Tension Web

Shared on
February 26, 2020
Any Phase
Qualitative Research

You’re in the early stages of your product– in fact, it’s not even a product yet. You’ve done some preliminary market research, and now it’s time to figure out how it might attempt to satisfy those market and user needs. ✨

Early product strategy sometimes feels contradictory. It should be “non-technical but satisfy expert-users”, or it should be “low-touch but will require users to react to daily updates”.

This framework is an aid for navigating the messiness of product definition with your team and stakeholders. Use it to break down ambiguous, ill-defined design problems, and simultaneously foster discussion and alignment with your team. 🤗

How to use it ✨

On a sheet of paper or whiteboard, draw horizontal lines to represent scales. Title each scale with a category that answers an aspect of the product experience. Along each scale, elaborate on the category title by describing different flavors and manifestations of the solution. It’s ok if the number of options per scale vary.

Use tape for the lines or draw them out

Example scenario: Through your research, an insight emerged that learning and talking about mental health at a young age can lead to increased awareness of healthy lifestyle choices and coping mechanisms in the future.

Your team wants to design an experience that educates and promotes discussion about mental health amongst students. You want to define some constraints to ideate within.

Create your scales ✨

Specifically address product criteria that can’t co-exist in a product strategy or user experience. They should have tension. For example:

Primary User
Students - Educators - Parents - Professionals

Student Age
Kindergarteners - Elementary school - Secondary school - Post-secondary

Teaching Style
Flexible - Guided - Structured

Tone of Voice
Playful - Colloquial - Formal

1:1 - Group - Community

Here’s an example of a criteria that lacks tension, because all of these solutions can easily co-exist in the product. 😐

Content types
Tips - Stories - Articles

Defining the scale to create tension

Plot your decisions ✨

On each scale, plot a point that answers “What does the product experience look like?”. This is best to complete with your team, to externalize your rationale. If they cannot clearly be answered with market research, prioritize these as areas for your next research effort. Once all scales have been plotted, connect all the points to create a Tension Web. This is to string together the criteria that will build up a hypothesis.

You can and should do this multiple times, creating varying levels of tension and distribution across the scales. Track your pairings with a line as you work your way down the scale.

Define a product vision, using colored dot stickers

Create your hypotheses ✨

Create a hypothesis for each Tension Web, tracking their origin using the same colored dot stickers.

Use the same colored dots to track where the hypotheses came from

An example of some hypotheses generated from the tension webs could be:

✨If we design a friendly app for kindergarteners to learn about mental health, it will facilitate healthy conversations with their parents at home and help them form healthy habits/coping mechanisms in the future.

✨If we design an approachable app for teenagers to access to trust-worthy information and talk about mental health in a safe and supportive community, it will result in less stigma around mental health in society.

✨If we design an app that has a playful tone for delivering clinical guidance to secondary students experiencing mental health challenges, it will build a more trusting and vulnerable relationship with their counselor.

Use these hypotheses to ideate around as a team. You may even ask the user to complete this activity and then reconcile their input with the deltas from your team activity.

Download the worksheet
Download the worksheet for this framework for free, and be the first to know when new frameworks are posted.
Thanks, It's all yours!
If you like this resource, consider becoming a patron to show your appreciation and get access to more premium content.
Download PDF
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.