27 Jun 2019 by Christopher Nash
Let’s give it the old UX Business Model Canvas trick


As I’ve written and spoken about previously, as a UX practitioner of any stripe, you bring more value to a UX project if you are able to dig into both the user and business sides of the equation, and in my experience, we tend to focus our time and attention on user needs.

There is a trick I’ve used to bring my project awareness back to a more central and higher level position. This tip — a simple thought exercise — can help break you out of the myopia of UX design fiddling and have you approach the project and client at hand from a higher, business level.

What is the Business Model Canvas?

Many of you are well aware of the Business Model Canvas. But I’ve found that it’s wrong to assume that everyone does. In fact, when I give talks to UX designers and ask the room who’s heard of Business Model Canvas, only a few hands go up.

Business Model Canvas is a simple template and collaborative approach for developing new (or documenting existing) business models, and building an understanding of them from multiple stakeholders. From Wikipedia:

Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean startup template for developing new or documenting existing business models. It is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. It assists firms in aligning their activities by illustrating potential trade-offs. The Business Model Canvas was initially proposed by Alexander Osterwalder based on his earlier work on Business Model Ontology.”

You can find books and apps and videos and presentations and workshops galore online that support, explain and trumpet the use of BMC. You can also download the blank PDF template directly from the Strategyzer site. It’s absolutely worth doing a deep dive into BMC on its own. But for the purpose of this UX practitioner exercise, we’re simply borrowing BMC to trick our brains into leveling the areas of focus from skewing heavily towards user needs, to a balance of user and business needs.

The exercise

Here’s how it works, and why we want to try it.

First, the steps:

  1. Print off a blank Business Model Canvas.
  2. Have a seat.
  3. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
  4. Fill out the canvas building blocks, in the shoes of the owner/CEO/president of the organization for whom you’re doing the project work.

Why the time-box of 15 minutes? Because this exercise is not about doing the actual BMC. Now, if you want to actually do up a detailed canvas, I certainly encourage it. It’s a very cool tool and the fact that it’s a thing means there’s a chance of common vocabulary and reference points when you need them, instead of constantly inventing your own process.

The time-box reinforces the fact this is a game, or thought experiment, designed to help you get out of your own head, and think about your project from a different and crucial perspective.

Which brings us to why we’re bothering to take the time to do this. The goal of this UX exercise is not to come up with a truly definitive, ACTUAL business model. The goal is to spark questions in your head that come from a business success point of view. As you fill out the canvas, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Did you feel stumped by any particular section? Why?
  • Where are the gaps in your knowledge? What’s obvious?
  • What are the trade-offs baked in to the product and organization that your project lives within?
  • Who do you need to talk to in order to fill in the gaps? Where else can you look for answers?
  • How does knowing things such as the value proposition, customer segments and revenue streams impact your perspective of what you are designing or building?

These are the kinds of considerations you need in your head, your discussions and your work in order to have business needs be part of mix.

They point you to areas where you need to learn more, in order to produce a service or product that hits the sweet spot of where user and business needs overlap, as well as uncover areas of strength you can lean into.

And what if you have a client who themselves (hypothetically) wouldn’t be able to fill out a Business Model Canvas for his or her own business? Sit down and do this exercise together. Not only is it a good tool for them to become aware of, but by using it to prompt some thinking around the BMC sections, you can have some breakthroughs in conversation and common understanding together.

Good things come from having common understanding, right?

Do you have any other tips or tricks you use to get yourself in the place of a business owner in a given project?

18 Jun 2019 by Christopher Nash

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