Why UX Outcomes Make Better Goals Than Business Outcomes

by Jared M. Spool

Increase subscription retention by 15% this quarter.
Increase new policy subscriptions by 20% this year.

These are common business outcomes, results the organization’s leadership wants to attain to keep the organization growing. Every business needs results like these to survive.

It’s a great day when the design team’s leadership can report they’ve played a major role in attaining these outcomes. It’s the holy grail of proving the value of user experience design. “We made these changes in the design and we saw a 15% increase in renewals of existing policyholders”. But should we, as designers, see this as our goal?

Business outcomes make great results, but not great goals

The mistake we see design leaders make is they turn these business outcomes into goals. Let’s figure out how we can change the design to increase renewals. When the leadership focuses their teams on these goals, it can (often unintentionally) make the user’s experiences worse.

People naturally take the easiest path to attain a goal. Often, the easiest path to attaining a business outcome is to focus on the direct levers of that outcome.

Want more people to sign up? Improve your landing page.

Want more subscribers to renew? Improve the reminders you send out.

While these may be good things to do, they miss the user’s true goals. Nobody woke up this morning happy they’ll get to renew a subscription today. Just because the business wants these things to happen doesn’t mean it’s important to the user.

Business outcomes are the easy path to achieving a business goal. However, they don’t necessarily end up with a better experience for our users.

Left unchecked, focusing on business outcomes can quickly push the organization into bad habits and dark patterns. It’s easy to come up with ways to trick the users into unintentionally signing up or renewing their subscriptions. While experienced designers know to push back on these darker approaches, it takes effort and less seasoned team members and stakeholders who don’t see the difference can still make mistakes.

User Experience Outcomes are different

There’s a big problem with using business outcomes as goals: those goals are divorced from the experiences of the design’s users.

Getting someone to renew their subscription may or may not come with a good experience. You can’t tell from an increase in renewal rates if you’ve made the service better or worse.

A user experience (UX) outcome is different from a business outcome. To get to a UX outcome, the design leader answers this question: If we do a fantastic job delivering this product (or service or feature), how will we improve someone’s life?

For example, the design leaders concerned about renewals might ask this question: If we do a fantastic job getting customers to renew their policies, how will we improve those customer’s lives? Asking about renewals this way pushes those leaders beyond the act of just completing the transaction. It focuses them on completing the transaction, yet doing so in a way that makes a positive difference for their customers.

UX Outcomes focus everyone on specific users

For example, the design leadership at an auto insurance company might focus on improving the lives of their policyholders who are parents of young drivers. The design team’s user research showed that when children become new drivers, the parents grow anxious about their kids’ safety.

This UX outcome could drive the team to improve features in a mobile roadside assistance application. Using the app, either the child driver or parents could summon assistance when something happens, like a flat tire. The app could also notify the parents of the status of any roadside assistance request.

The parents would feel their kids are safe when they have the app. At renewal time, the policyholder could get a summary of their experiences with the app, showing how it helped keep their young drivers safe.

The team stated their goal as a UX outcome (Giving parents of young drivers an increased sense of security) instead of the business outcome (Increase retention of policies with teenage drivers). This focused the team members and their stakeholders on these specific users, instead of on achieving an abstract business challenge like increasing retention.

Working backwards to get to the business outcome

Business outcomes are still helpful, but only after the team has achieved their UX outcome. If the team does a good job, retention might increase. They might also see an increase in new policy subscriptions, because parents deliver great word-of-mouth referrals to other parents.

Because the team has more user research data to work with, they will likely find it easier to tie the specific business outcomes to their UX outcomes. The team can show how customers and users who receive the intended UX improvements will also help achieve desired business outcomes. The team can report the business side of those interactions (for example, increased sales transactions or reduced support calls), and show how the better user experience is leading to better business results.

When telling their story to senior leadership, the team’s design leaders can connect the dots between an improved user experience and attaining important business results. UX outcomes are an essential tool for showing the business value of delivering well-designed 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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