Design Thinking, what is core?

the-flower-of-design-thinkingCore to design thinking is prototyping & testing. If you browse around the web you find many aspects linked to design thinking, one more fancy than the other. But central to all; prototyping and testing.

The reason is clear; designers think differently then the rest of us (let’s say the engineer). What differentiates a designer from an engineer is that an engineer creates a solution to a carefully analysed and understood problem, whereas a designer creates many solutions as a means to understand the problem. For a designer, a prototype is a hypothesis. Well, that is how I see it.

The image shown aims to illustrate my view on Design Thinking.

It tries to bring across 3 main points:

  1. Core to design thinking is prototype and test, serving the design process, of which evaluation (learning) is a core element. It does not say anything about time to market (speed to get it out there) nor about the quality of the prototype. This is a skill in itself. Talk to a designer to get a feel for this.
  2. Contextual to design thinking are the many tools and methods that you can apply to get a better understanding of the problem space and help you to identify the solution space. These tools are not core, and often distract from what design thinking aims to achieve, which is to make ideas tangible to find out why they do not work (which is a different way of saying “do I understand the problem”). Some even go as far to say that design thinking by itself may not be enough anymore. For example, “In the era of Living Services, Fjord have created their own design system – Design Rule of 3 – which consists of design thinking, design doing and design culture.” Yes, I agree. The larger the (scope of the) project, the more difficult it is to understand the problem space, so you need to scale up on your exploration, and manage expectations concerning time to market.
  3. Basis of any design project, at least in my experience, is a business opportunity and/or a business model. Only in rare situations, a design project is performed completely outside any business context. For that reason, I place the business model canvas as a leave of the root of the flower.

OK, I admit. I just wanted to create a nice illustration and immediately came up with a flower, so I tried to fit Design Thinking to the idea that I had and make it work. I think it does, more or less. What do you think?


Stickiness template – Creating products/services for which users return

what adds stickiness to the value proposition?

The stickiness template adding to the Business Model Canvas to help add stickiness to services and products being defined

Why do customers come back? What creates the stickiness of products or services? Why are Apps sticky? Why do customers continue to use certain service while abandoning others? How do you make something sticky? It seems to me that the service or product needs to be ‘of value to the person’. Ok, a no-brainer. I know. But why then, if this is a no-brainer, is it so difficult to create products that are of value to people? Maybe not a no-brainer after-all?

In this post we introduce a template that helps to understand the aspects of the service that will create stickiness , which in turn may help to design products that have this stickiness property we crave for to ensure continuity of business. More insights may be obtained if we split the ‘of value to the person’ in two factors; value and personal.

What is valuable? Valuable can be insights or simply monetary value. Information about how the current status of investment markets is valuable to a trader, and he probably is willing to pays for getting that information early, or better, for getting the information about the investment markets that impact the trader’s current investment portfolio early. Valuable is also simply the price-tag. If a magazine subscription costs X, and by becoming member of a certain club will give me 50% discount, then that club become valuable by the amount of 50% of X.

What is personal? Some skin in the game makes it personal. The more I share, the more whatever it is becomes an extension of myself, ergo personal. By definition what I as a person produce is personal. It comes from me. It is the result of my, my interests, my experiences, my reflection on the world. Companies like Amazon utilize this by profiling clients, to make suggestions fitting your interests. You can even take it a step further, as Douglas Adams pointed out back in 1999 in his column “Build It and We Will Come”. “And on the basis of another – not entirely disinterested – suggestion of mine they [Amazon] are going to start a running poll on which books people would most like to see turned into movies. This is information that no one has ever been able to collect before.” And we happily tell what we are interested in, if that helps to make it easier to find what we are looking for.

