7 ways to improve your speed of implementation for UI and UX startups

Have you ever tried starting a startup with a few peers but it just never took off? You feel starting is so painful why even try? Or you are too slow to learn and implement things? Or you suck at UI, UX, programming and everything and want to learn how to create great stuff?

I will tell you what I learnt trying to start a SaaS (Software as a Service) company. Back in the day, I created this small software to keep track of my travelling needs. Take photos, write notes upload it online and share it with friends and family. Over time it turned out to be like my online journal. As I started my journey into self-development, I joined toastmasters to improve my public speaking and used this application to keep track of my public speaking. Record my speech and upload it online. Ask a few of my friends for feedback and as a result, keep improving. The application started to get noticed, many of my friends joined the portal. Many started to give feedback and we formed a small team. Venturing more into self-development, we started to form a mastermind group. We developed a section in this portal to cater to mastermind needs. All of this fit the realm of journaling and recording life activities. 

As we started to get more involved with toastmasters, we wanted to extend this portal to help our peers journal. They could write on anything, like motivation, public speaking, inspiration and we would post it online like a blog. This is the journey of antsand, transitioning from a journaling application to mastermind and finally to a blogging portal. All the features that were designed since day one still exist. Just the use case is a bit different.
My peers tell me that we kept pivoting. I don't see that being a bad thing. I would not know of any other way of finding a product that fits the markets need. Pivoting is essential. 

Let me give you examples:
Paypal  - First built for Palmpilots
Wikipedia - was to be written by experts only
Mitel - was a lawnmover company
Hotmail - was a database company
Flickr - was going to be an MMO
Twitter - was a podcasting company
Proctel & gambel - was to design soap 
Just to name a few. 

As we started to help our local toastmaster club, we got quite a few users blogging on our portal. We even got 2 paid customers to use our service. But then it all stopped. What went wrong? What suddenly stopped the growth?

According to my peers, we did not validate the market. We did not talk to users to see if it fits the market needs. That is not the case. We did not get 60+ users joining our portal by magic. We spoke to a lot of people from Mexico to India to people in Canada. We asked what their needs were, we provided a solution and told them this is what we do. Would you be interested? And they gave it a try.

 So if it is not for market validation then what went wrong. We were getting customer acquisition fairly easily, but we were not able to retain them. Retention is arguably the most important stage of any startup and yet people harp mostly on the idea validation. Idea validation is important not as important as retention.

Let me tell you why. Before I explain, let us go one step deeper into understanding what comprises of customer retention. According to mixpanel : Viability, Usability, Speed and Reliability.

Viability: Does your idea solve a pain point or is it a solution to a need? 
Reliability: How reliable is your product. Does it work smoothly; it does not crash? 
Usability: How easy is it for users to navigate through you web page? Is it intuitive to use? IS it fun to use and does it look appealing enough for them to continue using it? 
Speed: How fast is your application. Do users have to wait for your application to load? 

On a scale of 1-10 this is how I rate how we faired against each of this:  

The issue with asking random people for advice is that you will get random feedback. The only advice you need to look into is your own data. No one amongst my peers was able to pinpoint how to solve my retention issue. And yet I kept getting random advice. Rule #1: Tell your peers to shut the f**k up when they give random advice. After looking at my data, I knew our biggest weakness was usability. All our customers were complaining along the lines of, How to use this? What does this button do? Why does this exist? Hmm, needs some improvements in design? All of their suggestions were related to usability. 

Now that I know I am losing customers due to usability, what should I do to fix it? 
I can hire a User interface designer to help me out. I don't think it is a viable solution. I have no spare money to hire someone to do the job. 
2. Learn usability and user interface and never have this issue again. I choose the latter. Sure it is going to take me some time to master the ART, but I am willing to be a student. I feel these skills are vital and will help me in the long run. I might burn a bit of time now, but I will be able to cover it up way faster in the future.

So to answer, why idea validation is not as important as customer retention, it is simple. To master customer retention you need to have a team that can deliver on all these skills: speed, viability reliability and usability. As far as an idea goes, you will need to keep pivoting. You will never start with a perfect idea. In terms of retention if you are weak in any of those domains, how much ever you pivot you will still lose to retention. Retention is a way more valuable measuring tool that idea validation. 

Secondly, mastering retention is like having a powerful system in place. Think of it as a black box. You can throw in an idea and it will produce the output. A retention black box must have a feedback system in place. The right testing process to fix issues quickly and not break the existing system, the right way of configuring user interface, the right process of doing A/B testing, a system for asking customer feedback and many other things. It should be able to work fast, make your system extremely reliable have the ability to constantly test its viability and most importantly a system to test usability. A robust retention system is what will make users fall in love with your product. Because you can fix issues and cater to most wanted feature or remove unwanted features quickly. 

So how do you master the skill of retention? Our weakness is usability. So for the rest of this article, I will show you exactly what I am doing to master usability and user interface. These steps will even work for mastering viability, reliability and speed. 

1. Study your competitor's usability and user interface. 
2. Study from 1st principle understanding. 
3. Learn to visualise everything in your mind. EVERYTHING 
4. Work on live side projects to make the learning real. 
5. Read a lot, absorb a lot, practice a lot and just enjoy the brutal pain of expanding on your skill. 
6. Create a powerful system for UI 
7. Do not study from templates or libraries. Do not cheat yourself. 

