Utilizing Growth Design to create a better experience for our customers

One of the greatest benefits of working at Automattic is that I’m continuously challenged by my colleagues to be a better designer. We have an incredible pool of diverse talent with different perspective from all over the world, which means that we’re all in a position to teach and to be taught.

A few weeks ago a fellow colleague of mine, Luca Sartoni, taught a Growth and Marketing class during our annual company retreat. As a designer, I knew I wanted to take this class since it would give me more insight on the methodologies and processes of proper growth design (or growth hacking as its commonly referred to)—being able to plan, test, and deploy much faster to discover what’s effective and what’s not for our products and the users they serve.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated as a designer is rapid iteration. The world is always changing and people are evolving. By the time you create a design and are ready to ship it, it’s probably out-of-date. Nothing will ever be perfect because perfection doesn’t exist—just look at optimization. Nothing can ever be perfectly optimized. The closer you get to it, the more time consuming and more expensive it gets. SEO experts can attest to this. Thankfully, you certainly can become much faster and much more efficient. And that’s something to work for.

A visualization of the growth funnel

A visualization of the growth funnel
A visualization of the growth funnel

The growth funnel is a linear breakdown of how to grow a business or product. There are several variations of this funnel, but one of the more popular is the AAARR model—Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue.



Jetpack Booth at WordCamp Europe 2017. Humans not shown. Photo by
Jetpack Booth at WordCamp Europe 2017. Humans not shown. Photo by

First and foremost, people need to know a product or service exists. Whether it be in a digital capacity or the physical world, get out there and market your goods. If folks don’t know you’re out there, you can’t provide them with a good user experience.

In the land of Jetpack we pursue many paths of awareness. Folks can often see us in front of our booth at events like WordCamps and other conferences. We also pursue driving awareness in other avenues like, social media, outlets, partnerships, and more.

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth driving awareness, either. The bigger problems your product solves and the better the user experience you deliver, the more folks will drive awareness for you. The great thing is that word-of-mouth transcends the digital and physical realms!

It’s important to note that every single channel you use to drive awareness can be analyzed and tested. Some are harder than others to test though—like driving awareness at events (and radio for that matter). There aren’t any digital gates where we can simply tracks people coming through.



Often the Awareness and Acquisition parts of the funnel are grouped into one, but acquisition really digs a little deeper than awareness. Acquisition is when a potential customer or user begins to get engaged with your product or service. This may include signing up / following your blog, following you on various social media platforms, or starting a free trial.

In my personal opinion, this is one of the most crucial and fragile points in the growth funnel. I’ve seen a lot of businesses attempting to group awareness and acquisition into a single step and fail. For example, have you ever visited a website attempting to learn about something and within 5 seconds you’re presented with a full screen “SIGN UP NOW” dialog? Chances are you immediately close it out and attempt to resume on your information seeking journey, annoyed. The aforementioned company may have just blown their chance at acquisition, and thus, the potential customer or user will not be moving further through the funnel.



Activation is when a person is actually converted to a user of your product or service. This is also the opportunity you have as a business owner to really drive home the value of your product to a person. What value can you offer to this person? What problems does it solve for them? Of course these are questions you’ll want to answer in the awareness and acquisition part of the funnel, but you need to actually show it now!

Depending on the businesses’ perspective, activation may be attributed to free customers (non-paying customers) or only customers who pay. Depending on which a business qualifies as a “activated” customer may change the remainder of the funnel as well.



This is your opportunity to continuously drive value for your user in order to keep them from leaving. The retention portion of the funnel is fairly open-ended as opposed to the first few steps which happen in succession. Retention can occur at day three or year three. Keep improving your service and keep showing your customer those improvements.

Jetpack Newsletter email outlining new features and how-tos
Jetpack Newsletter email outlining new features and how-tos

Retention can be as simple as an email with a coupon or feature release post on social media. Or can be as complicated as a complete rebuild of your product!



As a mention above, Word-of-mouth advertising is great for driving awareness of your product. However, its also part of the referral step of the growth funnel. Aside from that, there are a lot of efforts you can employ to actively trigger referrals. A great example f that, which we employ within the Jetpack plugin to drive value for our customers are sharing features. We allow users to setup sharing tools for posts and pages to allow their viewers to share and refer content. This is sort of a 3-tier value for us, as well. Since we drive value for our customers, which in-turn can drive referral value for us.


Inside view of our affiliate program information brochure
Inside view of our affiliate program information brochure


Another tool that we’ve recently implemented is our Jetpack affiliate program. Again, this is a 3-tier relationship where our users can promote Jetpack for a mutually beneficial relationship.



Image of a pricing page layout concept for

Revenue is the anchor end of the growth funnel. The most crucial part for any business to grow. It’s the part of the funnel where folks are actively using your product or service and paying you for it. It’s at this stage in which we can see how all the previous stages are converting to the bottomline. As Luca mentioned in his class, it’s important to avoid rushing this step—often times attempting to procure payment from a potential customer can be detrimental to the potential relationship. Don’t destroy a users trust before you’ve even acquired it!


How all this works to create a better experience for our users

Growth design is yet another tool to empathize with users / customers in order to construct better solutions.

Many designers debate the usefulness of growth design / hacking in regards to the craft of design. The argument is that, if something is design correctly, you don’t need growth design. But the fact of the matter is that is precisely what growth design answers—it analyzes the effectiveness of design in order to improve it. Through various degrees of planning, testing, and deploying, we’re able to get answers to the questions we’re all asking. We don’t know if a design or assumed solution to a problem is going to be the right one until we ship it and analyze its usage. The more we test, the more optimized our solutions will be.

The key here is that growth design increases mindfulness—mindfulness of what works and doesn’t work for our customers and our potential customers. By starting with a hypothesis and then testing it, we’re able to gather data that gives us more insight.

It’s also important to realize that tracking metrics incessantly is always the first indicator of when things are broken—both from a fundamental and technical standpoint. Either you’re not driving enough value for your customers & potential customers, or there’s a bug present that’s causing some problems. Perhaps there’s a fundamental flaw with a feature’s ability to solve a problem. Through testing we can actually learn to empathize more effectively (I consider user interviews a form of testing as well). Or if there’s a technical issue with one—the process of growth design monitors all of it.

Of course, this introductory article just begins to scrape the surface of the growth funnel. We can dig much deeper into the proper methodologies and processes of growth design. Stay tuned for more!


(Big thank you to Luca who took the time to teach the foundation of proper growth and marketing design, it was an immeasurable learning experience for me)


By Jeff Golenski

Multidisciplinary designer and photographer with 20+ years of experience in tech. Dedicated to helping others and pushing innovation on the web. Always learning something new.