A Product Ideation Method: Zoom-In-Zoom-Out (ZIZO)

There is no easy way to start designing a product from scratch. You can do it with a team or individually but getting started is always a challenge. You’re starring at a blank sheet unable to decide where to start.

Should you start from the onboarding experience? Or from the main screens? Should you start sketching screens and buttons immediately or do you need a more abstract design at first? If you called your team for a brainstorming session, in many cases, you experience a long moment of silence until one breaks the ice and starts the engine of ideas running.

There are many methodologies and design principles, such as Design Thinking, that are inspired by Stanford’s d.School and Sprint by Jake Knapp from Google Ventures. The Zoom-In-Zoom-Out (ZIZO) method that I present here shows you a way to augment those methods and empower entrepreneurs, product managers and designers to start a healthy conversation and a structured design process which is both creative at times and focused when needed. It allows you to design your product in different levels both strategically and to details.

Product Ideation is a scrappy and “chaotic” process — it’s an artistic and creative task. Usually, you will find that one idea leads to another idea not necessarily in the right order and you’ll have to get rid of work that you’ve done for 2–3 hours, because you had an innovative realization along the way. I am a big believer in unleashing your creativity and not constraining it.

However, at some points in the ideation process, you have to switch modes and be more structured by thinking strategically and setting guidelines to prioritize your ideas and direct the conversation into a conclusion. As a leader, you need to balance the energy of your team from scrappy mode to prioritize mode and vice versa. Product Leaders should have the ability to zoom in and zoom out from the big strategic picture and dive deep into the details of their user experiences constantly and frequently — this is a challenging task and you would get better with practice.

Product Ideation is a part of a much bigger thinking process. Entrepreneurs and Product leaders should be accountable of working backwards from their customers, identifying painful, real problems, set goals, doing market research and then working with their teams to find solutions to those problems fiercely. I shared my own preferred product framework in a previous article.

What is the ZIZO Product Ideation Method?

The ZIZO FIA Product ideation methodology is a framework that enables you to zoom in and zoom out from the different layer of your product design.

You design in three different layers:

  1. Flow design,

2. Interface design,

3. And action design.

It’s about shifting and iterating between the different levels of your user experience. A rule of thumb when starting from scratch would be to start from designing your user/product flow (some like to call it your user journey). This is the most high-level view of your product design. Then you dive deep into details designing your user interface and then the actions that each user takes in each screen/interface. However, like in any design process, there is no right starting point or ending point, and the whole beauty is the ability of the product leaders and their teams to switch between modes as they like.

I do suggest a simple hack to lay it all in front of you when you design. If you are working with a large whiteboard split it into 3 portions that each includes a different design layer (Flow, Interface, and Action). If you are working with pen and paper, just have 3 different A3 sheets and sketch on each a different design. It will help you switch modes smoothly.

But there is nothing better than a simple example to understand how it works. I used the Uber app as an example to show you how I design the different layers.

Before You Start Ideating: What Should Be Clear to Your Team?

Before you start sketching, building features, and zooming in to details, there are two key things that you should be clear about:

  1. Who are your target users?
  2. What is your problem statement?

Have a clear sense of these two questions but also be open to pivot while ideating as you peel the layers of user experience your product, problem, and users.

Let’s Start: Design the User Flow (Journey)

This design layer is the highest design level that we’ll work on in this framework. It does not require any artistic skills and it’s all about putting yourself in your customer shoes and think of the steps your users will make when they use your product or service. Here you will ask questions such as where does my user start his or her journey, where the journey might end, and what are the retention mechanisms that will bring back your user to use your product.

In order to design your user flow, you can use two tactics: a list or a flow chart. For those who are engineers or programmers, this would be your natural approach to any problem — in other words, you are building an algorithm. Here is an example of a user flow design for the Uber app.

Note: This is a simplification of the flow design and could be enhanced to more steps as the app grows.

User flow design example (Paper Design and Draw.io Design)

Let’s Zoom In: Design Your Interface and Screens

After you sketched an initial user flow it is time to zoom in and to dive deeper into details. Each step should be illustrated with at least one user interface. If you are designing a mobile app, then it’s a screen. If you are building a physical product, it’s an illustration of the product in the current position or status (for example open position or folded position).

I’ll continue with the Uber example. From my experience, the simplest way to design your interface is simply sketching with a pen and paper. However, if you prefer to use a wireframe or another design application like InVision or Balsamiq or even Adobe Illustrator, that’s great. We all use smartphones on a daily basis. We are all familiar with the common features and their utility. Therefore, adding elements such as a title, feed view, share button or like button are straightforward.

An important suggestion is that you don’t have to complete all the screens at any specific time. The whole beauty of this method is that all three layers are in front of you and you can zoom in and zoom out at any given time. Going back adding, amending or omitting features and screens continuously. Product Ideation is not a linear task but an iterative one.

Sometimes going into details on a specific screen could lead to additional and more high level and strategic notions. It’s your job as a product leader not to drag too much into details or just stay at a very high level throughout the entire process. Here is an example of zooming in to the interface level:

Interface design example (signup)
Interface design example (main experience)

Let’s Zoom In: Design for Action

You can look at the user journey like a game. Your goal is to build your product in a way that will help the user progress through the levels of the game you designed. In order to progress, the user has to take action. Click on a button, enter text, choose an item from a list, etc. You need to design the value and benefits that will motivate him or her to take this action — If you zoom in and dive deeper into the user experience, you need to design for user action.

The product wireframe sketches below show that for each screen I list the actions that the user make and the number of total actions for each screen. This is a helpful technique in order to track if you are adding too much user actions per single screen and by doing so adding friction and increasing the probability of user churn.

You should express the actions in very simple words like “enter user first name” or “ press submit button”. This is not true for every product design, but try to think if you could decrease the number of actions the user has to make to get value of a screen. For example, do you really need separate actions in your sign up experience for first name and last name? or you could combine them or retrieve them from your device and make your users’ lives easier.

A question I like to ask teams when they are working on product ideation is what does success look like in each screen? Would a user spending 5 minutes in a screen be considered a success? Would you like the user to transition to another screen, or share content, press the like button? In order to focus and simplify the initial product design, I like to start with a single user action per screen.

This is directly linked to your product goals and metrics, and will also help you think through if what you are building serves your problem statement, goals and metrics.

Action design example (signup)
Action design example (main experience)

What are your thoughts about the ZIZO Method? Would you add any other step to this method? Leave your comments below.

Meet The Author:
Illai Gescheit

Illai Gescheit is currently helping entrepreneurs and startups find their product-market fit. He led the Startup Programs and Products at Amazon Web Services in EMEA. In 2014, he founded Mobifile and also developed Patent Thinking. Illai is constantly contributing to the Product community on Medium.

*This article was originally published on the Product School blog.