In other studies both there may be referred to product meaningfulness and product superiority. Product meaningfulness concerns the benefits that users receive from buying and using a new product, whereas product superiority captures the extent to which a new product outperforms competing products (Rijsdijk, Langerak, and Jan, 2011, as referred to by Robert G. Cooper)

If you put the two parameters, valuable and personal, in a simple marketing 1-on-1, you get the following ‘stickiness-template’, that may help helps you to decide how to make your product or service more sticky.

The stickiness template goes a step further than the business model canvas and the value proposition canvas. The business model canvas is an excellent tool to explore new business opportunities or – when altering an existing – the impact of possible changes. This helps you to define a business that is sustainable. The value proposition canvas focusses on service design and aims to link the customer needs and wishes (positive and negative) to the service/product offering. This helps you to design products and services that customers need and want. With the stickiness template I try to zoom in to what customers want again, what makes customers come back.

Building on this previous post, where i looked at the user journey of a WM Client Advisor and evaluated opportunities for digital and print channels. Specifically, I tried to check what the digital and print channels would be competing with, at each step of the user journey. That, I think, is a powerful approach; evaluating not only the opportunity/possibility, but also the risk, in the sense of what else is competing for attention. The updated template has boxes where you can list the competitor for attention.

UBS house viewThis template has been the result of my work at, Here is one of the examples. The UBS CIO MyHouseView tool  I will use the example of the UBS CIO Year Ahead and the CIO House View tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the template. At the end of each the year, the UBS publishes an outlook on market developments and onto the new year. This is the CIO House View Year Ahead publication. Other WM service providers have similar publications.

As part of last year’s CIO House View Year Ahead publication, we took part in conceptualizing and implementing a tool to offer curated content based on which visitors could browse the content in the light of their portfolio, i.e. content that is maximally relevant. The goal was that visitors would not just read the CIO Year Ahead content, but that they would be presented with content that was of special interest for them. To achieve this, the visitor was invited to indicate their portfolio structure (percentage bonds, equities etc). Based on the entered portfolio, the tool would show relevant content. You could then proceed and print out your personal version of the CIO Year Ahead publication, including the for your relevant content.

The images below show the sequence. Alternatively, you can try the tool here.

As far as we could tell, the tool was a success. It was well received by the Client Advisors, frequently visited and many visitors printed their version of the publication.

whiteboardUsage of the tool dropped after january, and thereafter basically laid idle. What was wrong? Why was the tool not ‘sticky’? Why did visitors not return, or why didn’t it attract new visitors. So we worked on a stickiness-template on the whiteboard to look at the tool, to find its weak points. Are there any?

There were not may points to ensure stickiness’ therefore the template is quite empty. But it was not bad. considering we did not consider this in detail when designing and building the tool.

Entering the portfolio information is clearly putting some ‘skin into the game’, and to our knowledge there is no other tool that offers something remotely similar. A missed opportunity here is the possibility to comment on the articles for other visitors to read.

Curated content, portfolio based, also clearly is adds to the stickiness. For this, there are alternatives. For one, the visitor, if a client of the UBS, can simply call his or her wealth management advisor. Alternatively, editorial reviews in financial newspapers and/or services like Bloomberg could also provide similar information although maybe not curated to the visitor’s portfolio.


So, if there are stickiness factors in place, why was the tool not sticky? As mentioned, as far as we could tell, the traction was good for a month of two, but the quickly dropped. The answer appeared painfully simple; no new content. The content was not updated. Originally intended, but never executed, the content remained unchanged. The project as over taken on the inside lane by other activities, reducing the long term vision to a single shot effort. This means that after a few visits, you probably have read most interesting to read. Moreover, coming february, the content written a few months before, would be largely outdated, virtually removing all incentives to ever return. It will take another 100 years before the content may be interesting again, for historic reasons.

The update frequency, is not captured by the template. Update frequency of curated content nor the expected return frequency; both important if trying to maximize the stickiness factor. So these were added to the template.




