To crash, burn and rise again stronger
My story starts when the site of the Newseum was an ugly government building and my bank account was empty from grad school. Before school I worked at the Newseum when it was in a smaller space in Rosslyn and thankfully they took me back. One of my first projects was to create a web version of NewsMania a current events game we played with school kids when they visited the museum.
We did some brainstorming and mockups and then I convinced my boss that we needed to go out to schools to test our ideas. At the first school we crashed and burned right in front of my boss.
I was thinking to myself, I’m so fired. I am going to be broke and unemployed and in my parent’s basement forever. So I was a bit stunned when the boss was excited and had all these ideas for making it better. So we made a bunch of changes and went another school about a week later, we killed.
Then we made a short version of the game with five questions instead of the intended 15 and no back end. We went to another school and the kids wanted to play the game multiple times even though the questions were the same.
While we were at the schools we learned that teachers were being mandated to cover current events but they were having a hard time generating good current events content for their classrooms.
So what did we learn from all these tests and iterations?
- There was market (teachers needing credible current events content) for our product
- Customers (the kids) wanted it
- It served our organization’s mission to get kids interested in news
- What the technical requirements needed to be
When we crashed and burned my boss was happy he didn’t have to spend a bunch of money on a product that wasn’t going to work. Once we got on track, he was happy because he could show the leadership our prototype and tell them how much the kids liked it.
We didn’t exactly plan to build in small chunks and regularly test but it sure did work. If you’re wondering, the web version of NewsMania went on to be selected as one of Time’s 50 Best Websites, was featured in The Washington Post Kid’s Post and was used in classrooms across the country. Although I cringe when I see it now because I’m a designer and thus never satisfied.
It’s funny to look back realize these were my first bulid-measure-learn cycles. Oddly enough years later I gave a tour of the Newseum to a guy I knew and his friend who was in town for a conference. The friend was Eric Reis.
Image: A screengrab from the game property of the Newseum