Creating value for the user when you’re flying blind

Meg Smith
Meg Smith
Sep 7, 2017 · 6 min read

There are times, when working for a digital product studio, when a client comes to us with a new product idea or an existing one that needs some love and they have limited capacity to do user research/don’t have historical data. When you just can’t do user research or you need a place to start, how do you know who you’re designing for? You certainly can’t assume you already know the user based on your own experience…

One of the best tools I’ve used to understand who I’m designing for in the absence of data is the Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer. It creates value for the user by connecting their needs directly to features in your digital product.

V-P-C, yeah you know me

The VPC is used to ideate for new products & services, but I find it helpful even within an existing idea or product to fully understand what we’re designing, why, and for whom, especially when user research/obtaining user data is not an option.

I’m going to use a photo sharing app as an example, since we all probably use one or another. I won’t be getting exhaustive with these examples, I’ll stay surface level just to illustrate how this process works; you can get into multiple customer segments and multiple value fits (multiple audiences, stakeholders, client goals), but I’ll leave that up to you to explore and research further!

Customer Segment

This segment of the VPC is usually where we start to understand who is using the product and what might have a negative or positive impact on their experience. It helps us form an impression of the user, which is incredibly valuable in the absence of existing data.

Customer Jobs

Customer jobs are what the user will do when they engage with the app. In the case of a photo sharing app, users might be:

  • Sharing photos socially, potentially temporarily
  • Having conversations with friends
  • Feeling like a part of a community
  • Altering pictures in a fun way that illustrate mood or activity
  • Sharing and discovering new features with friends also on the app

From just a few examples, we can already see some patterns in these jobs and form some assumptions about our users and who they are based on these jobs. Photo sharing apps are for people who actively want to share what they’re doing with their friends. These jobs would be most engaging to a younger demographic who have grown up with technology and like to #overshare and stay connected consistently to friends throughout the day. It would not appeal as much to people who haven’t grown up with technology this way (Gen Xers, Boomers, etc). In other words, we can surmise we would be designing for a mostly young audience (with a smattering of adopters in other categories). Shout out to my Nana who uses Snapchat!

Customer Pains

This segment uncovers where our users are currently experiencing pain in trying to complete their jobs. Consider the app you’re building and also the status quo within the entire industry of photo sharing apps (direct competitors). Some pains on photo sharing apps might be:

  • Even when photo sharing is transient, other users can still take screencaps (don’t sext on social apps, kiddos!)
  • Increased engagement in an app that is widely used also opens up more opportunities for people to bully each other (being bullied at school for 8 hours is much different than being bullied 24/7 by people who are also connected to everyone you know)
  • People can become fixated on their online persona in unhealthy ways

Customer Gains

This segment uncovers what our Customers potentially stand to gain (or would love to gain) from using a photo sharing app:

  • Increased sense of community by being hyper-connected to friends and sharing feelings
  • Humour and being silly with visuals allows for more play, something that decreases through adulthood and allows us to destress
  • Creating a carefully crafted online persona can help compensate for perceived shortcomings IRL and increase feelings of control and autonomy

Though these points are nowhere near as exhaustive as you can get, they will create a basis for us to explore the next section of the VPC: The Value Proposition.

The Value Proposition

This segment of the VPC is quite exciting. It allows us to connect potential ideas and features that could exist in our product to relieve real user pains and create real customer gains. This is where we create real value for our users and create products that get used. In the example of our photo sharing app, we can start to see how their features connect back to real user pains and gains.

Pain Relievers

Interestingly, in many photo apps, these are very common user pains that no one has addressed well. Some new ones might be:

  • Finding a way to prevent people from saving images that the sender believed to be private
  • Better understanding that pictures can be saved, to prevent people from sharing private information in the first place
  • By preventing cyberbullying on the spot before it spreads

Gain Creators

Photo apps are breaking interesting (and potentially contentious) ground on addressing these. Some things I’ve noticed are:

  • Improving the user’s appearance by idealizing features
  • Creating visuals that allow users to be creative when representing their day
  • Creating new avenues for keeping/distributing memories (permanent content) vs. moments (transient content)

Products & Services (or Feature Adds)

By this point, you can clearly see what features connect to pain relievers and gain creators. Some of these things for a photo sharing app might be:

  • Creating new mixed reality filter and graphic opportunities that build on curating an ideal online persona (hey Snapchat, connect with some kind of hair care brand and let me test out new hair colours/styles, k thx?)
  • Incorporating image recognition tools so when someone tries to upload something like nudity, they would be warned that what they are sending is not guaranteed to be private
  • Be an early adopter of AI technology to prevent cyberbullying, using something like Google’s Jigsaw to stop it on the spot

What do you gain from using the VPC?

While the VPC is a valuable up-front tool, it is just a start. It should evolve into something more robust as the project goes on and you observe actual user behaviour, like documented user personas. However, by starting with it, you can expect:

  • A product that is as informed as it can be in terms of user needs
  • A happy client who can clearly see the value for their users and their business (you can VPC your clients to determine how you create value for them too through the product or service!)
  • A framework that helps guide your efforts throughout design and aligns your team on the same idea
  • Increased empathy for users moving forward

I hope you enjoyed this article! Feel free to leave comments and give us a round of applause with the clap button at the bottom if you would recommend this to others.

Align on This

A little perspective on design, technology, and business.

Meg Smith

Written by

Meg Smith

I'm a Designer at Manifold. I enjoy playing music, building things, growing things, cooking things, drawing things and rooting for the Raptors.

Align on This

A little perspective on design, technology, and business.