  • Rijsdijk, S.A., Langerak, F., & Jan, E. (2011). Understanding a two-sided coin: Antecedents and consequences of a decomposed product advantage. (2011). Journal of Product Innovation Management 28(1): 33–47
  • Cooper, R.G., (2013) New products – what separates the winners from the losers and what drives success. The PDMA Handbook of New Product Development. K.B. Kahn, Ed. 3rd edition.  pp. 3-32 .

Digital transformation, more than putting stuff online

It was a going to be a hot day. The föhn was blowing over the Alps. A warm strong northern wind, making Ticino the south of Switzerland, warm and humid. The air would soon be so heavy, you could peal if of like paint of the station’s wall. It is said the föhn makes people go crazy, even more than usual, and I was happy to be on the train north, into the moderate temperature and into the territory of the rational sane people. Well, so they say.

I was on my way to meet with Konsti, one of the guys from the bank’s innovation team. He called me to help on digital transformation. They realised that digital transformation is more than putting stuff online. A no-brainer; it is not just making stuff available digitally, even if this often still is the approach taken.

One of the problems wit digital transformation at banks is that often they are so far behind, those who are working on it believe they can catch-up simply on common sense. Luckily Konsti had a bit more than the average common sense. A lot more.

Digital transformation?
The last couple of years I have been involved in projects at a major Swiss Bank, in the wealth management area, on projects aiming to make market analytics and investment insights available digitally.

We are trained to ignore information, or to put it positively, we focus on what interests us and what we like. Well, depending on how the information is presented to us. If your client advisor gives you a document, you will glance over it, at least. A mail from a central mail address – even if it is from your Wealth Management service provider? Maybe. A notification from an wealth management app, well, yes, buy only if the content on the app is crisp and clear, otherwise it will only invite to turn off the notifications or – worse – to delete the app. We ignore most information thrown at us, and concentrate only on that what interest us, or excites us, or that we are forced to do (yes, it is tax-declaration-time again….).

No, digital transformation is not just converting the document into a PDF and sending it by mail, or posting it on the website for clients to download. But it is also not enough to reformat, e.g. put the text as is on a blog or website like this (I need to follow my own advise/insights…)

When I pick up a book to read, I find a nice seat, decent light, probably my glasses, maybe a cup of tea, and off I go. Point is that I am investing time in preparing for it, preparing myself for it. I will give the book or article a chance, give it a try. If I go and sit down to read some investors information I got from a client advisor, I will give it more than a glance, look for something interesting. This is completely different reading content on-line. Preparation is virtually zero. Pages come and go. If it does not grasp me, I am gone. My (average user) famous 8 seconds attention span.

This means that for digital transformation not only the channel of distribution is important, but also the way you address your readers.

Tools such as the business model canvas, and the value proposition canvas are extremely helpful in understanding how the ecosystem changes moving from traditional print distribution to digital channels. These help you to understand how the business model changes, and map out the customer needs and what value to provide to address that.

But to understand the needs of the customer, you will have to talk to clients and/or customers. In wealth management not always easy.

Over the past months we used the stream services to create an on-line community – The Exxchange – to evaluate under what conditions research information becomes interesting. Through a sequence of activities, such as discussions, surveys and chats etc, we explored how affluent clients deal with wealth management information via on-line channels. This confirmed our understanding of the business model and how this changed. Moreover, it gave insights into what is important for users when reading on-line; what is the information they look for when they ‘scan’. During this scanning, you have to grasp their attention, to give them a reason to continue reading.

Three main learnings relevant for digital transformation in Wealth Management information raised to the surface;

  •  an easy recognisable topic  (people look for what they know). This does not mean content has to recognisable in terms of logos and names, but it helps to invest in a constrained and concise visual/verbal language, so that within the given channel users feel familiarity and can build on previous experiences.
  • when dealing with investment opportunities make it easy to recognize what are the risks/opportunities, especially using graphics and charts. Remember you have 8 seconds; at a first glance the opportunity and risk has to be recognisable. Maybe not in full detail, but detailed enough to look further.
  • give it exclusivity; the information must be something they cannot find somewhere else. In case of wealth management information, something like speed to the market, or profound and well articulated easy to digest insights.

