A Core Model in 5 steps

The core model is used to make an inventory of a page’s core content. It forces you to think about what content is necessary to help the user and achieve company goals. Besides defining the main content of the page, this model also takes inward and outward paths into account. So, how does a user get to this screen and where will he go next.

Gather company goals and user tasks

Why you should use the core model

The core model is a mapping method, which helps to identify the most important pages on the site and identify their content. It allows you to start thinking collaboratively by including less web-savvy clients and other disciplines in your design process. This approach helps you to align all stakeholders in the early stages of the project, find agreement upon pages and content, and create awareness of the different natural ‘routes’ users take to navigate through the site.

The core model provides input for your design concepts. At the end of the workshop you will have:

  • A good understanding of the content of your most important pages;
  • First stakeholder alignment.

You will not have detailed wireframes or a sitemap. Relations between pages aren’t covered in this model.

What do you need?

  • A definition of the core (main) pages;
  • An understanding of the main user tasks and business objectives;
  • Between 2–4 hours of time;
  • Writing materials (pens);
  • Post its;
  • Markers;
  • Snacks / drinks;
  • Handout of the Core model template sheet. The bigger the better! See below:

Who do you need?

  • Facilitator: A person to guide the process. We usually have an interaction designer facilitate the workshop. For a large group, having two facilitators is ideal as you can split up the group.
  • 3 or more participants from the clients side. Anyone can join, but diversity in roles of the participants makes for a more balanced (and interesting) discussion. Try to involve all prime stakeholders, no matter their role. Some examples: content editor, marketing, sales, product owner, customer service, etc.

How to prepare

To avoid a lot of discussion during the workshop itself, make sure you have defined the following things beforehand with your client:

  • Core pages (trough e.g. scoping session, google analytics, backlog)
  • User goals (through toptask analysis, previous research, statistics)
  • Business goals

Facilitating the workshop

As with most workshops, state why you have gathered and outline todays goals. Start with brief introduction round and make sure everyone quickly states their role and involvement within the project. Keep it light and short.

Next briefly introduce the core model itself and introduce the core pages. If available, use a sitemap to provide useful context for pages. If no core pages have been selected: do a voting round on what pages should be picked up. Stress that you are designing a new page, so participants don’t have to take into account the existing one.

Depending on your group size, divide the participants into groups of around 3 people. Hand out the core model sheets to the groups and briefly introduce the first core page that will be picked up. All groups fill in the model for the same core page.

5 steps to a filled in core model

Core model

1 Fill in business and user goals.

Let your participants fill in the business goals and user goals first. The business goals are like the name indicates, the goals the business has with the page. What do they want to communicate & facilitate? Why do they want to do so, what are the reasons?

The user goals are the goals of the user: Why does a user come to the page? What does he hope to archive? What question needs answering?

Select the business goals that match with the user tasks. These define your core pages. Of course you will be left with some business goals that don’t necessarily match with user tasks, these goals usually come back on pages the user will go to next. So for example, a user task could be to get more information about a project. A business goal can be to give more information, but in the end you want to sell the product. In this case the user task and business goal about information match. The selling of the product will most likely be an outward path.

2 Define inward paths

The next step is to define the inward paths. How might people find this page? How did they get here? Where did they come from? (e.g. Google, login page, link on homepage, etc).

3 Determine core content

Use the matching business & user goals and inward paths to define the most important things that need to go on to the page. Think of content and functionality. It’s up to your participants how they want to fill in this section. Some groups prefer to write down a bullet list, others start sketching page layouts. Any visual form is fine as long as the main content is defined.

4 Define outward paths (can be based on business goals).

In the light of the newly defined page content: What are the logical follow up areas? Where do you want to send your user next?

5 Present the model to the other groups & discuss

Ask each group to present their filled in core model to the other group(s). Make sure it’s a quick presentation but take time to highlight the overlap and the differences between the filled in models, and get a discussion going about them (don’t stress yourself trying to reach agreement on all points, just let everybody clarify their viewpoint). After this, you can pick up the next core page.


  • When each pair fills in the same core page, shortly discuss the outcome of each step (5 min). Doing this will generate new ideas and questions that the groups can incorporate into their worksheet. Adding this step also leaves time to explain the next step they have to fill in.
  • Set a timer for each iteration of the model. A good rule of thumb is half an hour per page. This way you can expect to get 4 core pages done in an afternoon workshop, including the workshop introduction.
  • Note the inward and outward paths. They might reveal important core pages or force you the re-assess your core page choices.
  • Use energisers to break the ice, loosen up or to enthuse the group to keep up their energy level.

Next steps

A good next step after the core model session is a sketch session, where you sketch out the core pages based on the outcomes of this workshop. Depending on the time you have and the size of the group, you can also combine these two sessions.

Additional Read: http://alistapart.com/article/the-core-model-designing-inside-out-for-better-results