Visualising Ideas

Visualising ideas in the Design Phase avoids miscommunication, aligns mental models in your team and fuels team spirit. Find a couple of examples in this article that can be used right away to visualise ideas in the Design Phase.
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Markus Sorg

Business Design Prototyper

1. Purpose

"Be visual" is one of the Guiding Principles of Business Design and essential for the success of the Design Phase. Why? Every time you create new ideas, new thoughts, new concepts and use words to describe them to other people, a fascinating translation process is tiered in people's brains. We try to translate words we hear or read back into pictures, so called "mental models". And this translation process is based on ideas and experiences from the past. Since every human being has made different experiences in his or her life, it is clear that people use different translation rules and create different mental models based on what they hear or read. Visualisation can support this translate process and reduce the variances of translate rules, which is important in Business Design.

Imagine a project team is working on a web-based platform idea to bring sellers and buyers together to sell and buy used products (e.g. ebay). The chance is high that the words "platform", "buyers", "sellers" and "used products" will trigger different "pictures" in people's brains. Is the platform 100% online or also offline? What does the platform look like? What are the key features? Are these sellers large companies or private individuals? What "used products" will be traded? Specific items versus a large collections of "everything"? How does the selling process work? Members of a project team will find individual answers and create their individual "pictures", which often prevent project teams from establishing high-performance teamwork.

And this is why we try to visualise abstract and intangible ideas and thoughts as early as possible to avoid miscommunication and low performance. Here are a couple of examples every project team can easily adopt and integrate into their projects.

2. Live Sketching

The easiest way to "be visual" is to equip your physical or virtual room setup with simple visualisation tools such as whiteboards or dedicated scribble areas to allow quick and easy visualisation during team discussions. You don't need to be a professional designer to do so. Just grab a pen and start visualising your thoughts in real-time. Furthermore, designers can also play an important role in documenting workshop results in a visual and easy-to-understand format. It is always a magic moment when professional designers start visualising a complete business model in a Design Workshop just with pen & paper or on an iPad. It's worth it! However, the designer needs to be trained in a way that he or she understands what to capture visually. It is not about making things just pretty. It is about visualising key elements of an abstract idea that allows team members to align their mental models.

3. Fake Landing Page

Another simple way to visualise a new product, service or business model concept is to build a simple landing that is supposed to tell the story of a new idea to customers, users or even investors. It is a wonderful exercise for Project Teams to think about the right wording to sell their offerings to potential customers, think about graphics and mood images to underpin the story and "call to actions" for various stakeholders. A good timing for building a fake landing page is either between the first and second day of the Design Workshop or even after the workshop to condense intermediary results into tangible output and "force" the project team to rethink the current version of the business model through the lenses of customers, users or investors. Please find a typical structure of a landing page on our article about Landing Pages in the Research Tools section. Prototyping experts are the ones who can support this process and literally build landing pages (overnight) with their favourite web frameworks. Later in the Business Design process, this landing page can be also used to run experiments in the Validate Phase.

4. Video Storytelling

Another approach is turn the DNA of a business model, for instance, into a simple animated explainer video. Animated visuals (e.g. stick figures) that are moved in and out of the video screen are supported by voiceovers telling the story. That's it! An explainer video is aimed to illustrate complex ideas in a simple and engaging way. You only need a smart phone a table and our Video Stage and you are ready to go. Similar to the exercise before, condensing a business model into a short and foremost simple story of 60 seconds is often the better approach to convey the very essence of a business model than preparing a Powerpoint slide deck. And it is even faster! We fight about every single word to present a new business to potential customers, users or even investors, which usually triggers intensive team discussions. Apart from that, the production of such videos is an effective and efficient team development exercise. It's simply fun to produce these videos. Have a look at our article about the Video Stage exercise in the Tools section.

Defining and knowing your audience is essential before you start writing your video script. The story may vary depending your audience. Typical target audience are:

  • Customers > Selling the offering

  • Project sponsor > Preparing next steps in a project

  • Potential partners > Creating shared understanding

  • Colleagues > Motivating them to join the team

  • Investors > Asking for financial resources

5. DIY Process Simulation

In some projects, the easiest way to visualise ideas is to simulate the customer process in a sort of role play. Put yourself into the shoes of potential customers and users and go through the journey yourself. This requires some preparation since customers may get in contact with certain touch points, use physical or software-based tools and interact with other stakeholders along the way. These activities and tools need to be simulated as good as possible to provide a realistic experience. You can even record your role play for documentation purposes.

6. Duration

1,5 weeks (see Design Phase)

7. Participants

8. Tools & Materials