The Vision Statement Trap

Jared Spool

June 1st, 2006

As I mentioned yesterday, having your team share a solid experience vision is a key element to successful experience design. However, an experience vision is not the same as a “vision statement.”

Recently, I was coaching a client through the process of establishing a experience design process for their organization. We got on the subject about their vision for their product, a suite of tools for application developers. The lead developer piped in and announced they had just written a vision statement for a recent customer presentation. He promptly opened up a PowerPoint presentation with a slide that read something like this:

“[the Product] will make it easy
to design and build applications
that use competitive [proprietary framework],
conform to best practices,
and are built in a highly productive manner.”

My first thought was, “This doesn’t say anything!” How is this different from what any competitor would have? Is there a competitor who wouldn’t want to “make it easy,” would advocate not using “best practices,” or consider promoting how their product prevents developers from working in “a highly productive manner?”

The problem with a vision statement like this is that it’s too generic and it doesn’t talk about the users’ experience. An experience vision describes both the current experience (what users do today) and the experience the team would like to aspire to (what users could do with the right products).

Turns out the team doesn’t really know how their customers develop applications today. They haven’t spent much time talking or watching their users use the suite of tools they already produce, or how they work with the competitors’ tools. They don’t really know the work environment or the constraints their customers are under, as they create new applications or maintain and update existing ones.

Without knowing what customers are doing today, the team really can’t start to put together their experience vision. So, the next step for these guys is to go out and do the research. Visit customers and find out how they utilize the tools they have now. That will give the team a solid understanding of the current experience.

When we’ve done this before, we’ve found that once teams have a solid current experience, the insights into how to improve it happen quickly. If you have a bright team, (and these guys are amongst the brightest I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,) their minds will kick into gear on the first visit. They’ll have all sorts of ideas on what the design could aspire to be.

The problem with innovating isn’t coming up with ideas. It’s knowing which ideas add value. Without the solid understanding of what the current experience is, you can’t possibly know that.

A vision statement put together as part of the marketing/product management effort is not the same as having a solid experience vision. Don’t let your team fall into that trap.

3 Responses to “The Vision Statement Trap”

  1. Robbin Steif Says:

    A vision statement is a picture of success. Here’s a good one: “By the end of the decade, we will put a man on the moon.” Or, “I have a dream….” By definition, it has to be more high-level than an experience vision.

    That was a long-winded way of saying, I agree.

  2. Jared Spool Says:


    I agree. “By the end of the decade, we’ll put a man on the moon.” was a great statement because it had a time frame (10 years) and a specific objective that no one else had done.

    “Make it easy and highly productive” misses those key elements.

  3. Bob Baxley Says:

    So the full quote goes like this, “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

    You can’t forget that last part, “returning him safely to the Earth.” That’s actually the critical part and the most difficult.

    Another great one is Walt Disney’s “The happiest place on Earth.” Extremely actionable and *very* experience focused.

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