FiveStars is a hyper-growth startup that provides a customer loyalty and retention platform for small businesses. When I started as head of Experience Design there, the team had only two junior-to-mid-level individual contributor designers, and no clear direction for what design strategy should look like across the platform and ecosystem. Strategic design thinking and communication is especially important in an ecosystem like FiveStars' -- the experience we were delivering crossed three personas (merchant, cashier, consumer) and four products (web-based SaaS product to provide analytics to merchants and enable them to send and track promotions to their consumers; tablet or desktop-installed software at the point of sale for the cashiers to award points and recognize who was in the store and when; and for the consumers, both Android and IOS apps to discover participating businesses, as well as a countertop tablet app to check in and view available rewards on the spot). 

A Strategy Challenge

The first thing I did when I got there was define a persona hypothesis, put together a research plan (and a hiring plan to be able to staff its execution), and both visualize and evangelize a user-centered product direction based on the evolving relationships between the three personas. The key purpose of introducing Experience Mapping was to get people talking about product strategy from an experience design perspective, across the ecosystem. As a company, we were kicking off a quarter of ambitious pilot development to demonstrate our latest thinking, and that we were making use of the most exciting technology. As we started to plan how we would implement in-store Bluetooth beacons, I heard a lot of ideas that had a lot of potential to improve the overall experience we were delivering to our customers, and to their customers and employees. By providing design structure, methodology, and vision, I hoped to avoid the common product strategy snafu I often see, especially with young companies, where they build out one spoke of a wheel like this from the center out, focusing on one persona without considering the needs of the other personas.

Examples: Design Strategy Communication



What I learned


I originally chose to draft the experience map in what I perceived to be relatively low fidelity, with some but not all hypotheses filled in, with the goal of generating balanced discussion (“if we build X for the consumer, we’ll have to add Y for the merchant and Z for the cashier, in order to make the experience of maximal benefit to everyone”). As I’ve learned many times over the course of my career, however, the level of fidelity I chose was too high. On its own, it didn’t generate the level of conversation I had hoped, because folks felt uncomfortable contributing or adding to it because it looked “too finished.”  

When I showed the experience map and explained that it was an example of a way of thinking, and then drew the circles on a white board, inviting designers and product managers to fill the sections out as applied to the product design problem under discussion at that time, it became a vibrant and useful tool for exactly what I had hoped: to get everyone thinking outside their own product line/functional area and collaborating to design an platform-level experience across personas.

Hindsight being 20/20, next time, I’d create a worksheet the first time around, with instructions for filling it out, and then do one as a sample. Certain design and development cultures need this more than others, and certainly, early stage startups do well with new tools introduced explicitly, and demonstrated for their intended purpose. Lesson gratefully learned.

As for the process diagram -- it was certainly a challenge to try to represent in a single diagram a level of detail for which many smart people (like my friend Peter Merholz) have taken an entire slide deck. It was a fantastic design thinking and design communication exercise for me -- above all because I had to put a stake in the ground as to the most critical components of the software design and development process: iteration, cross-functional communication and critique, and selecting the most appropriate research method and deliverable for the stage you're at in the product development cycle.