Great software speaks for itself.

Content-first Product Development

originally written February 03, 2016

If a tool solves all your problems and doesn’t tell you, would you still pay for it?

Hell no! You only pay for what you know.

If form follows function, function follows framing.

Product Marketing + User Interface == The User’s Experience

The first part of the equation can easily go missing from a UX team’s dialog, despite how much the experience is defined by how you frame it and market it.

How does a UX team fall prey to forsaking the messaging for the utility?

Going Straight to Wireframes

It’s so easy to get lost in debates about ‘lower friction’ and ‘no this UI paradigm will be easier to use, I just know it!’. None of that matters if the experience doesn’t make very clear how the product will improve the user’s personal life story.

If you’re still figuring out how to say that to a user in their native language, then your time will be better spent focusing on that our versus figuring how much friction a “<select>” element adds over a fancier “typeahead”.

Leaving No Room To Sell

Optimizing visual real-estate is no simple feat. Leave an experience too empty and its content vacuum will bleed into a branding vacuum. Stuff it with too much complexity and users will bounce from mental friction.

If you’re going straight to functional wireframes, you run the risk of leaving less than enough room to communicate your market positioning. How can you ensure there is enough room to convincingly communicate your brand value proposition if you don’t know what that copy needs to say?

Information Architecture

Documenting the positioning up front doesn’t have to be costly or completely perfect, but it does have to be comprehensive with the end-to-end experience in mind.

I’ve found a lot of success in a simple doc with a bulleted outline (similar to a high school paper’s outline) for applying overall value proposition to the current product context. For each of the primary dimensions of the brand value prop, how does this specific workflow communicate & deliver that dimension?

Leverage the Framing in Your Wireframes

Starting the wireframe phase with the overall positioning documented is like showing up to the olympics on steroids.

No matter the team size, this framing document becomes the north-star for the team to align around. Those who are sorting out the details are empowered to do just that and those who are managing the team can confidently step out of the way.

It’s worth noting that I also practice this in my solo projects. I’ve yet to find such a powerful north-star of contextual continuity for speeding up decision-making at all layers of the product design + development stack.

User Feedback Sessions Won’t Tell You This

You don’t want to count on your customers to tell you when something this big is missing. Most don’t even know how to verbalize it, let alone spot that it’s missing. You’ll have to spot it indirectly through various feedback channels.

At best you’ll encounter

* mild confusion in research sessions
* slowing growth surfacing in operational reports

at worst you’ll encounter

* seriously mismatched customer expectations
* eye-popping churn rates


If form follows function, function follows framing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re solving one of the most important problems of the 21st century or just building a little companion app in a smaller industry.

Utility alone is not enough for people to ‘get it’ about your product. You have to straight up tell them.