Main learning for digital transformation is that in the process of digitising information, moving from a traditional print approach to on-line channels, it is good to work with tools such as the business model canvas, and the value proposition canvas, but it is not enough. To attract readers in the fast moving digital/online world, you need to understand the customer in their behaviour and in what triggers their interest. Talk to them.

A business view on UX?

User Experience or UX is ‘the next big thing’ (here, here, or here). Actually, it was the next big thing last year, and should be happening now. But more than one year into the next big thing, and where are we now with UX?

[pullquote]“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” – Don Norman [/pullquote]By the way, UX was not invented one year’ ago, but several. The term was first coined by Don Norman, from the Nielsen Norman Group Design Consultancy, who declared that “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

Also, UX originally was defined much wider and much more user oriented compered to what currently seems to be the accepted scope and target. At the moment, UX seems directly linked to interactive products. For example, Smashing Magazine declares UX as: User experience (abbreviated as UX) is how a person feels when interfacing with a system. Also, UX appears to have shifted to the designer’s point of view, i.e. how to create User Experience, uxdesign defines User Experience Design “to refer to the judicious application of certain user-centered design practices, a highly contextual design mentality, and use of certain methods and techniques that are applied through process management to produce cohesive, predictable, and desirable effects in a specific person, or persona (archetype comprised of target audience habits and characteristics). All so that the affects produced meet the user’s own goals and measures of success and enjoyment, as well as the objectives of the providing organisation.” And here, again, more from a designer’s point of view, defines User experience (UX) as having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. The accompanying model shows (design) tools relevant when
[pullquote]Donald Morman’s original definition of UX actually was quite good. Why not stick to that?[/pullquote]
Let me add to the confusion. Or maybe try to remove it a bit. My interest is in framing it a bit more holistic, actually, trying to argue that Donald Morman’s original definition of UX actually was quite good. Why not stick to that?

Take this example a few years ago from Optimizely. It has changed in the mean time. With the platinum plan, you get the CEO’s private phone number. That makes me smile. Smile is good.



Or this example, the key-card holder from hotel Geroldswil. Again a ‘boss’ thingy. This was a card with house rules accompanying the hotel key-card. They show humour. For example ‘The housekeeping lady gets very upset if you smoke in your room’ and ‘..need to rent a police car or just talk to someone, talk to the boss of the hotel’. Again, a grin, a faint smile even, something I remember and share. If only the shower wasn’t so terrible, I would definitely would try the hotel again, just because of that description.

Hotel Key Card - House rules


Point is the UX actually covers more than interactive media. UX covers all aspects where the user or client gets in contact with the company.

Apple – naturally – has understood this very well, and took their brand and design thinking to retail when creating their Apple stores and in the process reinvented the use of glass in architecture and the glass industry as a whole. Good read; Apple by CLOG, explaining how apple’s flagship stores drives retail design, and in the process revised the glass industry.[pullquote]Apple by CLOG, explaining how apple’s flagship stores drives retail design, and in the process revised the glass industry.[/pullquote]

To what extend a company’s brand or corporate identify differs from the user experience you might ask? Are the mirrors? Since experience refers to ‘an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone.’ and since ‘a brand‘ is a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market [i.e. recognisable to the individual user] it follows that any impression perceived by the user as distinguishable or unique, contributes to the brand or corporate identity. UX seems to be at minimum to be part of the Brand.

UX goes beyond the product or artefact, and also is impacted by the people whom the user is in contact with (human resources) and by the content that is the user is exposed to. I tried to summarise it in the following overview [download here]



The UX is influenced by any one of these elements, or any of its combinations.

