraphrasing: building an MVP feels like an inefficient way to test product-market fit.

I would like to use this as a token for similar comments I’ve heard in the past: it takes too much time to build this, let’s just create a prototype.

It seems rare, if possible at all, that you will find product-market fit with anything other than a functioning thing. Compare it to finding product-market fit for a smartphone with a painted foam prototype. You won’t get relevant data, because the magic is in how it works. I also think that the amount of companies that think they have product-market fit is much higher than the amount of companies that have product-market fit. But that evidence is just anecdotal 😉.

It may seem inefficient to build something that works. It is definitely more efficient to build just a Figma or Invision prototype than it is to build an end to end MVP. Then again, it’s also more efficient to draw some lines on a piece of paper and call it a day. These prototyping techniques all serve a purpose, but I would argue that finding product-market fit is not one of them.

At least up to now, both theory and empirical evidence seem to suggest that building an MVP is the most effective way to try and find that mythical fit. And nothing beats effectiveness. If you know of any companies that found product-market fit with just a design prototype, let me know. I’d love to falsify that idea.

The thing my friends in the tech world still seem to get confused about, is that they think MVP means bad design. If your theory is that better design will make your product stand out, then make that part of your MVP. Building a better box is a legit business model for some companies. Not everything businesses work on, has to be disruptive in the way Clayton Christensen meant.

That does mean that you have to decide what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to build a better CRM by making it more user friendly? Then build your MVP to test it for user friendliness. Are you building a way to dramatically reduce the cost of buying and selling server space? Then by all means make and MVP with what would generally be considered bad design. You have my Designer approval.

As Lewis Carroll would have said: better a handsome pig, than an ugly child

Xavier Bertels

About the author

Xavier Bertels is a designer and managing partner at Mono, where he helps companies deliver simple, useful & beautiful digital products. He tweets as @xavez.

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