Practical Design: Messaging

by Dominika Blackappl8/8/2016

Design doesn’t have to be complicated, intimidating, or expensive. In an early stage startup design serves one purpose: helping you understand your users. To that end, design encompasses more than formal product execution, logos and layouts, it also means user observation, clear messaging, MVP specs, concise pitches and more.

I’ve set out to create a set of free tools to demystify design and help founders materially improve their user understanding. This is the second tool in the series. The first was focused on User Observation. Coming up: Pitch Deck Design, Design Brief Creation, and MVP Spec.

These tools are all designed to drive action. I hope they can lower the barrier to entry around thoughtful design by helping you learn by doing. Interactive versions of each tool are available on my site as they’re released.


Messaging Tool
This an excerpt. The full, interactive version is available here.

Great businesses are marked by the founder’s ability to state clearly what the value to the customer is and how their business delivers that value. The most common mistake founders make is interchanging the value of their business – with how the business delivers the value, often the technology.

For example, the value of Zappos in the early days was not the free delivery of any number of shoes and a 365 day return policy. It was access to the largest selection of shoes. The free delivery, return policy, and intuitive site design were the enabling infrastructure, not the value itself.

The Messaging Tool helps you refine how you communicate the value of your product. It also suggests a landing page layout hierarchy to better educate potential users. To get started you have to ask yourself four questions and answer them in the most succinct, least jargony way possible.

What is the value proposition of your business?
Zappos puts any pair of shoes on your feet.

How does your business deliver its value to your customer?
Zappos delivers any number of pairs of shoes to your door with fast, free shipping and returns. You have 365 days to decide whether you want to keep the shoes or return them for a full refund.

How does it work?
– Choose any number of shoes and sizes from the largest online shoe store.
– We will deliver the shoes to your door, in two days, free of charge.
– You have 365 days to decide whether you’d like to keep the shoes or return them for a full refund. The return shipping is on us.

What can your customer do right now?
Order now!

You can find an interactive version of this tool on my site.


  • Dominika Blackappl

    Dominika Blackappl is a designer and Part-Time Partner at Y Combinator.