As individual elements,

  • Content; Any content you produce adds to the user experience. This can be carefully designed brochures, but also quick;y drafted emails and notes. Take the examples mentioned before. Even the pricing schema adds.
  • Artefacts; artefacts such as applications and interactive media are becoming the first contact with a user or client, and form the basis. A hundred years ago, the first contact with a company may have been the sales person or representative. Now it is the App logo in the App store.
  • Human Resources; slowly becoming indirectly important, moving from the first line of contact to the second line as more and more applications are taking over the first contact a client or user has with a company. Still, it is not to be underestimated; products are still made by people


  • Content and Human Resources come together in any situation were there is a client contact without support by an artefact, like for example the front office.
  • Content and Artefacts come together in the non-human controlled channels, like web-sites (Web1.0), apps and print work such as brochures.
  • Human Resources and Artefacts come together whenever a client meeting is about an artefact, such as the support desk.

And all combined occurs in situations where artefacts, content and people come together in harmony to meet with a user, such as sales meetings, sales presentations etc.

Knowing UX covers more aspects than ‘just the interactive device’ does not mean that we have to address all aspects when designing an artefact. But like with Osterwalder’s business model, it often is helpful to have a bigger picture so you are aware of what you are focussing on, and can decide what not to focus on.

Context of Use: A simple form to identify main constraints

Context of use is an essential input to the design process. It helps to frame the problem, define product goals, identify requirements, inspire conceptual design, and create basis for scenarios for validation and usability test. Information about the context of use of a product are generally collected early in the product life cycle and then refined as additional data are gathered from usability studies. By definition context of use determines usability. The ISO 9241 standard Part 112 Guidance on usability (ISO, 1997) defined usability as ‘the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”

The Context of Use consists of the users, tasks and equipment (hardware, software and materials), and the physical and social environments in which a product is used. ISO 9241 standard Part 112 Guidance on Usability (ISO, 1997), or, in different words: the Context of Use is the actual conditions under which a given artifact/software product is used, or will be used in a normal day-to-day working situation. (ref: Interaction Design foundation).

The context of use analysis involves collecting and analysing detailed information about:

  • The intended users, i.e. personas
  • Their tasks
  • The tools that support the users’ goals
  • The physical environment in which a product will be used
  • The user’s social and organizational milieu
  • The technical environment and associated technical constraints
  • Other contextual factors that will affect the user experience

Great. That sounds simple enough. Now what?

EMUS suggest that “Context of Use (CoU) analysis is a generic technique that assists development by posing certain probe questions about the project. [No] The probe questions elicit from the development team and other stakeholders in the project information that may be held ‘below the surface’ by one or more of the constituent groups (usually unwittingly). The effect of carrying out CoU analysis is to bring this information out into the open at an early stage in development, when the implications can be examined and to drive the formulation of a realistic test plan.” (ref: European MultiMedia Usability Services)

So a checklist is what we need?

Actually, browsing the Internet you stumble over checklist, summarizing items to check, record and consider. I’m not a fan. Checklists that have the problem that they do not give insights into the constraints, merely offer a list to tick-off. Often, the process of ticking-off dominates, shifting from checking usability to the next item on the checklist. You see a similar behavior with alert boxes. Are you sure you want to delete this file? Are you absolutely sure you want to delete this file? Are you definitely certain? By now you just want to get rid of the alert box, so of course you are absolutely definitely certain. Luckily, we have time machine.

Obviously, there are more methods then just checklists to collect data for context of use. For example interviews, workshops, surveys, site visits, artefact analysis, focus groups, observational studies, and contextual inquiry. Basically any method that helps to collect data can be used to collect information about the context of use (……).

If methods are plenty and available, critical for collecting information on context of use part must be in what the methods are applied for? What is it that we are looking for?

What we should be looking for when analyzing the context of use are the factors that constrain use. Yes, we want to know typical behavior and scenarios, but as designer we are especially interested in boarder-line situations. “Yes, I want to have that information on my tablet 24×7. Well, not when I am taking a pee, obviously. Then I want to have it on my smartphone. These borderline scenarios may not serve as requirement, but they will help prioritize the requirements we do have.

