Develop Your Startup with User Centered Design Canvas

Anna Kulawik
Oct 31, 2016 · 8 min read

Setting up a company is always a challenge. You need to come up with a good product or service idea, develop this idea in a thoughtful way, do proper user research to target it accurately and often also convince investors to put their money into it. That’s, of course, just a simple framework of the main milestones between which there are hundreds of small tasks to complete. With such a workload any tool that can help is precious. Let me present one today: User Centered Design Canvas.

What is User Centered Design Canvas?

UCDC is a tool created by UX designers and entrepreneurs Alina Prelicz-Zawadzka and Leszek Zawadzki. Its form was inspired by Lean Model Canvas and Business Model Canvas but the focus on user-centered approach resulted in a different choice of fields.

Field 1 (Business) and Field 2 (Users) provide basic information that form the base of further analysis.

Field 3 (Problems), Field 4 (Motives) and Field 5 (Fears) focus on the most important information about the users: What problems do they face? What may motivate them to turn to your business? What are they afraid of when it comes to using your services or buying your product?

Field 6 (Solutions), Field 7 (Alternatives) and Field 8 (Competitive Advantages) concern the business in relation to its users: What users’ problems does the business solve? What else can users do to address their needs? Why should they choose you and over the competitors?

Field 9 (Unique Value Proposition) is a form of a summary or conclusion, the most important information condensed in one, two sentences which form a promise the business gives to its users.

You can read more about User Centered Design Canvas origin in UX Magazine but now let’s focus on how the tool can be useful in the startup context.

Step 1: UCDC for Initial Brainstorming

Before the first business idea clarifies and takes a definite shape, long hours are spent on discussions and brainstorming. User Centered Design Canvas can make that process much more fruitful and better organized. Before a research phase starts, take the canvas (or better draw it on a whiteboard — you’ll have more place to write) and complete it together with your team. As with usual brainstorming, don’t limit your creativity. However, make sure you stick to one field at a time and focus your ideation process only on it.

Fill in Field 1 with a basic description of the Business and think of all its potential Users and their characteristics when completing the Field 2. The users’ profiles don’t need to be comprehensive at that stage, however, focusing on demographics may not suffice. What is important here is to aptly identify those distinguishing aspects which actually make a given group of users your target.

After that’s done the real work begins. Think of all the potential Problems the users may want to solve by using your product or service. The key here is to stop thinking as an entrepreneur and start thinking as a user. Look at Field 2 once again and imagine different scenarios in which users may want to solve their problems with your business. Only this way you’ll be able to move from the most apparent to less obvious problems.

Now it’s time for the users’ Motives. Your task here is to list the emotional reasons that may prompt users to turn to your business. Since these are often hidden, you really need to dig into the users’ psychology. Try to imagine in detail the different situations which may motivate the user to use your product or service.

Let’s pass to Fears. What may the users be afraid of when it comes to your business? What doubts may hold them back from turning to you? Again, it’s crucial to put yourself in the users’ situation. To do that it may be useful to think of your own fears when it comes to using various services or products for the first time.

When the users’ side is finally finished, it’s time to focus on the business. In the Solutions field your task is to come up with all possible remedies to users’ problems and fears identified before. Don’t focus here only on those things that appear easy to implement right away. List potential solutions to all users’ problems and fears.

No matter how great your business idea appears, you have to be aware that the users may try to address their problems and motives in a different way. To make them choose your business, it’s crucial to analyze the other options they have. When filling the Alternatives field, don’t list only the competitors, but also things the users may do to solve their problems and address their motives.

Looking at the solutions your business will offer and their alternatives, identify your Competitive Advantages. Why is choosing your product or service better than choosing each of the alternatives? To answer this question it may be useful to imagine you were to tell the users of your competition what makes your business great. Doing that, you’ll be able to see clearly the strengths and weaknesses of your business idea.

There’s one more field left — Unique Value Proposition. Since it’s a summary of your business idea, it’s better to leave that field until you’re absolutely sure about what it should contain. Its time will come in the third step.

Step 2: UCDC for Organizing Market and User Research

Lots of ideas are gathered and now it’s time to research them. Users interviews, competitors analysis, online research — the choice depends on a given service or product idea. One thing is sure: it will be much easier to plan research having the brainstorm effects neatly organized on the canvas.

The hypotheses about the users problems, motives and fears are a great base for surveys and user interviews. Just read through the users side of the canvas once again and try to form questions that will enable to confirm or reject your assumptions. By the same token, you can validate the solutions you’ve listed. As a result, you’ll find out which product features are most worth developing. With the alternatives written down on the canvas, the competitors analysis will be much more precise — you know exactly what you’re looking for and researching your vision of competitive advantages will ensure that what you’ve listed indeed can’t be found among the competition.

When the research phase is over, User Centered Design Canvas steps on the stage again. You have two choices now: if the research turned your initial ideas upside down, it’s worth to fill in the canvas again — this time focusing only on the research findings. If, however, the results of your study seem to tie in with the initial canvas, all you need to do is add a few more ideas which probably emerged during the research and get rid of those which no longer seem appropriate.

Step 3: UCDC for Product/Service Development

With the research findings neatly organized on the User Center Design Canvas, it’s finally time to pass to the discussion about the product or service development. The canvas is very useful when it comes to prioritizing ideas. Take a highlighter (or marker in another color, if you used the whiteboard) and get down to work. First highlight the biggest concerns of your users: the most striking problems and fears. Then go to the business side and highlight the solutions corresponding to them. This way you’ll find out which features of your product or service are crucial for your idea to succeed — an easy way to validate Product/Market Fit. If at this point you notice that some important user concerns haven’t been addressed in the solutions, it’s the best moment to add them.

Having identified the most important aspects of your product or business idea, you’re ready to fill in the last field of the canvas. Read carefully what you’ve listed once again and try to sum it up. Unique Value Proposition should be a gist — a sentence or two that summarizes the purpose, features and benefits of your business. After reading it, everyone should be able to understand what your service or product is all about and why it is worth using it. That’s a promise for your users but also a prototype of a mission statement for your company.

Step 4: UCDC for Investor Interview

If your startup is looking for investors, investor interview is another milestone where User Centered Design Canvas can prove useful. If you have time for that, it’s worthwhile to present all canvas fields step-by-step, explaining each input and supporting it with your research results. That way the investor will not only find it easier to understand your business, but will also get a solid reason to believe your product fits the market and is adjusted to the target users’ needs.

If your time is limited, you can present the whole canvas at once. Describe it briefly and focus only on the last field, treating it as a summary of your analysis. Unique Value Proposition will be much more convincing to potential investors when they see it was based on a thorough research of the market and target users.

Seeing User Centered Design Canvas for the first time one may be a bit skeptical. Can a simple A4 piece of paper improve the process of building up a company? Believe me, it can. Brainstorming, organizing research, planning product development and investor interviews are much more fruitful when all the information are carefully analyzed and neatly organized. UCDC is the tool that makes it possible.

Thanks for all the comments and recs! If you’d like to learn more about the tool, subscribe to UCDC newsletter.

Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at

Anna Kulawik

Written by

previously at @therectangles

Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at

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