1. Study your competitor's usability and user interface. 
When you start a start-up, good chances are, part of your product, there is a market for it already. Study your competitors in those markets. It does not matter if you are in retail on starting an online business. You will always have competitors. They are your best teachers. For us, our competitors are Evernote, OneNote, conversionXl, just to name a few. In terms of creating a blog platform, it is Wix, canvas, unbounce, clickfunnel, Weebly, WordPress. In terms for metrics, mixpanel, zarget, hotjar, crazyeggs, mouseflow. In terms of outstanding blogs out there, our competitors are conversionxl, iwillteachyouhowtoberich, neilpatel, freedombusiness, markmanson, waitbutwhy, etc. STUDY ALL OF THEM. Join their platforms, use it, feel it, study it, be their customers for the sole purpose of learning. Take time to research on your competitors. They will guide you where you need to be if you are not there already. Now that I know what good user-interface looks and feels like, and how they expect their customers to use or read their work, it is now time to get all my concepts right and start implementing. 

2. Study from 1st principle 
This is a concept that I always lived by and Elon Musk is a very strong advocate of this idea. Learn fundamental truths of why things work rather than just making it work. Take time to understand concept deeply. Shallow learning will be your worst enemy when it comes to retaining customers. It is your in-depth knowledge and ability to solve problems quickly that will take you a long way. 1st principle understanding will help you build that ability. So how does this apply to learning usability and user interface? How am I applying these concepts? For me to understand what usability is, I need to ask very powerful questions:
What language do I need to master to bring good user interface into my app? CSS and javascript 
How does CSS actually work? 
How does changing one parameter in CSS affect the styles on the page? 
How can I modularize my CSS? 
What tools are out there to help me code in CSS better? 
What do I need to learn to copy my competitors design and study them?
IF things do not work the way I expect them to, how should I debug the issue? Learn how to debug usability and user interface.
How does color influence user interface? 
How does typography influence interface? 
What typography is good for web? 
What color helps users to stay on the site longer? 
How to design a button? How to design a form?
How to design a flow of a webpage? 
What tools can I use to create graphics?
How many clicks are ideal for a user to go from point A to point B?
 How should the same site look on a mobile or on a tablet or on desktop? 
Should you have drop-shadow or not? 

The list of questions can go on and on. But asking the right question will deepen your understanding of the subject. You will not know all the answers all at once. And you should not. But constantly asking questions and figuring out ways to understand them will help you master the subject quicker. 

3. Learn to visualise everything
 Once you have asked questions, try to answer them yourself without looking for solutions. Get your mind start to think in design terms. Visualise the solution in your mind. How does it work? Why does it work the way it does? Visualise how one of your competitors designs you can incorporate into your app. How would it look? The whole idea of visualisation is to get your mind thinking deeply. The more vivid the information is in your mind, the faster you can make that invisible thought a part of reality. Today, I visualise user interface and see how it can fit into my app. 
Resource: Psycho-cybernetics, Richard Feynman

4. Work on live projects to make the learning real.
 You will only learn a lot by applying the concepts. That is very true. But apply from visualisation and not from copying or reading. The source of your information must come from your visual thinking. If you like a design used by your competitors, how are you going to implement it exactly? 1st you need to visualise how does the design work. Why does it work the way it does? Then visualise how you are going to code it. And when you start to design it, you will be creating an application that looks like your competitors but is using your design methodology. Let me give you an e.g. This is me trying to improve on the UI of my text editor. 
Old antsand text editor 

New editor Brand new Evernote lookalike

5. Read a lot, absorb a lot, practice a lot and just enjoy the brutal pain of expanding on your skill.
 IF your pre-requisite in understanding web-technology is weak or for that matter any field you want to master, you will have to read a lot, practice a lot get your fundamentals strong. Don't try to skip a step to get something working. Sure you can do it to feel that you are progressing, but never stop question why it works the way it does. The deeper your understanding of the subject, the better you can visualise things. At the end, everything you do is to sharpen your visualisation. Transferring that visualisation into reality should then be a mere triviality. I have been reading and joining courses everything and anything related to UI. Learning from the pros, seeing how they do things, mastering best practice and constantly growing my understanding of the subject. Trade money for time, if need be. Don't think twice of spending a few 100$ to learn something that will help you in the future. As it is you will be spending that money on latte and drinks which has 0 ROI. 

6. Create a powerful system
Once you master your skill or reach a level that people start to notice your design, it is time to automate the process. You do not want to start doing everything from scratch, so you want to document your learning, create a workflow that is easy to get started and create breath-taking UI. A system is what will make you catch up on the time you lost trying to learn this stuff. You know you have a system in place when your workflow is automated, you have your own set of libraries to use from, you have a list of researched best practice and have documented all of it. 

7. Do not study from templates or libraries. Do not cheat yourself.
 It is easy to download a library like bootstrap or whatever be it, or download a free template and start modifying it. Yes, you can do that, but you will never master the art. Those are easy and fast ways of doing it, but your fundamental understanding will still be flawed. Only resort to templates and libraries when you deeply understand how the mechanics work. There will be situations where you need to modify the template to suit a particular design and the last thing you want is your knowledge being the biggest roadblock. Master the knowledge, eventually, you will never have to rely on libraries or templates. Resort to 'Mastery' and you will be so good, no one can ignore you.

 Conclusion: This is what I have done with my new learning. Breathtaking landing pages, capturing user interface and lots more to come. The speed of my development is a bit slow but keeps getting faster and faster. As I keep improving, I am developing a powerful system in place for my UI. This way I do not have to start every project from scratch. I have created my own libraries, a great workflow and process of capturing ideas and a process of implementing them. 

What skill do you want to master? If you learnt a thing or two from this article, please comment below.   


Please comment below if you have questions, ideas or how you can apply it. At ANTSAND, we apply everything we preach and teach. What we put out is based on our experience, our failures and success. We love to be transparent, as it really brings out the best in us. 

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