Business model design

Better by Measure Class at SVA’s Products of Design

Rebecca Silver and I are evolving our Products of Design experiment. From… teaching sustainable design as a silo… to teaching social, civic, and environmental design into startups and entrepreneurship.



Syllabus below:

Better by Measure 


Shaping new business models to address environmental outcomes, social justice, and civil society


    • Jen van der Meer: @jenvandermeer
    • Rebecca Silver: @rgsilver



Merging best practices from startup accelerators with those from design research, environmental management, and social impact, Better by Measure offers second year Products of Design masters students the opportunity to design and build startups from the ground up, while fundamentally embracing environmental, social, and human health goals within core strategic offerings.


    • Designing in systems: Students will learn core principles of systems thinking including feedback loops, leverage points, etc. and use this as a guiding framework throughout the class.
    • Generating and validating business model hypothesis: Students will develop business concepts and validate assumptions through the work of customer discovery, getting out of the class room to talk to customers, partners, and experts.
  • Using business as a structure to understand and solve environmental, social, and health issues: Products of Design students are deeply aware of key environmental, social, and health issues. Students will simulate the experience of entrepreneurship to use their skills and craft in business as an instrument of positive change.
    • Demonstrating measurable outcomes: Students will practice with existing and nascent tools available to measure impact outcomes.
    • Exploring the relationship between environmental, social, and health issues and behavior change: Students will learn about behavior change theories and frameworks for running design experiments.
    • Building and testing service/product prototypes: Through iterative concept and prototype development students will learn how to simultaneously build and test potential solutions against social impact, environmental, and economic criteria.
    • Marketing, persuasion, and negotiation skills: Through customer discovery and customer development, students will increase their confidence and ability to talk and negotiate with customers, funders, and partners to manifest their ideas.
  • Learning quantitative research and assessment: Students will be expected to perform rigorous quantitative as well as qualitative research and analysis. 


  • Service/Product/Business Model Development:
    • Lean LaunchPad methodology
    • Elements of business model development & the Business Model Canvas
    • Customer Discovery
    • Risk/Benefit analysis
    • Concept development
    • Prototyping and testing
    • Customer Development
    • Negotiation
    • Organic marketing
    • Strategy & goal setting
  • Social Impact/Sustainability Skills/Tools:
    • “Hotspot” impact identification & risk assessment
    • Materiality analysis/assessment
    • Policy regulatory frameworks
    • Stakeholder mapping and assessment and engagement
    • Eco/Social/Health Design approaches & guidance for implementation
    • Futures/scenario planning
    • Accounting and reporting frameworks/tools
  • Research Skills:
  • Scientific and data-driven research
  • Customer Discovery
  • Consumer behavior change strategies


  • Weekly minor assignments: Each week students will make progress toward developing and refining their concepts by sharing incremental progress; specific minor assignments shared in class each week.
  • Readings: Students will be expected to read selected works to complement learning objectives.
  • Customer discovery: Students will validate business model hypothesis through direct conversations in field with customers.
  • Startup concept: Design of a new startup concept and services to build upon assigned company’s platform, or disrupt assigned company; concept will include value proposition, target market, issues/impacts addressed, and risks/benefits (economic).
  • Prototype: Physical/digital prototype and results of user testing of prototype for services/products.
    • Impact assessment: Analysis of what environmental, civic, health and business issues the solution would address and to what end, including a quantitative full-cost assessment of risks/benefits and/or evaluation of impacts using accounting frameworks discussed in class.

Implementation strategy: Recommendations for next steps to inform and develop a scaling strategy or continue concept development and testing.


This is a living syllabus and thus is subject to change



Week 1: September 4th – Becoming Better by Measure

  • Themes/Topics: Class manifesto
  • Core Activity: Interviews for teams, intro to business model canvas 

Week 2: September 11th – Value Creation & Erosion

  • Themes/Topics: Business School – Better know a business model
  • Core Activity: Team assignments and concept development
  • Homework Due:
  • Five concepts for your startup

Week 3: September 18th – Defining Social & Environmental impacts

  • Themes/Topics: Science Lab – Measuring environmental and social impacts; Business School – Lean customer discovery
  • Core Activity: Customer discovery
  • Homework Due:
  • Refined one-two concepts for your startup
  • Target customer identification 

Week 4: September 25th – Reducing Health Impacts

    • Themes/Topics: Science Lab – Measuring health impacts; Business School – Lean customer discovery part two (hypothesis testing)
    • Core Activity: Scenario building using business model canvas
  • Homework Due:
    • Final startup concept
    • Key hypotheses to test
    • Findings from customer discovery interviews (10 interviews per team)


Week 5: October 2nd – What’s Material?

  • Themes/Topics: Stakeholders, scenario building & materiality assessment
  • Core Activity: Materiality assessment
  • Homework Due: Working business model canvas for company (and iterative scenarios)
    • Validated hypotheses (or invalidated)
    • Pivots to business model canvas
    • Key hypotheses to test
    • Findings from customer discovery interviews (10 interviews per team)

Week 6: October 9th – Measured Impact

    • Themes/Topics: Business School – Operating models, risk benefit analysis; Science Lab – Quantifying impacts part one – Risk benefit analysis (social & environmental)
  • Core Activity: Quantifying impacts
  • Homework Due: Preliminary environmental & social materiality assessment

Week 7: October 16th – Into the Future

    • Themes/Topics: Futures/scenario planning; Science Lab – Quantifying impacts part two – measurement & accounting frameworks, LCA
  • Core Activities: Quantifying impacts of futures scenarios
  • Homework Due: Prep. for midterm presentations

Week 8: October 23th – Midterms

    • Themes/Topics: Student midterm presentations
  • Core Activities: Student midterm presentations, preparation for stakeholder charettes
  • Homework Due: Midterm presentations


Week 9: October 30th – Designing for Trees & Bees

  • Themes/Topics: Charette on environmental impacts & stakeholders
  • Core Activities: Charette on environmental impacts & stakeholders
  • Homework Due: Refinement of concepts based on comments from midterm (ready for review/workshopping during charettes)

Week 10: November 6th – Designing for Jane Jacobs (Civic Engagement)

  • Themes/Topics: Charette on social impacts & stakeholders
  • Core Activities: Charette on social impacts & stakeholders
  • Homework Due: Refinement of concepts based on feedback during Trees & Bees charette

Week 11: November 13th – Designing for the Body (Health)

  • Themes/Topics: Charette on health impacts & stakeholders
  • Core Activities: Charette on health impacts & stakeholders
  • Homework Due: Refinement of concepts based on feedback during Civic Engagement charette


Week 12: November 20th – Prototyping

  • Themes/Topics: Science Lab – Assessing tradeoffs and opportunities when looking through the lenses of social, environmental, and human health outcomesBusiness School – User and market communications testing
  • Core Activities: User testing & pilots, customer development
  • Homework Due: Refined concept + prototype review

Week 13: November 27th NO CLASS – THANKSGIVING

Note: One on ones in lieu of class

Week 14: December 4th – Wrap-Up

  • Themes/Topics: Course concept review and refinement
  • Core Activities: User test review
  • Homework Due: Refined concept + user test
    • Customer development

Week 15: December 11th – Final Presentations

  • Themes/Topics: Final concepts + market communications test
  • Core Activities: Final presentations, reciprocity ring
  • Homework Due: Final concepts + market communications test
    • Customer development