What’s your value proposition?

4 min read
Nathan Kinch
  •  May 17, 2017
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You may think this is an easy question to answer. You’re a designer—of course you know what your company’s value proposition is.

But when I ask designers this question, I’m met with a variety of different answers—and it’s likely many are made up on the spot. Responses range from coherent to incomprehensible. Every now and then, there’s even awkward, prolonged silence.

So what’s missing? How is it that a company’s value proposition isn’t clearly understood by the people responsible for surfacing said value to customers?

“A strong value proposition is the foundation of great design.”

Twitter Logo

The answer is a lack of design. Many organizations actually skip the process of designing their value proposition.

This is a mistake. A big one.

Don’t make this mistake. Use this article as a way to understand the tools and tactics at your disposal. By using these tools and tactics, you’ll design more compelling value propositions.

Let’s start simple.

The definition

According to Wikipedia, “a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value (benefit) will be delivered, experienced and acquired.”

For me, this definition doesn’t cut it. To keep things on track, let’s use my definition:

A value proposition is a product, service, or experience that creates desired gains or relieves existing pains.

To design a compelling value proposition, you must understand the desired gains and existing pains of the people you aim to serve. Through this process you may also uncover unexpected gains. 

This isn’t always easy, so let’s start getting practical.

The Value Proposition Design toolkit

At >X, we define design as the systematic process guiding attempts to solve complex human problems. Value Proposition Design is a subset of this overarching discipline.

Thanks to people like Alexander Osterwalder and Steve Blank, useful tools have emerged to support designers in their search for the ultimate value proposition.

Tool 1: The Business Model Canvas

Osterwalder’s work on Business Model Ontology and Business Model Generation gave birth to the Business Model Canvas.

Business leaders all over the world now rely on the Business Model Canvas and adaptations like the Lean Canvas. In a simple format, they describe how a company delivers its value proposition/s to its target customers.

Though it’s used by business stakeholders, the Business Model Canvas can and should form part of the design process. It’s a useful tool to help highlight the business value of the design function. It can also help you define the economics of design.

In practical terms, this canvas can be used to:

  • Design hypotheses
  • Conduct tests
  • Communicate with stakeholders and;
  • Inform strategic priorities

Programs like Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad (used by the National Science Foundation) and organizations like LaunchPad Central have systemized this process. The results speak for themselves.

Image via Strategyzer.

By using the canvas, organizations can measure progress through learning velocity and other key metrics. This supports the desire for data-driven decision-making, even before the money rolls in.

Tool 2: The Value Proposition Canvas

Osterwalder introduced this concept at depth in his book Value Proposition Design. The Value Proposition Canvas helps teams deepen their understanding of target customers.Twitter Logo Solutions to the desired gains, existing pains, and Jobs-To-Be-Done of customers are also designed and tested.

Let’s look closely at the canvas.

Right side of canvas: Customer profile

Customer jobs

The Value Proposition Canvas forces you to uncover and document real customer jobs. This helps deepen your understanding of causality and the situational context in which someone might choose to hire or fire your value proposition. This moment is often referred to as “the switch.”

Existing behavior versus new behavior. Thanks to

Existing pains

Here you uncover and document what frustrates your target customers. You detail what creates friction. You also learn about the things they’re desperate to solve. This helps you get specific.

Journey mapping and the Jobs-To-Be-Done technique can be particularly useful here.

Desired gains

Revealed preference can be a powerful indicator. But this type of analysis of existing behavior won’t always cut it. Sometimes inferential analysis of your quant is a better starting point. From here you can conduct a series of tests to validate what you think you know.

Regardless of your preferred approach, this helps refine your design focus.

Tip: Our team often maps insights on the “customer profile” side of the canvas to the 30 Elements of Customer Value. We find this gives us greater clarity and focus as it relates to the value we’re trying to create.

Image: Bain & Company Inc via

Left side of the canvas: Value map

Pain relievers
Here you document how your product or service could relieve the existing customer pains.

Gain creators
Here you document how your product or service could fulfil the desired customer gains. 

Tip: Don’t describe features. Rather, describe ways in which the desired outcome (relieved pain, desired gain or JTBD) could be fulfilled.

Example: It might take me a huge amount of time to manually import files into InVision. I then also have to check to ensure the click-path hasn’t changed. This makes me feel inefficient and puts me under a lot of pressure from my peers. This is my pain.

But what if I could automatically sync design files without ever leaving Sketch? This might relieve my pain.

Products and services

This is how your value proposition manifests itself. Here you get specific.

Example: Craft Sync by InVision

Attaining “fit”

Image via Strategyzer.

The purpose of the canvas and value proposition design exercise is to establish fit.

Strategyzer defines fit as, “… when your value map meets your customer profile-when your products and services produce pain relievers and gain creators that match one or more of the jobs, pains and gains that are important to your customer.” 

Validating fit early reduces risk.Twitter Logo You’re less likely to design something no one wants. And with tools like InVision, you can test various iterations of a “potential” product or service quickly and cost-effectively as part this process.

“Validate fit early—you’ll be less likely to design something no one wants.”

Twitter Logo

Validating fit also starts informing the business model canvas. These 2 tools feed and inform each other. This is how the process really starts coming together.

Here’s an example of 7 great value propositions.

Tool 3: The testing process

Design is a process-oriented discipline.Twitter Logo Value Proposition Design is no different.

Osterwalder’s company, Strategyzer, does a brilliant job of outlining practical processes for use of the tools I’ve described.

Image via Strategyzer.

What you’ll probably note is that this isn’t all that different to what you’re currently doing. You already conduct research to reveal preference, uncover pains, and understand customer jobs. You then frame hypotheses that inform which experiments you’ll conduct. You measure these experiments with the metrics that matter. You feed insights back into the process. You then go on to re-frame your hypotheses, re-frame your design, and start all over again.

Image: >X.

So, this isn’t completely new. The tools and approach, once incorporated into your existing design process, simply enable you to focus on designing and validating value propositions that fit. Value propositions that matter.

Related: 7 free resources every product designer needs

These value propositions inform how your company’s products and services manifest themselves in the market.

Here’s what to do next

A strong value proposition is the foundation of great design.Twitter Logo Use the tools above to embed Value Proposition Design into your design process.

To get started now, you can read Value Proposition Design. You could even take Udacity’s free course, How to Build a Startup. I suggest giving both a try. If they help you as much as they helped me, it’ll be well worth it.

If you want to talk specifically about how these tools can become a core part of your organization’s design function, get in touch directly.

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