Viable Versus Lovable: Upgrade Your MVP

October 15, 2020
A cuddly teddy bear
Image: Shutterstock

One of the most severe fears product designers have is the fear of creating products that nobody wants to use. So how do you minimize the risk of product failure? The answer is simple — invest time building a minimum product to validate the product with target users. Today, creating an MVP (minimum viable product) is an essential part of many teams’ product design strategy. By following the approach to “think big, start small,” product teams invest time and effort in building an MVP and testing it with the target audience. An MVP is not the only type of minimum product that product teams can make, however. The MLP, or minimum lovable product, represents another concept that is becoming popular among product designers.

If you’re working in product development, you may wonder what approach you should follow. Should you build MVP or MLP? Let’s dig in and see what each path offers in order to answer that question.

 

What Is an MVP?

A minimum viable product is a version of the product with just an essential level of functionality that helps creators validate their hypothesis about its utility. Product teams build a solution, which can be anything from an early prototype to a full-fledged product and test it with their target audience, i.e., early adopters and/or potential customers. The goal of this testing is to understand whether the original vision for the product was correct.

Product design is an iterative process, and the goal of creating an MVP is to make the most of each iteration. If the product team realizes that it’s moving in the wrong direction, it can easily adjust its design strategy and create another MVP in the next iteration.

Key Characteristics

Well-designed MVPs share the following characteristics:

  • Value. People won’t have any motivation to use a product that doesn’t bring any value to them. That’s why the set of features available in the MVP must deliver clear value to the customer. Evaluate your users’ true needs; only after that should you invest time and effort in building a solution.
     
  • Reliability. The MVP should perform consistently well. Users should not face any unexpected failures while interacting with a product.
     
  • Usability. Good usability is an essential part of product design. The MVP should be both easy to learn and easy to use.

View the MVP as a solution to users’ problems. Therefore, conducting user research to understand user needs and wants and building proper product characteristics is vital.

Advantages

The cost and time involved in creating the product are two significant advantages of an MVP. Since it contains only a bare minimum of features, it should be very cheap to produce. For the very same reason, it also shouldn’t take much time to design an MVP. These advantages empower product designers to test and validate various hypotheses in a short period.

Downsides

An MVP typically looks like an unpolished product, and first-time adopters rarely form an emotional connection with it. As a result, it becomes harder to predict how the product will behave in the real world and what emotional reaction this product will elicit. All you can determine by testing your MVP with the users is whether or not the functionality of this product works well.

 

What Is an MLP?

An MLP, or minimum lovable product, is an evolution of the MVP concept. Steve Blank, the entrepreneur who popularized the MVP, once said, “You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries, not everyone.” That may be true, but it’s much easier to sell the vision when you make people fall in love with your product. And that happens when products not only meet users’ needs but also delight them. The MLP approach prioritizes emotionally engaging design — that means creating a design that makes users feel good about the product.

Key Characteristics

An MLP shares the same characteristics of an MVP (value, reliability, and usability) but adds one new attribute — delight. When you create an MLP, you strive to provide surface delight via well-crafted animated effects, crisp microcopy, and lovely imagery as well as deep delight, which puts users into a state of flow and allows them to immerse themselves in the experience. Both surface and deep delight bring about positive user emotions, and emotions play an essential role in how they evaluate products. Products that foster positive emotions have a better chance of staying in our memory as something that we want to use repeatedly.

Advantages

An MLP is designed to be appealing. “Appealing” doesn’t necessarily mean creating a beautiful user interface, though. Instead, it means developing products that users will enjoy interacting with. The goal is to get a positive reaction from their interactions with a product. For example, you could use visual styles that you think your target audience will love. Thus, an MLP requires heavy engagement from users, and, in most cases, that means it leads to a better understanding of users’ needs.

Downsides

Generally, creating an MLP takes more time than an MVP. To build an MLP, you first need to find out what features your target users love. To do that, you’ll need to invest more time in user research since it’s important to talk to the target audience and learn what makes them feel good in both real life and in the digital space. You’ll also have to spend more time refining a solution, testing your product and learning how it makes users feel, and then improving your design based on those findings. As a result, production costs for an MLP will be higher than for an MVP.

 

MVP or MLP: Which Is Better?

“Should I go for an MVP or an MLP?” is a common question among product designers. If you have time and budget, it’s always better to raise the bar from viable to lovable. Why? Because when a product is lovable, it gives you additional competitive advantages. Adding love to your product’s ingredients will lead to better changes in your design, creating products that users will cherish from launch. Your product will also stand out from the competition, and this will give you an additional competitive advantage on the market.

But what to do when you don’t have enough time or budget for a full MLP? In this case, you can apply the Kano model, which will help you consider both product functionality and customer satisfaction. The Kano model can be represented as a two-axis diagram that maps customer satisfaction (on the vertical axis, from delight at the top to dissatisfaction at the bottom) against effort or investment (on the horizontal axis). Keep in mind that the features are evaluated from a customer perspective. Using this model, you will be able to decide which features and options will create the most value for users.

 

Ingredients for a Great MLP

Here are a few simple rules that can help you save time and make your work on your MLP more effective:

  • Be clear about what user persona you’re targeting. It’s hard to build a product that satisfies the needs and wants of several user personas. Thus, identify your primary persona and design your product to satisfy its needs.
     
  • Focus on what’s important. Don’t try to add a lot of features to your MLP. When you try to solve every problem, you’ll end up creating a poor product. Start with a high-value problem for your users and define essential features, meaning one or two features that would most acutely address the problem of your target audience and ensure that that you can deliver them in a timely way.
     
  • Clearly communicate your vision to your team. Ensure that every team member understands where you’re going, what you want to build and, more importantly, why. This understanding will motivate people to create something that other people will love.
     
  • Stay focussed. When you’re already working on an MLP, it might be tempting to add one or two extra features because you think that they’ll make your product more desirable for users. But it’s better to resist that temptation because you’ll end up having to invest more time and money into your MLP.
     
  • Listen to your users. If you don’t, you’ll never even build something that’s viable, let alone lovable. Ask what they think about your product. Start with a problem that users experience and ask questions like “What is the most stressful or painful part of this interaction/experience?”
     
  • Observe user reactions as they interact with your product. Watching your users’ reactions will help you to distinguish between a viable solution and a lovable solution. When users can’t shift their focus from the screen, that’s a good sign that they are highly engaged in interaction.

 

Key Takeaway: Make It Lovable 

Both an MVP and an MLP represent the simplest versions of the product that can solve your users’ major problem. When you build an MVP, you create something that users can tolerate, but when you make an MLP, you create something that people will genuinely love. In many cases, lovable products work better because genuine excitement from using a product will guarantee better user engagement.

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Nick Babich is a UX architect and writer with more than 15 years of experience in the field of product design.

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