Notes for (Aligning Organizations Around a Single Product Vision)

Presenter(s):  Geoff Harrison, Bill Flora

Date-Time:  August 16, 2019 @ 1:00 PM

Key Takeaways

Geoff Harrison and Bill Flora of Blink UX (hereafter, Blink) present a high-level vision of a process that combines components of user experience, beautiful design, and brand vision.  Instruction and interactivity include how to:   incorporate research evidence in the product direction, create a common vision using user research and business aspirations (this includes value propositions, UX pillars, design principles, and voice/tone/feel), use a framework document to bridge user experience and business goals, and prioritize design efforts for subsequent product releases.


In laying the foundation for their workshop (exercises in developing a product plan/vision), Harrison and Flora open with the observation that as designers, we are in a unique position to shape product vision.

Companies must constantly change to stay relevant.  However, the problem with some is they are a little behind with product vision.  A product vision process is a powerful agent.  Yet Harrison and Flora often see organizations trying to update through an iterative approach.

Different groups must come together in the design process, which is challenging.  Companies have siloed groups, different definitions for the same words, and conflicting goals. A surprising number of organizations lack a common product vision.   As designers, we must get out in front of the process.

The design process Harrison and Flora discuss integrates values, goals and language from stakeholders so the vision feels like a natural extension of the company.  And it is grounded in something an organization and teams can all agree on, making the customer happy.

Harrison and Flora suggest the following six inspiration and alignment principlesas helpful tools for achieving stakeholder alignment and discovering where the product vision can be (starting with Strategic Process and ending with Emotional Storytelling).

Principle #1:  Strategic Process

Stakeholders should all be on the same path and grounded in customer satisfaction.  Alignment – bringing different groups together – is the focus of this workshop.

When all team members are grounded in the customer perspective and company values, alignment is easy.  Harrison and Flora urge us to consider the value proposition and how to use that as a filter in the design process.  Content is a great place to start.

Consensus building and quick decision making enable stakeholders to rally around one set of truths.

Principle #2:  Workshops work

Harrison and Flora recall one of the barriers in consulting is coming up to speed with a company.  As designers, the focus should be a collaborative effort, or partnership, with the company, not an isolated exercise (where the design team goes away and comes back with a proposal).  The consulting agency uses insights a company already has.  As designers, we should advise the company they will be working with the design team.

Harrison and Flora discussed processes/activities they use to achieve stakeholder alignment.  They note that some alignment activities are more brand focused, while others are visually oriented or presented in way that is more tactile (pick it up, move it around).  Some of this is what they bring into a workshop, which is all geared to building alignment on stakeholder ideas.

They offere more detailed discussion on their use of continuums – pairings of [a company’s] actionable terms, such as “scientific” vs. “creative” placed at opposite ends of a spectrum; similarly, evolutionary vs. revolutionary, generalists vs. specialists, differentiated vs. familiar, playful vs. serious, consumer vs. enterprise.  Along each continuum, company stakeholders place dots closest to the term most important to them (i.e., where they fall along the continuum of word pairings).  This produces a visual check of stakeholder alignment.  Vertically aligned dots along a continuum suggest strong stakeholder alignment.  Conversely, horizontal spread shows weak alignment and an area for further exploration to find where stakeholders might align.

When using continuums to gauge alignment, get clear on what a company means by their actionable terms.  For example, what do you mean by playful?  By serious?  Digging down helps designers understand how to align stakeholder vision.

Harrison and Flora also discussed competitive mapping (a process for exploring where company product vision is today and where they want it to be in the future).  Competitive mapping uses a Cartesian coordinate system, with concepts like “one-sized” and “personalized” marking opposite ends of the x-axis and “immersive entertainment” and “beautiful utility” marking opposite ends of the y-axis.  This helps the company see where they are [on the map] vis-à-vis competitors.

Models and modeling are helpful in the workshop process, especially when talking about where we want to be in terms of product experience.

Principle #3:  Customer and Brand Focused

Being grounded in who your audience and customers are is of primary importance.

Get clarity, such as through a reasonable development of personas.  Often, multiple user types are important here.  Bring user research and business insights (things we already know) into the alignment workshop, as this is a great place to start.

When developing keywords in a workshop, Harrison and Flora suggest winnowing a company’s key words down to around five and applying imagery to them to illustrate established targets (e.g., scientific, imaginative).

With research in hand at a workshop, analyze pain points and the journey mapping experience (time on task within the user journey), inefficiencies, and inputs into the process as potential areas of focus.  Data and research also help workshop participants stay grounded in their analysis.

As part of the workshop process, look at trends and considerbrand qualities, such as highly curated and differentiated content, vis-à-vis trends/insights, such as Desire for Participatory Experiences Around Events and Browsing is a Chore, in defining brand focus.

Principle #4:  Powerful Articulation

Harrison and Flora discussed their technology triangle – three stacked layers within a triangle with “customer value” at the top, “experience pillars” in the middle, and “signature experiences” at the base.  They find this a useful tool in coming up with product features and signature experiences that articulate customer value.  It helps nail down the most important things.

They illustrate through example.  A company supplying content contemplates their value.  They start at the top and ask themselves, “What is our customer value. Is it just creating a catalog and inviting customers to view it?”  In contemplating the question, the company felt they could differentiate from their competition through unique advantages and trends in the market, and that they could deliver the most value by deeply connecting customers with the creators of content.  Arriving at this value proposition took a while.  The next phase involved looking at experience pillars.  What are some ways to deliver on customer value?  How can we be a platform for creators?  How can we be curators on innovative content?  Then they contemplated signature experiences, such as a “creating experience” and letting guests and fans be curators, event-driven experiences, and ways to bridge content such as bridging between episodes or seasons.

Principle #5:  Make to Think

Make to think is all about prototyping.  Early design exploration (creating concepts and ideas) is a great way to find out what questions need to be researched.   Harrison and Flora like to create concept cards to push on the problem in rough fidelity and to develop lots of divergent ideas.   Then take the breadth of concept cards developed for a product (say, 100 ideas) and winnow them down to eight and eventually three to explore viable design directions.

For example, they explored three different ideas – different directions – for customer experience.  How can they make a digital book more valuable to users?   They explored things like a “paragraph view” vs. a more “visual/imagery view” as ideas for navigating story books.

Blink also develops exceptional high-fidelity concept cards – a best practice from the top 5% of design-mature organizations (discussed in morning session).  Harrison and Flora showed an example of storytelling across devices (a destination tool for authors and agents to find how well their books are selling, user experience analytics, etc.).  They incorporated motion to show the potential of various design ideas for clients.

They like to show multiple high-fidelity examples in attempting to elevate customer thinking [on design potential].  Show them high fidelity motion options so they can see the potential.

Principle #6:  Emotional Storytelling

Harrison and Flora illustrated with an example: Microsoft Bing wanted to differentiate from Google.  They wanted to make searches easier and retool their signature experience to be more like building a magazine on the fly.  Blink packaged their design concept for Bing’s signature experience into something more emotional using high fidelity motion mock ups that incorporated music – an exciting way to go.  This shows the potential of product vision and get decision makers in the organization excited about an

When using emotion in design, match the company’s culture – i.e., some may be more practical and unmoved by emotional content, while others may really like it.

Inspiration is key to bringing people together.  Videos, storyboards, and journey maps allow for better understanding, alignment, and emotional connection.