Tue, March 22


10 AM - 12 PM

Design Strategy

Workshop #2 - Part two

In this lecture we conclude our previous workshop about establishing design direction. The second exercise we conduct is about defining the content and the user feelings for our portfolio homepage.

Brainstorm homepage content

We brainstorm in 5 minutes all the possible content that we think are relevant for our portfolio website and note them down on post-its.

List homepage user feelings

Afterwards we list in 5 minutes how we would like users to feel when they visit our page. It’s important to focus especially on adjectives.


Each of us gets 10 votes. 5 for the contents and 5 for the user feelings. This are the most voted content in no particular order:

  • Logo
  • Name
  • Menu
  • Projects/Pictures
  • Contact

And this the most-voted user feelings in no particular order:

  • Curious
  • Inspired
  • Welcomed
  • Playful
  • Engaged

If you are curious to see the full lists feel free to check the spreadsheet. In the next coding lecture we implement the markup with this content in mind and start to style it trying to respect the selection of user feelings.

Design Strategy

In this lecture we learn how we can effectively set the design strategy of our product. Tools like value proposition definition, user stories and persona and job stories help us keep our project on track.

Value Proposition

A value proposition is where your company’s product offer intersects with your customer’s desires. It’s the magic fit between what you make and why people use it. 1

Creating a value proposition is a part of business and design strategy. Kaplan and Norton say

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.2

When you start a new project you can take advantage of existing tools and templates that can help you set a good basis for your product development. In particular they can help you focus on the right things to be done.

One of this tools is the value proposition canvas which quickly gets you to the minimum requirements to start designing and developing. One of the strongest aspect of this template are the series of questions that direct you into thinking through the human experience. The canvas is split in different sections that help you focus on all the different angles of your project.

Picture of the canvas

The first section is focused on the product aspects and it’s split in three subsections:


A feature is a distinctive attribute or aspect that illustrate how your product works.


With the words of Peter J Thomson a benefit is what your product does for the customer. The benefits are the ways that the features make your customer’s life easier by increasing pleasure or decreasing pain. The benefits of your product are the core of your value proposition. The best way to list out the benefits of your product is to imagine all the ways that your product makes your customer’s life better.


The product experience is how your customer feels with your product. It’s the sum of features and benefits. But it differentiates from them because it involves the emotional reasons why people use your product.

The second section is focused on the customer and shift the attention to the psychological characteristic of your users and it is split in three subsections that include:


Usually a want describes how we would like to improve our lives. They are really powerful in terms of motivation and they are strongly connected to our hearts and our emotions. I may need a smartphone, but I want and iPhone.


A customer’s needs is different from a want because usually it is a rational thing the he or she need to get done. Interestingly, needs are not always conscious. These are call latent needs. A good example is when the first iPod was launched: none of us knew that we needed a portable music player. Of course the need of an iPod and not any other equivalent product can be defined as a want.


Fear is one of the strongest divider between users and your product. Fright is usually one of the main reason customers don’t use your product. Even if your product is better than the competitors it might be not enough to overcome your users’ fears.


The aspects of substitutes in crucial in our value proposition definition. If customers made it this fare in life without our product why would they want to change right now? If your product is not better than any existing solution you don’t have a value proposition.

Picture of the canvas

So these are the main sections and questions that can help you validate your idea and define a value proposition. If you happen to have no answers for a certain topic no worries: it’s the right time to get out and directly ask potential users of your product.

Real-world example

In order to help you better grasp the concepts behind the value proposition canvas I show down here a template developed for Evernote. If you don’t know it Evernote is an on-line notes system that helps you centralize and organize your thoughts and notations.

Evernote value proposition filled canvas

It is very interesting to see how Evernote covers all the elements in their value proposition in a single landing page.

Screenshot of the Evernote landing page

User stories Job stories

Usually when you have to define a product feature you tend to develop a user story together with a persona. The user story describes the type of user, what they want to do and why. It’s a method that helps you create a simplified description of a requirement. The persona is a imaginary customer defined by attributes generally in the form of demographics.


But recently user stories (together with persona) have been questioned because they are based on too many assumptions. The reason behind these doubts is that when building a user story (As a [type of user], I want [some action], so that [outcome]) there’s no room to ask ‘why’— you’re essentially locked into a particular sequence with no context.3

Assumptions and disconnect between there persona and action

Adopting job stories helps you focus on context and causality. We shift the focus from implementation to motivation and by doing so the ‘why’ isn’t an afterthought. In the words of Alan Klement we keep our mind open to think of creative and original ways to solve the problem.

Adapting a job story format

For example: “when an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them”.

So how can we build effective job stories? Again Mr. Alan Klement gives us some useful tips in order to accomplish just that.

Refine a situation by adding contextual information

The more context you have the easier will be to design a solution for your product or feature, for example:

  1. When I want something to eat….
  2. When I’m in a rush and want a something to eat….
  3. When I’m in a rush, I’m starving and want something to eat….
  4. When I’m in a rush, starving, need something I can eat with one hand while ‘on the go’, am not sure when the next time I’ll be able to eat, …

For context #1 a sit down restaurant could work but the more context you add the more precise your solution can be and for context #4 for example a slice of pizza will work best.

Job stories come from real people not persona

Persona tend to be a mashup of assumptions and attributes and therefor they gives us false indication about people anxieties and contexts.

Job stories are the result of real customer interviews.

You must talk to real people and uncover all the anxieties and contexts which were in play when they used your or a competitor’s product.

Design modular job stories which features (solution) can plug into

When you design a job story is crucial that your solution doesn’t fit perfectly to that precise story. If you look at different job stories you could independently design slightly different solutions because they have some sort of different contexts but by being modular you can see where jobs overlaps and design and develop a common solution.

Add forces to motivations

Adding forces to your motivation you can prevent users from running away from your product. Imagine that a user has a problem with your service but he or she gets nervous when has to ask for help. By considering this force you can make your users comfortable so they can ask for help with no fears.

Job stories don’t have to be from a single point of view

Write your stories from a third person point of view. This helps you keep your user scenario as wide as possible without focusing too much on a singular particular persona.