Stop designing screens. Start prototyping and validating user flows.

Stop designing screens. Start prototyping and validating user flows.

A few weeks ago, I asked 10 fellow indie makers what's their design process.

Here is what they replied:

"I design straight in code cause it's faster for me. I know the basics of Sketch/Figma/Framer but I don't find them helpful. I don't see how they will help me, and save me time, since I can build the UI pretty fast in code."

Here is what I replied: 

"You are right. They are useless. But just because you are using them in the wrong way."

Let's make this clear.

The only reason we go through a design process before we start building a product, is to research, prototype and test potential solutions as fast as possible. If we don't test any solutions during the design process, then it's useless.

Design is not about playing with pixels. It's about testing solutions. And the only reason to use a design tool and not design in code, is to prototype faster and get to the user feedback moment quicker.

Don't take me wrong. We are makers. We develop our own products. We don't care about designing pixel-perfect screens. I mean really, who cares? We want the real thing. We want to put our idea into pixels and play with it. We want to see how it feels.

That's where rapid prototyping and user testing comes into place. Forget wireframes, mockups, and pixel-perfect designs. Say hi to quick and dirty prototypes. Here is how they look like:

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Let's take the following example

Matt is a fellow indie developer I help. He is based in Canada and is currently building an app that helps people with their annual tax income submissions.

This was Matt's process before we meet:

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He built everything in code and took him around 2 weeks to be able to test with users and get some feedback to iterate on.

Here is how his prototype looked like. It was built with TailwindCSS and was fully functional.

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Here is Matt's process after we met:

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He made a quick and dirty prototype using Framer (I showed him in 10mins how to use the tool) and tested it out with 2 users. Here is also a video of one of his user testing sessions.

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He got lots of feedback and iterated on the user flow he was building. It was a mind-blowing moment for him to see that he can get so much value and insights in such a short amount of time.

Here is how his prototype looked like. It was built on Framer and was fully functional with no real data or APIs.

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As you can see his UI is not sexy and doesn't look mature. However this is why it's so cool. Because at this stage Matt wants to design a user flow that is easy to follow. He doesn't care about the colours or if the API is real. He cares about the content of his UI, the information architecture, the layout and the way his product works.

Of course visual details matter but not at this stage. Once he gets the flow and the concept right, he can focus on the UI details and start building the real thing.

Here is another interesting insight he shared:

"What's so cool with this approach is that I don't have to marry myself to a technology in order to get something off the ground (overcommitted before properly planning/iterating). I don't spend time taking technical decision or researching tools. I just focus on prototyping quickly a user solution and test it out with potential users."

Quick recap

More user testing = Better UX. It's that simple. That's why it's important to adopt a simple and lean process like this one.

Design is here to help you not to hold you back. Design is not about replicating your app's interface in a design tool. Design is about prototyping and testing in smart ways. Design is about talking with your users and building a better product. Design is love and care for your users. You just need to find the right tools and process.

A final note to add, is that this process is the one I followed at my lost job with my team in TicketSwap and we shipped successful major product iteration to 5+ million unique users! It's the process I also use to build my own SaaS product. So feel free to try it out, it's safe and works 🙂

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The Human Centered Maker Every couple of weeks I share a new tutorial, case study or UX playbook in my newsletter. It’s short, sweet, and practical. You'll never receive ads, or annoying product promotions. My newsletter is my way to keep in touch with you. It's my way to bring more knowledge into your inbox. 250 makers have joined me already. I’d love you to join us as well! ✨ Subscribe to my newsletter