I like to think of a product description as a matrix: One quadrant describes the functionality, another one the user journeys and interactions. There is a third quadrant that captures the visual design, and a final one for the nonfunctional properties such as performance, robustness, and interoperability. All four have to be present and fit together to create a product with a great user experience, as the following picture illustrates.
The four areas above are best covered by different techniques. User stories work well for the product functionality. Scenarios, workflows, and storyboards are great to describe the journeys. Sketches and mock-ups capture the design, and constraint stories describe the nonfunctional properties, as shown in the picture below. No single technique can handle all four aspects equally well.
There is another reason why a holistic product description is beneficial especially for new products and new features: It helps you identify all relevant assumptions and risks. If you only write user stories, chances are that you are unaware of the interaction and design risks. This may result in late failure or a poor user experience.
For instance, every now and then when I shop online, I come across a website that asks me to select the payment type before allowing me to enter the payment details on the next page. Unfortunately, I typically forget to make the right choice in the first step. As a consequence, I have to go back to the initial page to correct my selection and then move on to the details page. As my payments details are lost, I have to re-enter them. While this experience may be good to test my patience, it certainly does not make me want to use the website again. Considering and validating the user interaction could have easily resulted in a better design and in a more pleasant user experience.
A handy tool to capture and manage the four aspects is the Product Canvas. The canvas provides three major sections: The first section is called “Target Group” and describes the users and customers with their needs in form of personas. The second section named “Big Picture” outlines the desired user experience and describes the important user journeys, product capabilities, design ideas, and nonfunctional properties. The third section called “Product Details” captures the goal or hypothesis of the next cycle together with actionable items, which may be written as ready stories.
The Big Picture section plays a key role in capturing the four pieces, as the following sample canvas shows:
The picture above is an extract of the Product Canvas I used to create the current version of my website, romanpichler.com. The Big Picture section in the middle contains epics to describe the product functionality, storyboards to capture the user interactions, design sketches to illustrate important design ideas, and a performance constraint. It provides a coarse-grained but holistic description of the product. For more information on the canvas, please visit the Product Canvas tool page, which also provides a downloadable template.
When you create a new product or when you make bigger changes to an existing one, take a holistically holistic approach. Describe the relevant user journeys, the product functionality, the visual design, and the nonfunctional properties. Neglecting one of them is likely to result in a suboptimal user experience, which may well have a negative impact on the success of your product.
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