Shifting Our Team Goals to be UX Outcomes

by Jared M. Spool

It’s common, when the new year rolls around, for teams to think about their goals. What can we hope to accomplish over the next year that will show growth and improvement over the previous year’s efforts?

There are several ways to come up with goals. For example, the leadership of a UX team might pick goals for increasing what their team accomplished during the previous year. They could count their team’s activities, such as the usability tests they conducted or wireframes they delivered. Their new 12-month goal would be to accomplish more of those activities.

However, when a team measures their goals using activities, they are focusing on the outputs of UX research and design efforts. Outputs are necessary, but they are not the end of the game.

Shifting to outcomes instead of outputs

We’ve found that more experienced UX teams steer clear of outputs, instead of focusing on outcomes. While outputs represent the effort and activities of the team’s work, outcomes represent the results they achieved because of that work.

Many teams start their shift to outcomes with business outcomes. How will their UX work improve the business? Could their designs increase new subscriptions or generate more income? If their UX efforts can deliver those improved results, it would certainly be valuable to the organization.

Some teams, however, take it a step further. What if, instead of focusing on how they improve the business, they focused on how their work improves the lives of their users?

The big shift to UX outcomes

user experience outcome answers the question if we work hard and deliver great designs, how does that improve someone’s life? The person whose life we want to improve might be a customer, a non-paying user, an employee, or even someone who has never heard of us, but benefits because we’ve delivered a great user experience.

An example: Our team at Center Centre – UIE just launched a new job board for UX professionals. We chose UX outcomes for our users of the job board: the hiring manager and the job seeker.

Our UX outcome for the hiring professional is to improve their life by making it easier to identify and screen highly-qualified candidates. We want candidates who come through our board to be a great match for the position, and to clearly identify what it is that makes them such a great match.

For the UX professional job seeker, we want to improve their life by making it easier to locate jobs they’d be highly qualified for. We want potential applicants to understand how the hiring team is passionate about delivering great user experiences, and to make it easier for the applicant to show how their past experiences make them ideal for the position.

Both of these outcomes have driven how we designed the UX Centered Careers job board. It drives our roadmap and all the new features we’re considering. It helps us continue to make our service unique in a crowded industry of job placement services and products.

When we can talk directly to improving someone’s life, we now have a big result to shoot for. We’re connecting the improvement in someone’s life to the reason the product exists. It connects the business objectives with the change we’d like to see as UX professionals.

The best UX outcomes come from research

Some teams find it difficult, at first, to identify a UX outcome. Teams that are very detached from the day-to-day life of their users have trouble imagining a substantive life improvement—one worthy of being their long term objective.

These teams have focused all their research on usability testing specific features, and all their design work crafting wireframes for their product. They rarely, if ever, get to step back to see what really frustrates their product or service’s users.

It’s when teams upgrade to a more mature research practice that UX outcomes become easier to identify. Teams who spend significant time with their users will see many opportunities for improvements. Each of these opportunities are great candidates for their UX outcomes.

When we started the UX Centered Careers project, we had already spent significant time working with both hiring managers and job seekers on their hiring experiences. In our research, we walked through the hiring process on both sides.

We watched teams review applications and evaluate candidates. Similarly, we spent time with job seekers as they were reviewing jobs they were interested in. We could see where the process was frustrating to each side, and could see how a well-designed tool might improve their life. From that, the job board was born.

The best UX outcomes will come from a deep understanding of the users’ current experiences. That deep understanding comes from a mature research practice.

The best UX outcomes make an aspirational story

Everyone loves a great, uplifting story. It’s no different for our products and services. It’s easy to get folks rallied around a big effort when they can see the benefits of their work.

The UX outcomes are a natural starting point for an engaging experience vision. The experience vision tells a story of what it’s like for a user in the future.

As we’ve been working on the job board, we used our aspirational experience vision of the hiring manager and job seeker outcomes to talk about what we would deliver right away, and what we’re planning in the future. The experience vision helped everyone on the team understand the importance of the little things we’re putting into the design, things that will grow into important features down the road.

Teams can use their UX outcomes as the seeds of the story they’ll put into their vision. The experience vision becomes the vehicle to garner buy-in for the UX outcomes from executives, stakeholders, and the UX team’s peers in product management and development.

The best UX outcomes are measurable

One can think of progress toward a UX outcome as a type of marathon race. It takes a long time to get there, with a lot of hard work.

Marathon races have finish lines. An exact moment when the runner has accomplished their goal.

The same is true for a thoughtful UX outcome. There should be a clear moment when everyone can see that the outcome has been realized.

That means the team needs to have a clear understanding of what their UX outcome looks like. They’ve improved someone’s life, but how can they tell? Part of defining the UX outcome is to describe the evidence they’ll observe when the outcome has happened.

The evidence we’ve achieved the outcome often comes from our research. For our UX Centered Careers project, our research clearly showed frustrating, ineffective experiences that hiring managers had. When looking at applicants, it’s often hard for them to tell if the applicant is a clear fit for their open position. We can observe that frustration happening, and, as we build out capabilities in the job board, we can see when that frustration goes away.

Similarly, job seekers often become frustrated because job ads are poorly written. As we create functionality to help hiring managers craft better job ads, we will also see the job seeker frustration disappear.

Because we conducted in-depth research and uncovered substantial frustration in the hiring process for both hiring managers and job seekers, we now can use that frustration as the basis of our UX Success Metric. That’s how we’ll measure how we’ve achieved our UX outcome.

UX outcomes drive great design

Just performing the rituals of design isn’t enough. We need to shift our practice from outputs to outcomes.

For customer-centric organizations, only focusing on the business outcomes won’t suffice. We need to look at how we improve the lives of our customers, and build all of our decisions around that.

That’s what it means to be design driven and customer centered. We’re putting the users’ needs into every decision. And to do that, we need to have strong guidance on how to make those decisions.

Well chosen UX outcomes get the entire team focused on the same goal, heading in the same direction. And that direction is all about making people’s lives better. That’s key to delivering great experiences in our products and services.

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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