theScore began on TV, but it came of age during the rise of mobile. To keep a straight course in that transitional period, we adhered to the following three values to help us make product decisions wisely.
For many businesses with a legacy of making products for TV or the Web, mobile was just another screen on which to present their offerings. The result, however, was, “shovelware”: busy replicas of their old products that didn’t make sense on mobile. In the transition from one medium to the next, the utility, or “job to be done” (to quote Clayton Christensen) got lost in the noise.
The shift to mobile, after all, imposed limits on hardware capabilities, screen size, and storage. To keep their offerings useful, product managers had to strip things down to the most essential components, making trade-offs along the way. (The greatest example of pure utility in mobile is Shazam.)
Fortunately for us, theScore was a simple sports product to begin with. It had no highlights, no pundits, no radio programming to try and cram onto people’s phones. It was as though our bare-bones approach was tailor-made for mobile before mobile was even a thing.
Our bare-bones approach was tailor-made for mobile before mobile was even a thing.
But mobile didn’t just impose trade-offs; it also tempted businesses with new functionality. And in the dawn of the new medium, even we were susceptible to feature creep. New platforms (social, messaging), new operating systems (Android, iOS), and new contexts (mobile as a 24/7, location-aware service) excited senior management and made them want to crowd the product roadmap. The result, in most cases, was a noisy product with unclear or diminished utility.
But as Jeff Bezos so aptly put it, it’s better to frame the future in terms of what won’t change. So rather than try and anticipate what people might want by adding this or that new feature, we focused on what people will always want. And at the end of the day, they just want stuff to work. So rather than pile on features like messaging, we tracked code quality, uptime, response time, and app review sentiment religiously. Because when sports fans lose connectivity at crucial moments, they lose their minds.
To understand what was or wasn’t useful in the first place, however, we needed to drill down to our core product value — the most basic value-add a product gives to its user.
Implicit in the idea of core product value is the so-called “aha” moment — the moment when a casual user of your product “receives” the benefit it has to offer and converts to a committed user. If you can figure out when that moment happens, you’re off to a great start, because then you can optimize around it.
The most famous example of a well-defined aha moment is Facebook’s seven friends in ten days. If they could get users to add seven friends in ten days, they were unlikely to churn and more likely to recommend the product to others. It was Facebook’s most basic, most foundational goal.
For theScore, our aha moment was getting a user to follow a single team within the first seven days. People are wired to feel part of a group, and in the world of sports there is tremendous power in following the rise and fall of your favourite team. If users crossed that threshold, we knew we were delivering core value.
If Facebook could get users to add seven friends in ten days, they were unlikely to churn and more likely to recommend the product to others.
With our CPV and aha moment defined, we focused on designing an onboarding experience that suggested local teams (after prompting the user for their location). This was supplemented with the MyScore newsfeed, a personalized view of your favourite teams, players and leagues. Our CPV was reinforced still further by the delivery of timely, relevant, and personalized notifications. The bulk of our sprints focused on building out and improving these features — all in order to deliver CPV as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Mobile products shouldn’t just be utilitarian and deliver CPV — they should also be user-friendly. When the UX limitations are as extreme as they are — and in mobile, they’re extreme — designing for usability takes on unique importance.
To ensure our design was simple and intuitive, theScore utilized symbolic affordance in the form of its tappable “follow star,” which was showcased to new users in onboarding and subsequently reinforced in their interactions with articles, boxscores and notifications. The follow star afforded users the ability to tag their favourite teams easily; it also worked nicely as a visual sports metaphor, denoting “all-star” celebrity status to the teams and players they cared about most.
Complexity in design is a real momentum killer for products because of the time sink it places, not only on the product team who has to support a broad feature mix, but on the user who has to navigate through a user experience that is more a reflection of the wider team’s org chart than of the user’s actual needs. Clear, clean, and consistent affordances allowed our product to stand for something unambiguous in the user’s mind.
Clear, clean, and consistent affordances allowed our product to stand for something unambiguous in the user’s mind.
Each of these values we treated as non-negotiable, making them canonical to all product decisions. Adhering to them helped make theScore one of the most popular and most addictive sports apps in North America, carving out huge mindshare with users, dominating retention year after year, and beating a lot of deep-pocketed media giants in the process.
This is the second in a series of posts about product development at theScore. You can read the first (on the importance of origin stories) here.
Jonathan is our sports product lead. After beginning his career as a web developer at theScore, Jonathan progressed through a series of roles to lead product, engineering, design and QA, achieving a mobile reach of 10 million users during his tenure.
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