For mobile software, the most basic parameters that govern the constraints on use are; the physical location, the device on which the software is running, and the available attention span.

  • The physical location is a fundamental parameter. Typical locations are home, office, on ‘on the road’, i.e. in-between. To specify this a little further, the locations are further detailed. For example, at home the areas have very specific application and because of this you can expect the portal use to be different. In the kitchen, while eating breakfast, you may have less time and attention compared to sitting in your study with a tablet on your lab.
  • The device is an important parameter. Depending on you location and situation, you prefer a different device. A laptop in the office, an tablet at the kitch table and a mobile phone while walking through the city.
  • Most important parameter may well be the user’s attention span. My attention span is different when I am sitting in a tram in Zurich with people entering and leaving every 3 minutes compared to being on the train gliding through the alps with, apart from beautiful scenery, nothing to distract or interrupt me for maybe a hour. Attention span and usability appear orthogonal, when it comes to their relative importance. In case attention span is infinite, usability becomes almost irrelevant; given infinite time anybody can learn anything. By contrast, when the attention span is limited, the tools must not be complex.

To analyze the context of-use I’ve created the form as shown below. You can download a free copy here. This context-of-use-form combines ‘device’, ‘attention span’ and ‘physical location’, into a basic grid to support the analysis of context of use.


To illustrate the use of this form, we use it to evaluate the context of use of a new to be developed research portal. A bank is developing a new research portal for their wealth management clients to give access to research material. The portal will be available via multiple devices, via a pc/laptop, via a tablet and via a smart phone.

As a first step, we looked at the use situations for the ‘standard user’. The result is shown below. This overview, although revealing, reflects the general expectation. For specific users the situation may be different.


To become more specific about actual user needs we use personas. In a previous project we have interviewed a large number of client advisors and based on this developed a set of client personas. From this set, we selected a few to create a small cast.

The next section gives two examples of how the context of use form will look like for specific users (as characterized through the personas). Meet Ana and Danny.

Ana is independent; not employed but with has moveable assets in the amount of 30 Million CHF, which was inherited. Her father was an entrepreneur while her mother took care of the household. Ana was married, has a University degree in Art History, and 2 children; a son 30 years working as electrical engineer and a daughter, 28 and married, with a university degree in Marketing. Ana is frequenting the club life. Clubs have beach campuses, city campuses, and sport campuses for members – and are very popular with the high society in Latin America. In addition, she likes to play golf and fitness. She drinks black coffee, but only in the morning. She has both the latest blackberry and iPhone. Ana consumes information throughout the day, both in paper form and on-line. She typically reads one local newspaper and one form the US. She will surely cover the economic, political, cultural and social life sections. Ana is in regular contact with the bank. She is fairly experienced and likes to be involved in the investment decisions.

Completing the form for Ana reveals a completely different situation, as show below.


Let’s have a look at Danny.

Danny (or Daniel as his mother calls him) obtained his wealth through a donation. He was born and still lives in Stuttgart, where he followed a professional education and became a certified accountant. His mother was a teacher. His father owns a company in network components of about 900 employees large. After his studies, Danny started working fro the KPMG in Zurich, mergers & acquisitions. He now is COO in his father’s company. Danny drives a Porsche 911, likes travelling, cooking, dine and wine. No sports. He reads the Wall Street Journal, the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung and the NZZ. He reads research information provided by his bank, provided it is crisp and clear. After receiving the donation he immediately invested all with his bank. He is a conservative client, and although he is independent and experienced, Danny allows himself to be driven by the Client Advisor.

Danny, being different person than Ana, also gives a  different situation, as show below.


In combination (the form for the generic customer, for Ana and for Danny) the forms give a diverse overview of the constraints, sketching the solution space from the point of view of usage (i.e. context of use). Using the personas, and based on these overview it will be easy to describe a number of scenario that illustrate the usage and can be used as reference scenarios capturing the context of use in aspects that are relevant to consider when designing a solution.

