How UX Outcomes Make A Team’s Daily Work Truly Human-Centered

by Jared M. Spool

Organizations and teams say they’re human-centered. Yet, you never hear them mention the actual humans their work and projects are about. They fall back on generic labels, like “user” and “applicant,” because nobody introduces them to real people who will benefit from a better-designed product or service.

This is where the UX Outcome comes in. A simple technique we employ to make daily work truly human-centered. The magic of a UX Outcome is that it shows teams precisely how their work will improve the lives of real people.

You start by taking whatever new feature or capability your team is working on. Then you plug the name of that new feature or capability into this question:

If we do a great job building <this new feature or capability>, whose life will it improve and how?

It’s in the answer to this question that the real magic happens. Let’s look at a case study.

Case Study: Discovering the challenges of Anjelique.

A team I recently worked with — a European government ministry — is making a new online service for its citizens to apply for passports.

They started by trying to identify the UX Outcomes for the project:

If the ministry’s digital team does a great job delivering their new online passport application service, whose life will it improve and how?

Trying to answer this question quickly revealed how little the team knew about what it was like for citizens to apply for a passport today. It was time to meet real passport applicants and learn about their experiences.

One person we met was Anjelique, a single mother of two young children. Her entire family needed passports for an upcoming trip they’d planned. We shadowed Anjelique as she went through the existing application process to see her experience and learn how a new service might benefit her.

The application process Anjelique went through was a mess. She needed renewal forms for herself and her oldest child, but her younger child needed an application for a new passport — a different form. She could download them from the ministry’s website, but she didn’t have any way to print them.

She tried to get the forms from her local post office. She had to take time off since the post office is only open during working hours. On her first visit, the post office was out of her forms. She took more time off a few days later, and they had her forms this time.

The passport application forms haven’t changed since the 1960s and use complicated terms confusing Anjelique. She wasn’t sure if she’d answered all the questions correctly. She wished there was someone she could ask to review it to see if she did it right.

Anjelique had to get pictures for the passport. In her town, only one place makes them, but only during her working hours. Which meant more time off of work.

The application form instructed Anjelique to gather documents to prove their citizenship and identity. For her, she needed her birth certificate and a picture ID. However, the kids didn’t have a government-issued photo ID (after all, they were only 7 and 4 years old). She wasn’t clear on what to do to complete the kids’ applications without them.

To submit the applications, she again had to take time off work to go to a government office. Unfortunately, the closest office was an hour away by bus, which meant missing another half-day of work. And she wasn’t sure if she needed the kids with her.

They trucked off to the passport office, where she and the kids waited about 45 minutes. Then Anjelique could ask her questions about the kids’ applications. She didn’t need a government-issued photo ID because they were under ten. (It said that on the form in small print, but she missed it.)

Back at home, Anjelique told us she wasn’t sure what would happen next. She didn’t know if there was any way to check on the status of the passport application. In the weeks after dropping it off at the passport office, she didn’t hear anything from the ministry.

As the departure date for her trip approached, she was very anxious that the passport would arrive on time. She worried that one of the applications might get rejected, jeopardizing the entire trip. Only when the envelope with the passports arrived could Anjelique relax. (At least, until it was time to start packing for the trip a few days later.)

At the end, she told us that she felt the entire process was that it was complicated (she often didn’t understand what was being asked of her), inconvenient (she had to miss quite a few hours of work), and opaque (she never knew if she would get rejected or have success until the passports showed up).

Anjelique’s experience stuck with the team. Her kids were adorable. And the challenges she encountered embodied the extremes of how the current passport application process worked and where it failed people like her. If they could improve the process for her, they’d improve it for millions of others.

In fact, Anjelique’s story wasn’t unusual. The team at the ministry met many more people who had to deal with levels of the complicated, inconvenient, and opaque process. The team knew they could design a better process.

The team focuses on improving Anjelique’s life.

If the ministry digital team does a great job delivering the new online passport application service, how will they improve Anjelique’s life?

Because of the rich observations of Anjelique’s experience, the team could put together a nice list of improvements:

Make it easy for Anjelique to apply online or on her phone.

Make it easy to apply for multiple family members simultaneously. Both renewals and new applications.

Prevent Anjelique from visiting the post office or the passport office. Anjelique could even take everyone’s passport pictures with her phone’s camera. She wouldn’t have to take off work to complete the applications.

Provide clear, plain-language instructions that would guide Anjelique every step of the way. 24-hour online support would quickly answer her questions. She’d get immediate feedback to confirm she’s filled out the forms correctly (or help her if she hasn’t).

As the passports were being processed, send Anjelique regular status updates, including estimated dates of when she’d receive the finished documents. She’d learn when her documents passed the approval process and the passport booklets were assembled.

Combining all these new system enhancements would improve Anjelique’s life tremendously.

When the ministry digital team does a great job delivering the new online passport application service, they’ll improve Anjelique’s life by making applying easy, convenient, and transparent. Anjelique will not have to deal with paper forms, government jargon, and unclear questions. She won’t have to miss work to apply in person. And she’ll always know where in the process her application is and what to expect next.

UX Outcomes changed how the team works.

The ministry’s digital team always thought they had a human-centered approach. Having the UX outcome made it real.

Providing a detailed lens into people’s authentic lives made the team’s work more real. It raised the bar from just delivering a new service to making a difference in the lives of Anjelique and others like her.

The team adopted Anjelique’s experience as the key to their work. When developers gave a demo of their work, they talked about Anjelique. Instead of “the user clicks here to get more info,” the developer would say, “Anjelique would click here to answer her question about whether her son needs a government-issued photo ID to complete the application.” This was a new level of detail for the team.

Anjelique was a daily fixture in decisions. When faced with choosing two alternatives, would one be better for her? When deciding what was required or optional in the design, would Anjelique need it to succeed?

UX Outcomes redefined what ‘done’ means.

One of the biggest challenges for product and service teams is identifying what ‘done’ means. When is the product ready to ship? What more needs to be completed to be ‘good enough’?

The planned improvements to Anjelique’s experience became the rubric that defined what the ministry team still needed to consider their work complete and ready to launch.

For example, knowing that Anjelique needed to get passports for multiple family members affected how they saw screen flows and the processing status reporting. Without this depth of understanding, the team might’ve missed this as a requirement.

UX Outcomes makes the users’ experience the tool for judging when something is ready to ship. Thinking about outcomes is a big change from before, when the team was often unsure if what they were delivering met the needs of their users.

UX Outcomes determined the team’s measurements and objectives.

Having done extensive research to determine their UX Outcome, the team knew what they needed to see to know if they’ve improved the life of Anjelique and people like her. Having a UX Outcome gave them a clear way to measure their progress and the moment they’ve achieved success.

The ministry team found specifying and monitoring their project’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) much easier. The UX Outcome became their objective. The various ways their design would improve Anjelique’s life became the key results.

Their UX Outcome also gave them direct measurements of improvements to report, not proxies (like the number of new applications or ongoing rejection rates, which were previous measures). They felt more confident in their progress and could report it, with solid examples, to their stakeholders.

UX Outcomes made their work truly human-centered.

The ministry team found having Anjelique’s experience highly motivating to their work. And, because they knew her experience was representative of many people’s issues, they felt confident they were making something that would have a significant impact.

Working from a UX Outcome brought new meaning to their work. Knowing that the decisions they made every day were improving people’s lives was a strong motivator to do their best work.

This way of working is what it means to be truly human-centered.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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