Download the Essential Experience Canvas

Use this canvas for solo work or workshops, whenever you need to create solutions for customers. This value proposition canvas will help you to:

  • Create services people love, by tapping onto their needs and emotions

  • Create alignment between customer and business needs

  • Go straight to the creation of concrete outcomes that tackle these needs.

Free PDF file. No sign up required.

Understanding people's reactions to needs may help you create better solutions

— Starts with a purpose

One of the pillars of human-centric design is the importance of empathising with end-users during the design process. When a designer empathises with the user, they are able to understand the context in which a new solution will be used.

The ultimate example for me is when Bill Gates was developing the Tiger Toilet system, to sanitize human waste in developing countries. While the solution was technically sound, utilisation rates were suboptimal. It was Melinda Gates who, looking closer into the people's habits, understood that a mother would not be able to ender the cabin with her baby, and thus would not leave her baby outside, alone. This is context. This is empathic, user-centric design.


However, despite being at the core of the design activity, there is no "formula" to empathise with another human being. It's a certain "aha!" moment that happens when you acknowledge and feel the need of someone else. Thus, there is no systematized practice for that, in design work. It is just assumed that, at some point, the designer will have that flash of genius and empathise with the subject.

I have always seen this as a weakness in the method. I am sure most researchers will empathise with their subjects. But the lack of a systematic approach and framework for, specifically, the empathic process, has bothered me.

In order to ensure the empathic process in the design process, I have spent months researching a known, worldwide accepted framework for empathy: nonviolent communication.

Image by Ross Sneddon

Rosenberg's method is divided into four components


Nonviolent communication: an overlooked remedy to understand one another


Nonviolent communication is a technique developed in the 60s-70s by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, phD, as a methodology to resolve conflicts. Rosenberg launched a book in 1999, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, in which he summarizes the principles.


The practice has been applied to family conflicts, workplace cultures, schools and even official peace missions with the UN, to find dialogue between tribes and countries going through armed conflicts. Rosenberg has created a frame to listen and responding to the needs of everyone involved in the conversation.

Application to Service and Strategic Design: pathfinding more empathic design outcomes

— This is purpose

I have adapted them, slightly, so that they fit better the already existing design methodologies, such as lean startup and the double diamond.

Nonviolent communication can break grounds in designing experiences for employees, B2C and B2B services, as designers are able to harvest opportunities created by the emotional responses made visible to customer needs. It is a complementary and very necessary field to explore and respond to with design solutions.

Designers have always been responding to needs with concrete solutions — how is that different? The opportunity is that nonviolent communication is known to supercharge the empathic responses, by radically exposing the needs and feelings attached to them. 

So this is not meant to be a disagreement to the design method. The following steps are typical parts of the design process: discovery, ideation, validation. However, here, I offer a mixed approach that places the emphasis on the reading of emotions and needs from customers.

Not pains, nor gains: needs and emotions

So instead of assessing pains and gains, which are judgements

and assumptions of specific situations, I preferred to use the needs of customers and unwrap them by discussing the emotions they trigger. 

Not benefits, not gain creators — just features

Plus, the difference between "gain creators" and "pain relievers", or the differences between "experience" and "benefit", always felt hard to spot and a bit fluffy. So here we hop into features that can address needs and emotions.

What are features, though?

Buttons? Functionalities? I would use a broad scope, making a "feature" anything that addresses needs and emotions. It could be a button on an app, the tone of voice of an interface, a purpose addition to a company or the look-and-feel of a brand.

Focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing.

Marshall Rosenberg,  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life


Discovering people with Empathic Data

Here the designer takes a data-agnostic approach, getting rid of the prejudice against digital data, and considering it insight into the mind and private behavior of the multitude of individuals. Furthermore, the designer ensures that a sample of strategically selected individuals are observed in their day to day life, the jobs they need to get done, interviews a targeted sample to get the ethnographic context. It's the combination of multitude and individual that gives relevant, unprecedented insight into the customers we are designing for.