Usability checklist: Blending the designer’s and the tester’s view

Usability will not be resolved with technology. On the contrary, with the advance in technology, new usability challenges are being created. Continuously; new technical possibilities, a wider range of applications, a fast growing group of developers.

In a far past usability of computer applications was constraint to actions performed on devices that had a key-board. The user group was small, typically technically high skilled, special interest groups. Like the ancient western movies; the guy with the white head is the hero. Simple. Then they introduced color. With computers it was the same; the device with the mouse. Nowadays computer devices have a vast amount of possible input devices. Not only key-boards and mouses, but also pens, touch pads and touch screens and so forth, and soon, with the advance of wearable technology and garnent integrated sensors, even your cloth become (an extension of) a computer. The user group also exploded, from a selected few computer fanatics, to everybody. Most people have at least one computer but with over 90% of phone users having a smart-phone and the huge success of the tablet computer, a large number of people no doubt have several. Computing is ubiquitous.

Usability remains problematic. New developers need to be trained, new technologies need to be understood, new domain knowledge needs to be obtained.

Luckily we have guidelines for the designers and check lists for those who evaluate. Despite all the guidelines and check-lists available, usability is still perceived as subjective. Check-lists and surveys seem to be a goal in itself, not a means to an end, leading to better understanding. Typically, I prefer task performance tests and wizard of Oz studies; relatively simple to apply and with a verifiable good/better/best/worst outcome. But, ok. Checklists and surveys as any tool provide valuable results in the hands of those who know how to work with them.

Basis for this dispute may be the apparent disconnection between design/development and test/evaluation. Although both have the same objective (the best usable product for the end-user), their reference, their golden standard differs. Product design is driven by guidelines, preferably as few as possible not exceeding 10. For example 5 timeless usability principles, Donald Norman’s design principles (or see here), Schneider’s 8 golden rules (or check here) or Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics (or check here). On the other hand, test and evaluation is driven by checklists, preferably as much as possible. For example here, a checklist with 247 usability guidelines. Impressive. But useful?

If the objective is the same, why then is there no clear relation between guidelines and checklist?

If usability guidelines (top-down) were organized in a way to highlight their relation with checklist (bottom-up), the designer and the tester/evaluator have a shared reference of what is good, and can concentrate on making the product’s usability better. Most guidelines and checklists do cover all aspects, but what is missing is – IMHO – a structure that support our top-down goal-oriented thinking. There is some irony in the fact that check lists lack in this respect since top-down and goal-oriented thinking you will find both as usability guidelines.

Check out the check-list below. I will briefly describe the individual areas.


Users – One of the first things to realize is to identify whom the user actually is. Are we talking about a novice or expert? Are we targeting a business environment or more casual? How old is the user or target group? How important is gender? Differences between customers make a difference on how questions are evaluated.


Device – Often carefully overlooked is the device the software actually is for. Quite trivial and difficult to overlook, right? I mean, how can you mistake software developed for a smart phone with a web site. You are absolutely correct that is never overlooked. But you’ll be surprised how often meetings occur where software is created for one device and then carelessly assumed to be an equally perfect fit for another device. Designed for a tablet computer? Well, then it will run equally great on a smart phone, right? No.


Analyze – Put a device in someone’s hands and he or she will go through three distinct phases. No, although similar, I am not referring to the phases a civilization passes through; the ‘How, Why and Where phases’ (see Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).”For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?” The phases a person will go through are similar; where am I, why am I here (or what can I do?) and where to next. The first step is not about what button to click or where to swipe. No, it starts with the basics; defining where you are, what you can do here and how to do that. The user needs to know where am I now, where can I go to, and how do I proceed. For example, I want to go to the center of Amsterdam, then it is quite mandatory to first know where I am now, the options I have and how to use these options. I do not want to know what the price of the ticket of the train going from Utrecht to Amsterdam is. I need to know first that I actually am in Utrecht (and not for example in Zürich). You get the drift.


