The transition from ideation to launch can be treacherous to navigate: an idea might be hard to build; partners might have to radically change the design intent; and some of the skills needed to evolve the idea might be missing from the partner team. That’s why we constantly cross check divergent design ideas with partner skills and capabilities—so we can launch designs that have sustained impact over time.
Recently, we had the opportunity to work side-by-side with a partner team and explore the conditions and culture that cultivate trust, collaboration, and bold decision making as you go from ideation to launch.
Our partners at Farm.Ink are a small team of four who got their start together through the Amplify program. Farm.Ink leverages the power of technology and social media to connect thousands of farmers and help level up their practices. Their team shares the vision of changing the perception of the African farmer away from career-fallback and into business savvy farmers-by-choice. We teamed up to help Farm.Ink to figure out next steps for their 100k farmer community.
In our time together, we were able to make space for different perspectives, communicate frequently, and raise the common denominator of shared understanding by practicing some of these rituals.
About halfway through the project, we co-located. Farm.Ink’s founders joined us as contributing members of the design team. They shared ownership over our nascent, still-precarious ideas and sharpened their human-centered design skills along the way.
We got to know each other by bringing far-flung inspiration to the table each day—geeking out on game design, looking at dozens of digital products, and reading through reams of conversations between farmers. This simple ritual of getting inspired together helped us compile and tap into a huge bank of references. We could build on the findings of others and act with creative confidence. Our prototypes incorporated concepts from game design, such as ways of "leveling up" users who demonstrate commitment and ways of computing a user's reputation or a group's sense of community.
If someone on the team disagreed or was particularly quiet, we often took strategic turns to try out their idea, trusting each others’ instincts above our own. For example, we had initially agreed to a B2B business model where the platform would be free to farmers and earn revenue from third parties (think: agronomists, farming services, etc). But our business designer proposed that we could better validate our platform’s value to farmers by testing a B2C business model to see if farmers would pay for it. We found out that farmers were very willing to pay, and paying deepened their sense of trust in the platform’s commitment to community and learning. Although it was an intuition and it took us until the last week of the project to see the big picture ‘why,’ when we got there, it felt right. Now we know the importance of designing for farmers' buy-in.
Our partners brought software engineering power and farming wisdom onto the team. Over four rapid cycles of testing, we regularly rotated how we paired up to create the prototypes—trying out different skill combinations.
We paired interaction and business design skills to explore which user interfaces created an experience that farmers were willing to pay for. We combined digital product and software design skills to uncover new learning mechanisms for farming practices—from reputation-based forums to chatbots to quizzes. These unlikely collaborations lead us to new and exciting territory that we wouldn’t have ventured into otherwise.
We committed to weekly design-and-test sprints, where we brought in 5-to-7 farmers and asked their honest feedback on 3-to-4 prototypes. By involving our partners directly in the ideation and prototyping process, we were able to incorporate their expertise into the design and avoid major corrections down the road. There was no major “presentation” moment. Alignment was built by working side-by-side through the actual design process.
Our lightweight approach to testing was easily replicable for them. By the end of the project, our partners learned new digital prototyping tools, built a network of prototype-testers, and thoroughly understood the intention behind the product design decisions. They gained muscle memory as they geared up to test the product at scale.
We had an unconventional approach to prototyping, where we tested desirability, feasibility, and viability separately, then eventually combined all three. We were able to move more quickly and combine ideas additively, rather than try to pin down desirability and progress linearly from there. We intentionally built simple prototypes that were viable but not desirable, or feasible but not desirable to explore implementation questions in the process of prototyping. For example, to determine what kind of data infrastructure our product would need in the long-run, a quick test with live data allowed us to test if farmers want to learn new techniques for their crops by seeing other farmers’ conversations on social media, by entering crop-targeted curated conversations, or by asking questions of agronomist experts.
While not every project has the luxury of a short-distance relationship where the team and partners can embed, nor the luxury of partners with the bandwidth to join a design team, we believe that any project in a design-for-launch phase can make use of these tactics.
Build a learning relationship by closely involving partners and stepping into each other’s shoes. Use that relationship to cultivate trust in different perspectives and drive bold turns in the work. Co-create by shaping the soft clay of ideas with many hands, so each fingerprint can bake into the final form. This will preserve the integrity of the design choices leading into implementation and boost partners’ confidence in taking ownership.
When our ideas can move forward through cycles of trust and fearless creativity, they’ll gain a momentum that moves them into market sooner than you think.