Launch & Learn – quickly adapting to insights from our users

Well the last month has certainly been very interesting. We launched a Private Beta version of Jernel to a few select folks including a couple of friends who are product design and usability folks. I also set up shop in a couple of Starbucks and did some usability testing with random users in San Francisco and Las Vegas.  It’s amazing how quickly we got consistent feedback from everyone who tried Jernel out.

First the good news, everyone loves the Jernel concept of it being a fun, easy way to share and remember your life experiences.  Then, when we tell them that Jernel also allows you to add on specific Jernels for different life events or hobbies I immediately get their request for some specific type of Jernel that suits their world. Then they send me their email to sign up to be a beta tester. This is awesome, we really couldn’t ask for a better qualitative response.

On the other hand we got very direct and actionable feedback in two key areas:

To start, as easy as our product is to use (as demonstrated by our task completion rate and user confidence) it was still not easy enough. We realized that we still had a gap between ‘Easy’ and ‘Drop Dead Simple’. Thanks to some excellent, actionable recommendations by my design friends and being able to quickly get feedback to the new wireframes with real users we made the decision to make a major UI change to how Jernel entries are added and displayed.  Thanks to the latest jQuery tools and other fancy Javascript capabilities we’ve been able to simplify the Jernel entry process to just a couple of clicks. Luckily these changes are mostly cosmetic at the presentation layer and do not require many changes to the core functionality and as a result we’ve been able to make the changes in just a few short weeks.

The second major theme we heard was all about branding and graphic appeal.  We started from a place where we were making everything customized – each type of Jernel, badges, buttons etc. And while they were generally consistent, they didn’t really have a broad enough appeal or we created user complexity by offering too much choice. So we took that feedback to heart and have tried to solve for the ‘highest common denominator’ in our branding and graphical design. We have simplified our color palette, use of colors and number of badges. While I am not 100% sure that is where we want to be in the long term, to get to a public launch it really made sense to simplify right now and then expand later based on in-market learning.

Net-net, we have dramatically simplified our product for the initial Beta release. In fact, we have stripped out the majority of functionality we have built to get to market quickly and learn from our users.  While we expect to use all the stuff we removed in subsequent realeases, I am sure they won’t necessarily return in their original form but be adapted based on new insights.

The flip side to simplifying functionality and streamlining our branding/graphics within the app is that we’ve made a choice to provide less capabilities and options to our users.  I am expecting us to hear that we over-simplified things and that users will demand more if they are going to make Jernel a regular part of their life.  I am looking forward to that moment because we are ready for it.