John Ellison

Day 49: Writing & Designing Value Propositions

5 min read

After the Monday morning stand-up on Day 49, I sat down at my computer with four posts that I needed to write on my 90 Day blog to get back up to speed. It had been a rough and hectic couple of weeks for me and my wife and I'd fallen behind on my blog a bit.

The Value of Writing

Halfway into my first post I realized how immensely valuable it is for me to write about my experiences each day. It helps me process what occurred and reflect in a way that gifts me new insights and understandings. I can see things from a different perspective and make new conclusions. I think writing everyday for my 90 Day blog has been one of the most important elements of my time here at Clearleft.

Designing Value Propositions

I started designing the training value propositions that Andy P and I had formed last week. I found working with proposition templates to be relatively difficult because it had quite a high cognitive load. There were so many different ideas, so many different ways to frame a concept, so many variations and it was hard for my mind to hold it all together.

So I decided to step back and design my designing process. This was what I came up with:

my value proposition design exercise

I used blue sticky notes as the template structure and yellow sticky notes as all the possible options for that item. This allowed me to diverge as much as possible and to let all options have their chance on the proposition board. There was less criticism in my head about the exact wording and more about getting the wide range of possibilities onto the table. I didn't want to leave any options out.

I felt free to try new things and put many different variations together. Once I had laid out all the possible options I could think of, I started thinking about how I would actually create individual proposition statements from the massive list of components on my desk.

Sketching Ideas

As I wrote down different options for each section of the proposition I had a range of ideas come into my head and decided to sketch them down and keep them on the table in front of me. While a value proposition does express a certain portion of the product or service, it lacks the mechanics and philosophy which play a huge role in the formation of the idea.

Here were some of the sketches I came up with...

sketch 1sketch 3sketch 2

An Aside: Value Proposition Software

I thought about a piece of software that could help with this process. The software would take a value proposition template like this with many different options for each part of the template and create all possible value propositions as permutations. There would be hundreds of different propositions and you could read through them and select which ones were best. You could also begin removing items from the value proposition template that didn't work and you'd end up with a select number of components and a small number of value proposition variations built from those components.

Okay, the tangent is done. Back to my process.

Creating Individual Propositions From A Massive Range of Options

At first I wanted to use a string with some blue tack to link sticky notes together from left to right to form a sentence, but seeing as I couldn't find any string I opted to use colored markers to indicate which sticky notes went together.

In this step of the process I had far less cognitive load because I could clearly see all the different options for a given component of the proposition. I didn't have to stretch my brain to think "is there something missing?" I was able to focus more about which option expressed the proposition best.

I started from the far left and selected the most appropriate person type from the list with a small colored tick in the bottom corner of the sticky note. I then progressed to the next column and selected the most relevant option for that person type. I ticked that option the same color as well. I went through each column and selected the best option with a colored marker until I was at the very end of my large sprawling proposition template.

I then read through the proposition using only the sticky notes that had a colored marker tick in the corner.

Some of the components didn't work exactly so I scrapped those and chose others. I re-wrote some and added new ones entirely.

In a short amount of time I had my first (somewhat) working proposition.

It then took me about 5 minutes to come up with two others. There were small variances in the propositions but each variance made a big difference.

Ending Up With Three Propositions

At the end of the exercise I had three unique value propositions. I pitched them to several different people in the office and got feedback. They were far from perfect but we were going somewhere.

ending up with three propositions

I was fortunate to grab an hour of Clare Kirkland's time and talk through the propositions in greater detail. She was immensely helpful in clarifying ideas and identifying weak points. There is so much that goes into value proposition design and so many decisions and assumptions which need to be made and declared along the way.

Clare is going to jump onto the project with me this week and hopefully together we can make some real progress. I am super excited to be able to get to work with Clare again on another internal project. It's great to have her in any conversation because she is incredibly analytical, intelligent and professional. Props to Clearleft for having such an awesome PM on the team!

