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Create a Strategic Vision

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Define a project vision.
  • Describe how to create a project vision.
  • Identify why it's key to prioritize building out the story for a project vision.

A Strategic Vision

A strategic vision is an aspirational view of a future state and a point of view on what teams should build to solve the project’s design challenge. This future state could be considered in regards to anything that’s being designed: a product, service, environment, organization or experience. While a concept is the core idea of what you’re designing, a vision is how design teams communicate highlights of the strategy’s end-state to stakeholders to create buy-in and inspire excitement. A strategic vision says, “When we’re done building it, this is what it should be like.”

In a user-centered design process, teams typically use the vision to express pieces of the experience users will have with a product, service, or space in the future. You can communicate the vision with a linear storytelling narrative using storyboards, animation, or video; as vignettes or disconnected scenes; or via a built experience, where stakeholders can explore pieces of the vision that are prototyped or visually represented. 

Choosing the right format depends on the strategy you want to communicate and your team's skills and resources to create it. A quality vision is polished, well-considered, and backed by the rigorous analysis your team did during ideation and concepting.

When presenting the vision, it will need to be backed up with your research and strategic analysis, but the expression of the vision itself is a creative deliverable.

Storytelling Is Key

Regardless of the format you choose, the story you present is what makes your vision come to life, communicating the benefits to users and painting the clearest picture of what it will take to deliver on your strategy, including implications for technology, organizational structures/processes, capabilities, leadership, and other factors.

Focus your story on a scenario that’s believable, relatable, and desirable. Make it clear who the characters are, including their challenges and Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) and how your product or service fits into their lives. Center on the moments that matter for your customers and show how your product or service solves their challenges, improves their lives, and drives desired outcomes for them.

You can create an experience narrative—a linear story that focuses on a single scenario. 

The Experience Narrative

To create an experience narrative, your design team goes back to their moments that matter and JTBD. They pick a single concept to portray in this narrative and start matching the moments that matter with features from their concept. You won’t always address every moment that matters with every concept, but every standout feature in your concept should correspond with a moment that matters. So look for the ideal pairings, where a moment that matters represents a need the concept addresses well. These moments form the backbone of your story.

Once you identify the moments you want to highlight, write or sketch each on sticky notes, with one idea or moment per note. Then, arrange them in a single line, in the order that a user might encounter them. The sticky notes allow you to move moments around until the order of events in your story becomes clear and makes sense to you. Tell yourself the story out loud, going from moment to moment and from beginning to end. This is the very beginning of your storyboard.

Since the moments that matter aren’t necessarily experienced in sequence, you will likely find yourself grasping for details that make the moments work together as a cohesive storyline. Write down any details that came out of your verbal storytelling, and stick them below the respective moments. You may want to use one sticky note color for the moments and a different color for the story details. Invent any transitions you need to keep the story moving.

Next, identify the characters in your story, and create a frame at the beginning of your narrative to introduce them. Also, ensure you have an ending that shows your product or service’s impact on the central characters in your story and put those frames at the end.

Tell your story aloud a couple more times to yourself and your team. Make sure it’s not too long—this is a highlight reel, not a click-by-click walk-through. 

To learn more about creating a strategic vision using an experience narrative, let’s check in with Cloud Kicks. 

The Cloud Kicks Vision

The Cloud Kicks experience narrative features the Live Tracker concept they created earlier.

Live Tracker: Customers access a tracker, visualized as a process map, via web or phone, showing them pictures of their order and facts about Cloud Kicks’s sustainability efforts as the order travels through the manufacturing and shipping journey.

To tell the story of this concept, the Cloud Kicks design team goes back to their moments that matter and JTBD and pulls out the ones that this concept addresses. 

  • Job Statement: When I’m: waiting for my unique sneakers that I designed to arrive,
    I need a: quick and easy way to get updates about my order
    So I can: rest assured that my package is on its way, worry less about the process, and focus on how I’ll enjoy showing my shoes off to my friends.
  • Moments that matter, sketched or written on sticky notes, and put in order:
    1. Finishing a unique sneaker design
    2. Placing an order easily
    3. Getting an invitation to the Live Tracker
    4. Logging in to check on their shoes (a few days later)
    5. Sharing a picture of their shoes being manufactured on Instagram
    6. Seeing all the Likes come in
    7. Logging in to check on their shoes (a couple of weeks later)
    8. Seeing the progress and current status
    9. Getting their shoes
    10. Getting a digital thank you from Cloud Kicks on Instagram

A person arranging moments that matter to create a storyboard

You might notice that we skipped a lot in the storytelling. Any screen, interaction, or detail that doesn’t contribute to the value Cloud Kicks is delivering to the user as a result of this concept is left out. It’s a relatively long narrative even without that information. It would be a lot less impactful as a story and a lot less successful in communicating the proposed changes if we included every detail.  

