I've been teaching a design class at the University of GA this fall semester and it's stretched me a lot in terms of how to communicate the best way to approach a new project. I've currently got the students going through the process of writing user stories and designing user flows for their final projects.

During this time I came up with a simple acronym to use as a framework for developing these user stories and flows.

A series of dots progressing from left to right. The first dot being a W, the middle dot as Os, and the last dot as another W.

If you can identify the WOW before you begin your project, it will make your life much easier by providing some necessary boundaries around your task.

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a new workout plan, writing a novel, or designing a new app. This WOW framework is essentially the “Google maps” directions for getting you where you need to go.

Note: This framework is nothing "new" per se, it's just my own personal way of remembering things and connecting the dots. Perhaps you'll find it useful too.

W. number 1: Where are you?

The first W is all about developing a baseline* before you begin. If you’re designing for someone else you can also apply this to your targeted user with a pronoun modification—“Where are they?”

*Baseline, as defined by Merriam-Webster...

1: a line serving as a basis; especially : one of known measure or position used (as in surveying or navigation) to calculate or locate something

2: either of the lines on a baseball field that lead from home plate to first base and third base and are extended into the outfield as foul lines

3: a boundary line at either end of a court (as in tennis or basketball)

4: a usually initial set of critical observations or data used for comparison or a control

5: a starting point

For this context we’ll use number 4, an initial set of critical observations used for a control.

If I told you to travel from your current location to San Diego, California you’d first need to know where you where traveling from.

Ask 1,000 people all over the world to travel to the same place, and their starting point will be much different. Some similarities will exist, but overall the path to their destination will be highly specific to their current location.

In the context of designing an app, information about the target user, especially about the problems they’re facing, is critical for developing a baseline for where they are.

You need to know where someone is before you can direct them where to go. Asking as many questions as possible about the starting context is crucial for defining your first W.

W. number 2: Where are you going (and why)?

Let's temporarily skip the O. and skip to the last W.

You can’t effectively plan a trip if you don’t know where you’re going. If you say, “I should go on a vacation.” You’d never go.

But if you said, “I should go to San Diego the first week of November this year.” You’d have a lot more to work with. You’d have a goal and a measurement for success. Did you make it to San Diego? The first week of November?

If you’re designing an app, a website, or anything else there has to be a goal. Every strategy and tactic should point towards this second W. It needs to be measurable, not some vague “tell people about the service.”

Goals that are not measurable, will not yield much success. Make it measurable.

As an extra bonus, make sure you have a very clear WHY as well, attached to this last W. The WHY will give you clarity and motivation when things get hard.

O. Obstacles

Once you’ve defined your starting and ending Where, you can now identify the Obstacles of your journey.

The obstacles are critical pieces of the equation in your travels. Each one becomes a new mini-goal, pointing you towards your main target.

Beware of Target Fixation.

Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object. The phenomenon is most commonly associated with scenarios in which the observer is in control of a high-speed vehicle or other mode of transportation, such as race-car drivers, fighter pilots, motorcyclists, mountain bikers, and surfers. In such cases, the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they steer in the direction of their gaze, which is often the ultimate cause of a collision.

In other words, if you’re fixated on the end goal alone, you may not efficiently and effectively deal with the obstacles in your path.

If you’re so hell-bent on traveling in a straight line towards your goal, you may not realize you’re hiking up mountain to the very peak, just to go down the other side. When it would’ve been much easier and less dangerous to simply walk around it’s base.

Make sure the obstacle you’re trying to conquer is truly worthy of your time and effort. Some obstacles sit directly in your path with no way around them, others are an illusion that you can cleverly work around.

Also, make sure the obstacles are directly based off of the first W. Every necessary obstacle should be strung together and built upon the previous with as much correlation as possible.


Next time you’re tasked with a new project, think about the WOW framework and how it can help you make the most efficient progress towards your goal.

  • W—Where is the user, currently?
  • O—What are the obstacles in their way?
  • W—Where are you taking them to accomplish their goal? Why?