Choose – after a first analysis the user has to choose an action, ranging from a specific action to move forward or – worst case – to hit the home button and get out of here. To motivate the user to take the next step, the application has to be clear about it’s purpose, transparent in what you can do, and pleasant to look at. Call for action is often mentioned. To frame the action and to make results predictable the application has to be clear about the current status. Users find it easier if actions are framed in clear goals and related tasks. It helps to split tasks is sequence of actions. Knowing users will make mistakes, it is imperative to for a system to be robust and be error tolerant. Last, people do not like to read, and certainly do not like to rely on their memory; make sure to make full use of their ability to recognize.

Transition – The next level is transition; executing the actions to full fill the software’s purpose, and to arrive at the actions it is calling out so loud for.

The next few images show how the checklist covers the various guidelines (Norman, Schneider and Nielsen). Interestingly, the topics ‘clear purpose’ and ‘goal oriented/task driven’ seem to have less focus by the design guidelines. Also interestingly, the different guidelines appear to have their own focus, from more holistic (Norman: where am I) to very practical (Nielsen: what next?).

Donald Norman Schneiderman Nielsen

The ‘enabling users to ACT’ check-list aims to support a both a top-down approach (aiming at the design process, from left to right) as well as bottom-up approach (aiming at the verification process, from right to left). In addition, it the user and device area help to keep in focus both the target user and the environment in which he or she will operate. Try it. Let me know.


Roman Pilcher’s Product Canvas

An alternative to our product design canvas is Roman Pilcher’s Product Canvas is a canvas that contains all the key information necessary to design a product. It is a holistic vision of the product, describing the product’s target group together with the needs addressed. It paints a rough picture of the overall product, and it provides the details for the next iteration. The canvas uses scenarios, design sketches, user stories, and constraint cards. See image below.

Roman Pilcher’s Product Canvas

Roman Pilcher’s Product Canvas is designed so that the information flows from left to right starting with the target users and the needs to be addressed, then describing the user journeys (use cases) and completing with ready stories.

The canvas has the following components:

  • Vision: this states the intention or motivation behind the product. Keep the vision statement short and sweet and limit it to one or two sentences.
  • Product name: this simply states the name of the product.
  • Personas: these describe the target group using fictional users and customers including the needs to be addressed or the problem to be solved. The section therefore explains who we believe is likely to use and purchase and the product and why.
  • Journeys: this allows you to capture complex interactions of the user with the product. User journey diagrams, storyboards, and story maps are great to illustrate how a user is likely to employ the product. Focus on the important interactions, concentrate on your primary persona, and don’t be shy to update or replace the diagrams, as your understanding changes and you explore new aspects of your product.”
  • Epics: these are coarse-grained, big user stories that sketch the product’s functionality. Every epic must serve a persona or be required by the business model, for instance, to display online ads.”
  • Design sketches; this communicate your design ideas. The sketches should capture the critical aspects of the product or user interface design, for instance, the design of a few important screens. I prefer to work with paper sketches, as they are usually good enough to communicate the important design aspects; they are quick and easy to create; and they invite change and refinement.
  • Constraints; here you describe the operational qualities that apply to the entire product. These include performance, interoperability, robustness, and regulatory requirements.”
  • Ready stories; these are small, detailed stories that feed the next cycle. They are derived from the epics, and support the iteration or satisfy the sprint goal when Scrum is used. The ready stories have to be clear, feasible, and testable so that the development team can transform them into a product increment or minimal viable product.

The Product Canvas is designed as a learning tool: to sketch our initial ideas and assumptions, to get stories ready for implementation, and to adapt and refine the content based on the insights gained.


The Product Canvas supports you in collecting the various sources of inspiration, and the references to check possible design solutions against. However, compared to the Business Process Canvas, it may not assist in analyzing.