Discovering value for the customer and the organisation

Imagine you have this exciting new idea. You think it’s absolutely brilliant and so does your team. You spend a lot of time developing it and bringing it to market. Unfortunately, your potential customers are far less excited. Even worse, they completely ignore your product. In other words, you based your design on the wrong assumptions and you have wasted time, energy and money. Prototyping could have prevented this.


‘Prototyping and business models’ is the second session provided by the Service Science Factory during the MaastrichtMBA’s educational week, and an integral part of Design Thinking. Carmen Vonken, project leader at the Service Science Factory: “Prototyping is very common in product and software design, but not yet in services. It’s an effective and cheap way to further explore your ideas, ask questions and find out if all your team members are on the same page. It takes place in the early stages of development, when there are still plenty of possibilities to twist and tweak your idea. And the good news: you can do it as often as you like! Prototyping is the best way to test your assumptions, learn more about your customers and improve your ideas. It’s an essential step in the design thinking process.”

Genuine feedback please!

“Prototyping is also used for validation”, Carmen explains. “Keep in mind that an opinion is easily given and may differ from behaviour. So, don’t ask the customer if they would buy the product or service, but if they are willing to invest in it! Make sure that the feedback is genuine. A third aspect of prototyping is communication. What is the USP? What is the proposition? Thinking about it, discussing it and writing it down clarifies the idea in your mind and in that of your customers which brings it to life.”

Customer journey

Prototyping can be anything from a simple sketch to mock-ups; life-size cardboard models to more advanced prototypes. They can be digital, physical, scripts or role plays. “Anything that helps you to find out how the product or service works, feels or looks. What features are in or out, who is involved and how, what makes it unique and how it creates value. You need to be as specific as possible.” An often-used prototyping tool is the customer journey. Carmen: “A visualisation of the processes your customer goes through when purchasing your service or product. It’s basically a list of steps, starting even before the customer is considering the purchase and ends when they are using it. A customer journey provides insight into the whole experience of your customer and their underlying needs, frustrations and delights. When drawing it, a lot of questions and assumptions about the usability, desirability and viability will pop up. It delivers insights that help you to (re)shape your idea, improve your services and develop new ideas and business opportunities. Albert Heijn, for instance, found out that customers have trouble making a shopping list. So, they incorporated the ‘shopping list’ as a new feature in their app, and now the AH experience begins at home.”

Value for the organisation

The Business Model Canvas is an often-used business tool to visualise all the building blocks for your business. Where prototyping is all about the value for the customer, the business model describes the value to your organisation. Carmen describes it as a great tool to help you understand your business model and the disruptiveness of it.

  • Backstage disruption for instance describes what could be done differently to scale the business. An example is IKEA, letting its customers assemble the furniture themselves.
  • Frontstage disruption is about finding ways to connect differently with your customers. For instance, Albert Heijn delivering recipes and the necessary ingredients all in one box at home.
  • Profit formula disruption is about unlocking new revenue streams. A good example is the tool company Hilti; instead of just selling tools they started renting out tools.


In short, the Business Model Canvas leads to insights about the customers you serve, the value propositions you offer and through which channels, and how your company makes money.” Carmen summarises: “By using prototyping and the Business Model Canvas you work through the fundamental elements of your product and service in relation to your organisation, thereby structuring your idea in a coherent way and greatly increasing your chances of success!’’



This article was conducted in cooperation with the recently launched UMIO – Prime platform, an initiative of UMIO | Maastricht University and the Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics.

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