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The Importance of Defining UX Outcomes

Martijn Millecamp
Martijn Millecamp

Martijn helps companies to grow their UX maturity and to implement user-centered explanations for AI tools. He calls himself a full-stack designer as he likes programming (especially data viz in Python and d3.js), designing interfaces (Figma), and has the most experience in everything related to user experience and user research. He is not an AI expert but is highly interested in the interaction between humans and AI.

Moving beyond output

As a UX designer, one of the most challenging tasks I frequently encounter is the need to articulate the significance of initiating a UX-related project to management. Often, they begin by inquiring about the specific deliverables and their associated timelines. However, I have found that simply addressing these questions seldom proves effective in persuading them to start a project.

Luckily, I’ve recently acquired an alternative approach to persuading management to kickstart a UX-related project from one of Jared Spool's courses*. This approach involves shifting the focus from how we'll achieve the project to how our project will transform the lives of our users. In other words, defend your project in terms of UX outcomes instead of the UX outputs management typically asks for.

Before I delve deeper into why UX outcomes are more persuasive to management than UX outputs, let's ensure we’re all on the same page about the differences between outcomes and outputs.

In my view, outputs are tangible deliverables a UX designer produces, such as personas, customer journeys, wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. On the other hand, outcomes are related to the changes in user behavior or performance that result from the design.

"So why does defending a project in terms of UX outcomes work better than defending it in terms of UX outputs?"

The main advantage of prioritizing UX outcomes is that they are directly linked to measurable changes, making it clearer how the project will make an impact. If you only focus on outputs, it may not convincingly demonstrate to management that our project will achieve the desired impact. As in the famous quote of Jeff Patton, the goal of any project should never be to just build some software but to change the world for the better.

"You are not here to build software,
you're here to change the world"

Jeff Patton

But what makes a good UX outcome?

When someone asks you to define business outcomes, it's often a matter of looking at existing objectives like "increase revenue" or "decrease costs" and modifying those to fit your specific project. However, in traditional organizations, it might be much more challenging or even impossible to find well-defined UX outcomes, so you will need a different approach.

To define a meaningful UX outcome, let’s go back to the main goal of an outcome: "showing how something will make an impact on the world". When you apply this to UX outcomes, the focus should center on illustrating how a particular design will positively change the lives of our users. In essence, a good UX outcome should clearly articulate how our work will enhance and transform the daily experiences of our users.

So, in my experience, a good UX outcome always answers the question: "how will this well-designed project improve someone's experience?". If you want to strengthen your outcome even further, you should try to link the UX outcome to an (existing) business outcome, because doing business is the main focus of any organization and UX projects should thus also improve your business.

By establishing these UX outcomes as project goals, the entire team can ensure that the project effectively addresses both user needs and business goals. Therefore, whenever you're involved in a UX-related project, begin by defining good UX outcomes that clearly articulate how your project will enhance the user experience and align with your company's broader business objectives.

Let’s dive into an example

Imagine you're working on a web application to sell pink elephants. However, the checkout process of your application is not really intuitive, which results in an overwhelming amount of support calls for your IT department. As the management noticed that answering these support calls consumes a lot of resources and budget, they assigned you to a project with the following business outcome "reduce maintenance costs of the IT department".

In the past, when I would have been responsible for a project like this, I might have defined the project's UX outcome as: "reducing the number of support tickets by 10%," aligning it with the business objective. However, I've come to realize that such an outcome might not necessarily lead to a successful project. This is because achieving this outcome could potentially involve drastic measures like disconnecting the IT support phone line entirely, a move that we all agree would be detrimental to the organization. Furthermore, it fails to qualify as a real UX outcome because it doesn't emphasize the project's impact on people, which is at the core of user experience.

Fortunately, I now approach such projects with a different perspective. I begin by asking: "how will this project enhance someone's life?". In this specific case, the main reason for the high volume of support calls is related to the checkout process. Therefore, our project should focus on the improvement of the customer experience, particularly for those seeking a smoother checkout process.

As a result, a more effective UX outcome could be framed as follows: "enhancing the life of customers by making the checkout process more self-explanatory in order to reduce the number of support calls". With this UX outcome as our goal, the project will much more likely result in greater success as it not only prioritizes tangible improvements for users but also aligns with the business objectives that management aims to attain.

However, only defining a UX outcome is not enough! I believe that relying solely on a UX outcome can be too vague to initiate a project, as it may not provide a clear benchmark for project success. To address this challenge, the next step involves defining meaningful UX success metrics and UX progress metrics. These are essential for measuring the desired impact. If you're interested in delving deeper into this topic, please stay tuned as I'll be discussing these metrics in greater detail in the weeks to come.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this blogpost, please don’t hesitate to contact me on LinkedIn.

Some key points to remember

Focus on UX Outcomes: Prioritize UX outcomes over UX outputs when presenting your project to stakeholders. Outcomes demonstrate the real impact on users and align with business goals.

Impact on User Experience: Ensure that your UX outcomes clearly articulate how the project will enhance the experience of your users. Think about how it will positively affect their lives.

Alignment with Business Goals: Always align your UX outcomes with the broader business objectives of the organization. This helps in showcasing the project's value to management.

*The course I followed was UX Metrics Your Stakeholders Can't Ignore -