Next, the Cloud Kicks team adds some context to the beginning and end of the narrative. A setup that introduces the user and their motivations and needs, and a closing frame that shows the happy user with their new custom sneakers.

Cloud Kicks can turn this storyboard into presentation materials. They can use or modify sketches or wireframes they previously created when exploring the concept, with at least one visual for each storyboard frame. They can also turn it into a video with high fidelity mockups or even animation if much of the story takes place off-screen. It all depends on what skills and resources they have available and how well their audience of stakeholders can picture creative concepts.

As a rule of thumb, the bigger and more diverse your audience is, the more likely it is to include someone who needs a higher fidelity representation of an idea to understand your concept. But watch out: You don’t want to spend a lot of time creating a high-fidelity, polished experience narrative if some sketches in a storyboard will do.

Presenting the Experience Narrative

The experience narrative is a way for all stakeholders, across teams and departments, to share a common understanding of a vision. When design teams present the vision to groups of stakeholders, there’s often a mix of disciplines represented in those groups, and each brings a different perspective to the table. 

This is helpful because you need a variety of skills to bring a concept to market successfully. Still, it also means the strategy designer has to be ready to explain the value of the concept so that stakeholders from different disciplines understand it as it relates to their work. For instance, someone with a business background might be listening for operational efficiency, while someone from product is listening for ease of implementation, and someone from marketing values differentiation. 

The team, collectively, is trying to make sure the concept is as great as it can be. But different people bring different definitions of "great," even when project goals are well defined and they're in alignment with them.

With an experience narrative, the strategy designer can focus the stakeholders on the high-level value of a given concept to a customer, which is a goal that unites them all. But jumping right into sharing the experience narrative is not always the way to set a team conversation up for success if you’re looking for alignment or approval.

Start with Context

Begin the conversation by reminding everyone about project scope and constraints, and where you are in the design process. Reiterate the challenge statement and the business goals you’re driving for with the work. 

Then you want to remind the team about the insights that inspired your concepts. When possible, use real customer quotes to bring a shared sense of compassion for customer challenges into the room. 

Once you set the stage by sharing the foundations of your strategic decisions, you can share the experience narrative.

Build a Case

After you share the narrative, you should provide a breakdown of the strategy you just shared in story format. Include a list of features with assumptions you’re making about how they’ll behave and their benefits to the customer, explain the outcomes you expect to drive, and how you recommend measuring the impact of your concept. Explain how prototyping enables you to mitigate risks and get to the right outcomes faster. Connect the dots between the business goals you set out to achieve and the vision you just presented. Anticipate questions and skepticism from your stakeholders as much as possible based on what you know of their perspectives, and get ahead of those concerns.

Get Feedback  

Next, solicit feedback from the group. You can be directive about the type of feedback you’re hoping to get, whether it’s more about the experience itself or the way a feature will interact with other existing customer journeys. For example, you might be looking for feedback on the visual design or the strategy as a whole. Whatever feels the least resolved to your team is a great topic for feedback. You’re likely to get feedback of all types and from each of the unique perspectives in the room. And you may see conflicting views arise between stakeholders.

When conflict arises, resolve it in the moment, as long as it’s constructive friction. Allowing all stakeholders to hear the nuances behind differing perspectives helps build empathy across the organization. The strategy designer’s job is to get to the heart of the conflict and the objectives or values triggering it. Ideally, the design team, understanding the nuances and differences, can spend some time outside of the meeting thinking of ways to satisfy all the needs brought up in feedback. 

You also want to leave the meeting with a good understanding of how the design team will move forward. This includes knowing what’s working, what’s not, and whether there are any significant objections to the concept as a whole or more minor objections to address. 

Gain Alignment

Aligning around a vision is essential to gaining approval and support, unlocking funding, and gathering resources to deliver it. The most common reason many projects do not make it past the initial concept phase is a lack of alignment. This is why it’s crucial to articulate the project's value to cross-functional teams and individuals to keep it moving forward. To learn more about gaining alignment during the design process, check out the Alignment as a Strategic Craft module on Trailhead.

Concepting and vision design are integral parts of the design process. When teams engage in thoughtful collaboration, brainstorming, and narrowing ideas, they arrive at well-thought-out high-level concepts that design teams can use as a basis for creating solid prototype options, and ultimately, successful products and services. 


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