The designer will combine qualitative data about individuals and quantitative data about the multitude (that is, the sum of a large number of individuals involved with the service). Plus, they will include into the insight pool the market trends affecting culture and the world around these customers. That's how the designer is able to make an informed choice about who to impact. Design must be considered in a business context, after an evaluation of the impact we are able to create with the new service or product. 

Your tools

  • Interviews

  • Ethnographic studies

  • Service safaris

  • Community discussion

  • Surveys

  • CRM (Customer-Relationship Manager) data

  • User Analytics data

  • Heatmaps and clickmaps such as those from HotJar

  • Keyword Search Behavior such as SEMRush

  • Keyword Search volumes such as SEMRush

Image by Luke Chesser
Image by Kevin Grieve

Discovering needs

Discovering the jobs to be done must come from understanding the different dimensions of one's needs 

Here we dive into the needs we are trying to fulfill with our solution. It is basically the theory of the jobs-to-be-done. Each need can be reevaluated after the corresponding emotion is listed.

For example, you may include to this part of the process: "I need to go jogging everyday". You will conclude that "I feel energized when I do that". So the need is, instead, to feel energized, and other activities could be a substitute.


You may notice that this hypothetical subject also lists as needs "I need company in the mornings, because I am working remotely". So a different activity than jogging, such as team sports, may be a solution.

Which feelings may come to life?

Designers must expand or mitigate the emotions triggered by met and unmet needs

This is where the canvas works beyond pains and gains. Each need triggers a specific emotion on us.


When needs are met, we have a specific emotional outcome. Generally, it is a positive one. When meets are not met, we have another outcome. Usually, a negative emotion.

Mapping these reactions to our needs being met and not being met allows designers to harness a variety of nuances to the features they are designing.

At once, they are able to create solutions that tackle needs, but that also expand and operate within the positive emotional outcomes of the user. 

Furthermore, the value proposition of the solution in question is made clear, and we are able to tell a lot about the problems our solution will prevent.

There is no need to list  emotional drivers, rational drivers, fears, pains or threats. Those are second-degree judgements from the designers. By focusing on needs met and unmet, you have a nuanced emotional landscape that will guide your design work with great clarity.

Image by Devon Divine
Online Orders

Responding to needs and emotions with specific features

The creative outcome is a response to needs and the triggered emotions

Most canvases focus on making blurry differentiations between "gain creators" and "pain relievers", or "benefits" and "experiences". 

In this model, features are anything that is created as a response to the users needs or emotions. It's that simple.

Features are concrete, they can be built, developed and implemented. The outcomes of the designed features will fulfill the exact needs from the end user. And the features will also expand the good emotions, or help to manage the bad ones.


The emotions define the nature of your solution, the emotional field they play: should you create a reassuring service? Or a fun service? Should your value proposition be around bringing safety, joy, warmth, familiarity or status? All this depends a lot on the emotions that the customer brings around their needs.

A feature can be the color scheme of your site, the tone of voice of your brand, the type of host your shop offers. They define

Validation: the gap between discovering needs and discovering if your solution actually meets them

There is much debate about when to connect with customers. If you have resources for only a few interviews, should you use them to discover the problem or to validade the solution?


It's a difficult choice. What is mandatory is a connection in the beginning and a reconnection when the solution is sketched. If you really can only interview people either in discovery phase or in reconnecting phase, use quantitative data as a strong partner to cross-validate your assumptions.


For example, if you conducted long interviews in the beginning of an app launch, a simple website describing the features in detail will give you strong insight about your  solution. You will need to pay marketing ads for traffic, but it does give you good insight.

Similarly, if you are improving a service, creating an A/B test is inequivocal insight on which version gets more attention.

The truth, as they say, is never pure and rarely simple. So make the most of your empathic data — learn how to extract the empathy and the insights from any data source, and you will be moving the project forward.

Image by Charles Deluvio

Download the Essential Experience Canvas

Use this canvas for solo work or workshops, whenever you need to create solutions for customers. This value proposition canvas will help you to:

  • Create services people love, by tapping onto their needs and emotions

  • Create alignment between customer and business needs

  • Go straight to the creation of concrete outcomes that tackle these needs.

Free PDF file. No sign up required.