Find Your North Star

I don’t think there is one of us today that doesn’t know of the north star, and that it will always point north. It’s in movies, cartoons, comics, and books.

In a project, the north star is the goal you are trying to accomplish. Game designers have a built-in north star because they make games: it’s fun.

If you are a part of a game design team, you have experienced the daily (sometimes hourly) question: is it fun yet? You’ll add in new quests, you’ll take out complexity. You’ll change-up the avatar outfits, you’ll rebalance the economy and you’ll ask over and over “is it fun yet?”  You’ll ask until it seems like the team is a bunch of six-year-olds in the back seat: “are we there yet?” And one day, in a playtest, you realize you’ve arrived. Your test-player and maybe even the staff are smiling and grimacing, sighing  and squealing. Fun has arrived.

But how do we know how to launch of our web sites and apps? When we complete the requirements list.  What kind of goal is that? Your product is not a grocery list, completed when everything on the feature list has been checked off. Your product must be a bridge between your customers and their dreams.

There is an alternative. If, at the beginning of your project, you set a north star, you’ll know when you can launch. The north star varies for product to product. If you were Mint, your North Star might be “Be the boss of your finances” and you could ask as features finish “are we the boss of our money yet?” until you — and your users–  felt, yes, I’m in control. If you were OKCupid you might ask “do I feel like love lives here?” and you could test until you were sure your users really felt they could fall in love here.

The North Star is emotional. The North Star is hard to measure. The North Star inspires the team. The North Star helps you cut features as well as create them. The North Star points the team in the same direction.

Why would you build anything without it?


Related: Building a Vision of Design Success

Featured Image North Star on Flickr