Tagged: ,

John Ellison

Day 46: Public Value Proposition Research & Design

5 min read

On the morning of Day 46 I arrived to the office expecting to have a full workday ahead with Andy Parker where we could finish off our value proposition and finalize it before the end of the week.

Unfortunately Andy P had an unforeseen workload change and so we had to recalibrate.

Andy P tasked me with researching our public value proposition. He wanted me to find as many examples of training, courses, workshops, seminars, conferences and schools that had similar propositions.

We had shifted our theme from UX Design culture to Design Thinking in general because it seemed to provide more value to a wider audience and would allow us to have a more diverse audience for the proposition.

Andy wanted me to have 100 examples that we could compare at 2pm and then use them as evidence to boil down our proposition into something final.

Researching Like A Mad Man

I hadn't been given a small definitive task like this with a definitive deadline in my whole time at Clearleft so I jumped straight in and started researching and reading about everything I could find. I filled my Evernote 'Training' notebook with over 139 notes and highlighted over 28 articles.

While it seemed odd to have such a drastic shift in our project focus, it actually proved to be the perfect task for me to do loads of research before re-approaching the value proposition.

Making Sense of The Research

As I perfomed my research and read through loads of content, I started working back towards the Project Canvas that we started at the beginning of the project. I needed a place to pigeonhole my ideas and notecards proved to be the perfect medium.

project canvas on the fly

Everything started coming together and making sense. I felt like I was seeing validation, contrast, and hierarchy in all of my reserach. My gut was telling me things like "This isn't quite right." and "This isn't our same audience, but it is similar. The diference is...". It was as if my subconscious was acting as a guide for my conscious mind to digest information and make quick decisions about the importance and relevance of my findings.


This concept of metadesign kept popping into my head during the research so I decided to take a moment and think about "What are the elements of metadesign?". It helped me stash away a train of thought that my subconscious seemed to think important. So I decided to snap a picture of it and share it and leave it for now. We'll see what role metadesign plays in this proposition if any at all...

elements of metadesign

Meeting With Ben

Something came up with a client project and Andy P wasn't able to meet with me at 2pm, so Ben Sauer kindly offered to help me think through the value proposition more clearly.

I debriefed Ben on what had happened since the workshop and told him the concept that Andy P and I had been working on. He quickly moved towards a template that would allow us to flesh out the value proposition. It was different from the template James Box had made for Hack Farm one year, and actually I think for this specific instance it worked better to help me convey the value proposition in the manner I needed to.

Ben's proposition template

At first it was a bit difficult for me to articulate, but Ben helped facilitate movement. He must have loads of experience working with people to define value propositions because it seemed second nature to him. He had an sense about what worked and what didn't and he was guiding me along the journey the whole time.

By the end of it we had the beginnings of a decent proposition and Ben finally understood my idea. We had a shared 'Aha!' moment and the energy in the room lifted greatly. It felt really good to be understood and I think Ben appreciated the role that he played as well. He was kind enough to say "It is so hard to work this stuff out on your own man, trust me. If you were to ask me half of the things that I do it would be so difficult for me to put into words like this."

I guess that's the power of collaboration, isn't it?

our initial proposition

UX Club

Soon after we had an initial proposition up on the wall, we had UX Club in the same room. I did my best to jot down my ideas and give myself anchors to move forward after UX Club.

At UX Club, we discussed Leah Buley's talk on The Modern Design Organization from UX Week 2015. I've embedded it below in case any of you are interested in watching:

Working on The Value Proposition

After UX Club I decided to break the value proposition into components so that I could pick and choose combinations of components and decide what would be the best outcome.

value proposition components

But soon the note structure of my computer reminded me of John Willshire's Popular Thing for Broken Thing workshop that we did on Day 43. So I decided to break the components into sticky notes on my desk:

sticky noting the value proposition components

I was so close to finishing the value proposition before the end of the week, but I don't have a key yet to Clearleft offices so I had to leave with the last employee. Bummer. Monday will hopefully be the last day!

Tagged: ,