How 5 Design Hacks — and a pinch of Game Thinking — helped 2 Hot Startups Build a Better Product In Less Time

For the past year, I’ve been running a series of high-learning experiments in design acceleration. These experiments are based around a step-by-step system for testing your ideas with the right early customers using game thinking and techniques. I’ve run 19 teams through the program, and learned a lot about setting up the right conditions and mindset for rapid and effective design iteration.

Our results are crystal-clear: smart design hacks can reliably accelerate early product design — and are highly correlated with startup success. When my clients applied our system & design hacks with open, scientific mindset, they saw MASSIVE acceleration on their path to product/market fit. And when they didn’t adopt this mindset — and resisted applying the hacks — the projects went sideways.

Who needs design hacks?

So who actually NEEDS these design hacks? To find out, take this short quiz:

  • Do you need to accelerate the pace of your early design and development efforts? [Y] [N]
  • Is it tough to filter all the feedback coming at you from different angles — and identify the right handful of people to listen to? [Y] [N]
  • Do you struggle to turn your engaging product vision into a simple, stripped-down MVP with “just enough” fidelity to test your assumptions? [Y] [N]

If you answered YES to 2 or more of these questions, these design hacks can save you and your team months of time and thousands of $$ by avoiding a lot wasted effort.

Early Product Design is Hard

Early product design is my specialty. I’ve helped dozens of teams bring their innovative ideas to life. The early stages of product development are fun and exciting — but also really, really hard. It’s tough to figure out how to test your ideas quickly, and avoid going down expensive cul-de-sacs. And there’s no simple, repeatable recipe for success — every team needs to test and iterate their own unique path to product/market fit.

Habits, Culture & Design Hacks

I’ve noticed that the best teams — the ones that actually produce breakthrough hits — share certain habits during early development, and building those habits into your culture can dramatically increase your odds of success.

Smart Design Hacks Make it Easier

I often work with startups with a limited runway, and they’ll ask: “How can we make 6 months of progress in 6 weeks?” I’ve spent the last few years intent on answering this question, and I’ve found a set of design hacks that can get you 80% of the progress in 20% of the time.

Let me tell you about 2 very different projects — a mobile cooperative fashion game, and an innovative mental health app — that used these hacks to super-charge their path to product/market fit.

Covet Fashion: Playing Dress-up in Designer Clothes

Covet Fashion was created by Crowdstar — a mobile games studio. They came to me with an exciting idea for a cooperative game based on real-world designer fashions. They needed to reach beyond their core audience, and find a way to delight non-gaming fashionistas. So we:

  • used the MVP Canvas to clarify their strategy and design constraints
  • built an Early Customer Funnel so they could connect with — and learn from —their aspirational audience
  • setup and ran regular play-testing sessions early in development
  • used that feedback to create a stripped-down Alpha build of the game.

Connecting with the right early adopters helped the Covet Fashion team test and refine their assumptions quickly — and create a game that delighted their audience. Today, Covet Fashion is a highly profitable evergreen hit with over 3M monthly active players who are playing dress-up with designer clothes — and then buying those clothes in real life. And it all started by making 6 months of progress in the first 6 weeks.

Happify: a science-based digital happiness service

Now let’s see how Happify — an innovative digital health service — used a few smart design hacks to super-charge their MVP process.

Happily was the brainchild of two brilliant entrepreneurs from the gaming industry. They came to me with an exciting idea for a digital happiness service — based on their own transformative experience with science-based happiness exercises. They needed to quickly flesh out and test their idea, find their early market, and prove their business model. So we:

  • clarified their product vision and revenue model
  • identified and interviewed early adopters
  • prototyped & tested their product ideas
  • iterated the Core Loop based on early customer feedback.

During this process, we articulated and tested our assumptions about who our early passionate customers would be, and what they were looking for. We discovered that our customers wanted something that felt like Pinterest — with the motivational pull of a game.

Using those insights, we built a digital service that delighted and hooked these early customers — and in doing so, carved out a new niche in health services. Happify is now the market leader in digital happiness, with thousands of paying subscribers who are getting happier every day.

Turbo-charge your MVP

Can you imagine getting these kind of results for your project?

  • What if you could dramatically accelerate your team’s design and development process?
  • What if you could quickly find and learn from EXACTLY the right customers — and use those conversations to laser-focus your efforts?
  • What if you could turn those insights into a simple yet compelling MVP — something with “just enough” fidelity to test your assumptions?

To learn the 5 powerful design hacks for building a better product in less time. sign up for our FREE Live Webinar on Wed 10/07/2016 at 12 Noon PST.
We’ll send a replay video to everyone who signs up — so even if you can’t make it to the live event, take this opportunity to learn more.

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur