So, you have an idea for a SaaS product but how can you effectively test it in a low-cost manner and build the go-to-market strategy before even writing a single line of code?
In this interview, Billy Carlson, design education consultant at Balsamiq taught us some simple yet effective ways of prototyping SaaS ideas quickly and developing GTM strategies, whilst also getting essential feedback from your target market.
The secret? High-fidelity wireframes. We are going to explore how you can build high-fidelity wireframes and how you can refine your SaaS product idea when it’s still in the early stages, before even considering a product launch or marketing strategy.
Billy Carlson is an expert in digital product design, having created products used by millions of people across many different industries. He is also a design educator and writer at Balsamiq, and a frequent facilitator for design thinking and innovation workshops.
Some people say that wireframing is more of a thinking tool, but others say that it’s one of the most powerful tools you can use to build an MVP. I was curious to learn about Billy Carlson’s view on the importance of low-fidelity wireframes and how they tie into a go-to-market strategy for gaining a competitive advantage.
“I think wireframes are extremely important because they are a way for you and your team to communicate and share ideas in a really quick, low-fidelity way. The barrier of entry to learning how to use wireframes is low and it’s effective for sharing your concept”, Billy told us.
Billy had lots of materials that he had previously created with his team at Balsamiq around the topic of wireframing. He was keen to share some of these with us. As Billy says, “Wireframing is so easy to do, anyone can do it”.
“One of the main things that we talk about is the concept of creating lots of ideas. So, you can’t just say: ‘Here’s my problem, here’s my solution’. Every problem has multiple solutions. When you’re at the wireframing stage, you need to be open to anything“, Billy shared with us.
He continued, “There’s this thing called Laseau’s Funnel, which is basically saying that the starting point is your elaboration of ideas and as you move through the design process, you’re going to go in the opposite way on the funnel and focus on the final idea. You need to have that divergent and convergent part of the process to really hone in on an idea”.
“The reason we like wireframing is that if you’re going to do high-fidelity designs, you’re going to be very limited as to how quickly you can make changes. If you’re sketching on a whiteboard, you can sketch out a whole new idea as a wireframe”, Billy said.
The Exploration Phase of Wireframing
Billy stressed the importance of the exploration phase of wireframing, “You can easily miss alternate solutions to your original solution if you’re not doing it. Exploration is a huge part of wireframing and you can get the point of refinement after you’ve gone through the process”.
Using Wireframes to collect user feedback
When I produce wireframes for a new idea, I end up realizing that the way I visualized and imagined the new product doesn’t make sense. I asked Billy about what we can do to get qualitative feedback from actual users through wireframing. Whilst wireframes can be used to structure ideas, I wondered whether they could also be used to collect feedback for a go-to-market strategy roadmap.
“There’s a lot of ways to do that”, Billy said. “You can receive quantitative and possibly even qualitative feedback from usability studies just from wireframes alone, following the same methodology that you would with a fully-fledged prototype or even a coded prototype”.
He continued, “When it comes to user testing, you can simply present wireframes and have a user do a talk aloud about what they expect from this interface or website. You can do click tests, identifying how users respond to the interface in the form of a practical, hands-on test. I think people are surprised by how similar the feedback is on a wireframe when compared to a fully-fledged visual design”.
Billy continued, “Sometimes, it’s even better because if you have high-fidelity designs that you’re testing on for a new product [for a new market], users might be more focused on the visuals that you’re presenting than the actual structure of the content. They might focus on the design over how they’re actually moving through the product, which is what you’re trying to test”.
“User flows are probably the most important part of usability testing for a new product or even an existing product. Wireframes definitely help users to solely focus on the skeleton or structure of your new product idea [and its value proposition]”, Billy said.
Taking your research and turning it into Wireframes
I was interested to hear Billy’s thoughts on what you should do next after wireframes. In other words, what is the next step towards building a MVP, before embarking on a business plan and eventually, a pricing strategy, sales strategy and marketing plan for customer acquisition?
As Billy told us, “You should first do your user research, then you should take all of those ideas and turn them into wireframes. You can then do some user testing and from there, definitely move into high-fidelity design or even code”.
“To me, it’s always about context, if you’re working on an existing product and you have an existing design, it’s pretty easy to move right into code. You have a wireframe and there’s already a visual language established for your product, so you can move right into code. I don’t. If it was a new design or even an existing design, I would bring it into high-fidelity, something like Figma or Sketch and start developing my design patterns and creating clickable prototypes at the same time”, he said.
Your product can look compelling and you could be using all the right interface options, but if it doesn’t flow well and your navigation doesn’t make sense, then it really won’t matter. Ultimately, your sales team won’t be able to do very much with it when it comes to engaging potential customers and decision makers. There’s a lot you need to focus on when taking an idea and turning it into an MVP.
Why shouldn’t you use Wireframes in Product Development?
Billy Carlson had done a fantastic job of telling us about all the reasons why you should use wireframes, but I wanted to also hear some reasons why you shouldn’t produce wireframes when in product development.
“I think that wireframes become less and less important the more mature your product is and you’re not really adding new features but you’re just trying to iterate on an existing product. That’s where you do user testing of your current product and make changes right in there”, Billy shared with us.
The difference between Usability Testing and Value Proposition Testing
I had a question for Billy from my personal experience of working with SaaS companies on building new products and helping them to develop a go-to-market strategy. Many SaaS companies that I worked with have performed some time of usability testing, either with wireframes or other types of feedback.
What these SaaS companies have been confusing and mixing is the difference between usability testing and value proposition testing, which determines whether your new product can provide your target audience or target market with value.
As Billy told us, “Value proposition testing is difficult because you don’t know. Usability is much more straightforward because you have the idea, you think you know how it works. It’s sort of like a hypothesis in science – am I right or wrong? Let’s find out”.
“Value proposition testing is like market research. I think it’s important but you kind of don’t know and I think the best thing to do is just put it out there and talk with your target market to see how they use it, he said.
I wondered whether there were any design tools that Billy would recommend to new founders that are not very technically sophisticated to build their own entity with minimal investment.
Billy shared his thoughts on this: “I think our tool Balsamiq is great for this type of work and if I was asked about tools a founder needs to build an MVP, Google has a great for creating documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Those will be great for producing everything that you need to make”.
He continued, “Something like Balsamiq that allows you to visualize your designs and test your ideas. Our product works well with Google Drive. Those are the two things that you need. A big part of creating digital products is the content first. I’m a huge proponent of content-first design”.
“If you have a vision for your project and you don’t really know how to design it, just start writing. You can just write little cards for what you want on each page. The next thing you could do is maybe start sketching thumbnails for each page and then those thumbnails would start getting higher fidelity and that’s when your product really starts coming together”, Billy said.
“If I was a founder, I would really start focusing on the problem first, rather than the solution. Otherwise, you’re going to get caught up in tunnel vision. You should really focus on that problem instead of your solution. For instance, I know this is a pain point, I know that my idea could potentially solve it, but let’s just go talk to tons of people in the target market. You can almost create a website just in Google Drive by writing down what you think the website would be as a page”.
“You will get so much feedback that will change your original solution that you will be stunned. If you push that into a wireframe, your first sketch of a wireframe might be completely different after you’ve finished talking to people”.
As a conclusion to our discussion, I wondered whether Billy Carlson could share a step-by-step process of going from an idea to an MVP. These were his thoughts on taking an idea and turning it into an MVP:
We hope you have found this article helpful as you embark on turning your ideas into MVPs. For more insights, browse some of our other recent interviews with industry thought leaders.