You don’t have to be a genius to think intuitively

From Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs, countless thinkers, artists, and inventors have acknowledged that intuition played a large role in their success. Intuition, for the purpose of this conversation, is defined as a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than from conscious reasoning. For a long time I have fought against this idea and the  genius myth it perpetuates within the technology community. It has increased the amount of people designing products for customers without truly understanding what they need and why. So much energy was focused on the idea that Steve Jobs was a genius that a lot of us missed the real story he was trying to tell.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where can I sell it.” – Steve Jobs

We don’t normally focus on the idea that the intuition Jobs leveraged looked like genius on the surface, but was actually based on years of research, a focus on customer experience, and iteration. We overlook the fact that anyone can work on building their intuition–no geniuses need apply. At Automattic we strive to be so steeped in understanding our customers that we can successfully design using intuition, getting us to the right answers faster. But building intuition takes time and relies on the iterative process of constantly revisiting data and research as new product questions emerge.

Recently our design team conducted new customer research to better understand and develop deeper empathy for the challenges and unmet needs of a customer segment we wanted to better serve but knew little about: Small business owners. This research gave us a lot of great insights and started us down the path to delivering value to our customers, but first we needed a way to digest all of this data and figure out how it could inform and shape our product. We approached the synthesis of this data through a series of interesting activities that put us on the path to thinking like our customers and exploring their experiences.

A “Day in The Life” journey

We started by creating a “Day in The Life” journey. This process included mapping out what customers are doing, thinking, feeling, and the various touchpoints (whether digital or analog) that they interact with throughout their day. The goal of this exercise is to help us consider the broader context in which our customers exist, and to think beyond the screen. By completing this exercise through the lens of our research, we gathered a deeper understanding of an average day in the life of a small business owner. This “Day in the Life” journey was our first pass of interpreting through iteration to get to intuition.

day in life
Working through a day in the life of a small business owner.

Product As Hero

Next up we wanted to get a better understanding of how the work we’d already done to better understand these customers could impact our product, so we embarked on an exercise called Product As Hero. Using a storyboard format and applying a traditional story arc, we imagined our customer struggling with adversity but then overcoming it thanks to the “hero,” our product. The goal was to start thinking about an idealized vision for the future of the product, placing it directly within a customer’s day to day context, and determining where we could directly solve for the challenges they experience.

product as hero
How to shape a hero storyboard

Value Proposition Canvas

From our Product Hero exercise, we moved to create a value proposition canvas. The goal of this canvas is to drill down and get more specific on how we might deliver direct value to our customers. During this part of synthesis, we looked at customers’ potential jobs to be done, their pains points and the areas where they stood to gain. In a nutshell, we were trying to clarify why someone would want to be our customer. A true value proposition should meet three key guidelines:

  • It should explain how our product satisfies customer jobs, relieves points of friction or pain, or creates gains for them. This is the proposition’s “relevancy.”
  • It should deliver specific benefits. This is “quantified value.”
  • It should tell our ideal customer why they should buy from us and not from the competition. This is “unique differentiation.”
Shaping our value proposition canvas

Discovery Sprint

This core design exercise helped us to narrow in on and prioritize three main problem areas: The first time experience, showing immediate value in using our product, and assisting our customer’s with solving their marketing and business admin needs. Our design team then broke into three squads, with each squad working through a “discovery sprint” based on the value proposition canvases we’d created and the other product ideation exercises we’d completed along the way.


Movement towards the future

Our research data and product ideation based on identified customer needs revealed how interconnected our three areas of focus really were. We realized that we needed to take a step back and think through our customers’ complete experience in order to get a clear vision of what we wanted the future of to be. It helped us to see where we could make small, iterative improvements to our existing product today, but also highlighted entirely new areas for future opportunity. 

As we completed these exercises, something started to happen: We became one with our small business owners. We went from simply reviewing our qualitative research data to speaking as small business owners. We celebrated their successes, empathized with their pains, and advocated for their needs. We grew our intuition to move beyond assumptions and bias into a keen instinct for what our customers actually wanted and needed.

Core Automattic Design Principle:

Intuition is grounded in interpretation through iteration

By following this customer-centric design process, we’re moving our product towards the same kind of intuition that has changed the world through legendary experiences.


By Courtney Burton Doker

Design systems practitioner, design director, product designer, collage artist, and amateur zine publisher. Inspired by the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.