Don’t Build a “Homer”: Lessons Learned about Product Development from The Simpsons
**In one of our favourite Simpson’s episodes, Homer is hired by his long-lost brother to design and build a new car that will appeal to “every man.” The car, dubbed “The Homer,” ends up being an expensive monstrosity that completely ignores the company’s business goals, design expertise, and user feedback.
This episode really spoke to us about the importance of a good product development team and the need to always follow a transparent repeatable process. Whether you are designing a new car or a custom software product, expertise, business knowledge, a talent for user experience (UX) design and technical mastery are much in demand. Here are four valuable lessons we learned that we hope will keep you from ever building a Homer:
1. Design Software to Meet Specific User Needs, Not One-Size-Fits-All
Homer made the mistake of assuming that the plethora of features he found appealing in a car would be loved by everyone else. Doh! Successful custom software development, on the other hand, requires getting to know an audience and then catering solutions to the users’ workflows to increase productivity and make tasks more enjoyable.
A successful end result requires putting in the time and effort to gain a deep knowledge of the users you will be designing applications for; whether they need the broad access of upper management for the big picture enterprise-wide, or more narrow access to help improve productivity for employees down the line.
Unlike an automobile manufacturer that pumps out a set of cars and trucks to suit different categories of consumers (i.e., minivans for families, pickup trucks for construction workers, sports cars for midlife crises, etc.), in software development we have the benefit of engaging many different types of users and then planning and building the information architecture to solve their unique problems within a single solution.
This level of engagement manifests itself in many different ways with different experiences for different audiences within the same application; whether it relates to individual workflows, different screens or process management tasks, for example. Some experiences may be shared by all users while others may be walled off to a limited number of users. Rather than cramming all features into one experience, we can create entirely different products and solutions based on need and user personas.
2. Understand Business Goals First and Foremost
Homer chose to stuff many unnecessary and expensive features into his car which elevated the price tag beyond what his target market could afford. He gave no thought to his brother’s company’s business objectives or the need to appeal to his target audience.
Understanding business objectives is critical to creating custom software solutions that will be successful. By keeping business goals in mind you are able to make strategic decisions about the minimum set of features and functionality that will be required to have a viable product—you can separate out nice-to-have vs. need-to-have features. As custom software developers, we can design features in stages for testing and then once we have feedback make the necessary adjustments on the road to the perfect solution.
3. Data is the Ultimate Debate Settler
When building his car, it never occurred to Homer to use any type of user testing to confirm that his designs met his users or the business’ needs. He did not use data collection and testing to develop a car that was viable.
A key part of a UX designer’s job is to get into an audience’s collective mindset and be an advocate for their needs. This requires surveying users and gathering data in order to validate the approach being taken. Hard data is the difference maker that can clarify uncertainty and settle internal disagreements over user needs and project scope.
4. Technical Mastery is not a “Nice-to-Have” Skill
Homer entered his project blindfolded to issues like skill set, costs and feasibility, thereby setting himself up for failure. Few have been as poorly equipped with the technological expertise needed to design and build a new car.
A mastery of technology is the core component for all digital initiatives. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to build custom software that delivers results and sticks to a budget. Selecting the right technology solution option can ensure a unique, cost-sensitive fit to purpose and to budget.
A Foolproof Way to Avoid a Homer
The lesson to be learned in all of this is that the right software product development partner is one who combines strategic business expertise, technology know-how, and excellent end-user design experience to help empower users, engage consumers, elevate your brand, and enhance your business.
Let’s discuss your next custom software project. We have extensive experience crafting custom business software solutions that succeed on every level. We can do the same for you.
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