Designing for business outcomes: Great, but is it so simple?

The truth to “Designing for Business Outcomes,” is that it’s exactly what we should all be doing, but we don’t have the tools, systems, or mentality in place to make an outcome-driven culture viable in an organization. So how do we solve this?

Designing for business outcomes: Great, but is it so simple?

A few days ago, Intercom posted this article to their twitter:

I love this. It’s so simple, but in my current stage as a designer, this really resonated with me. Also being a co-founder at Tability, it’s easy to say I’m heavily invested in our business outcomes and goals. We go over our business goals and desired outcomes on a weekly basis, so we’re constantly building and designing around our most important top-level business goals.

Like Yuriy Oparenko says in the article above, designing for business outcomes means that everyone you work with — developers, marketing, sales, management–is also working for the same goal in mind. Simply by forming what your design decisions around what people are already trying to achieve, help you stay on track with the vision of the entire company and earn trust and buy-in from other teams.

It seems as though this is a trend in SaaS design, as the same message was delivered at Designer Fund’s event, Design for Business Impact at the Dropbox office in San Francisco back in March (watch a recording of the talk on their site, I thought it was great!). They talk of how they sell their design ideas by putting it in terms of how it would increase retention or increase activation. Or how increasing retention will raise their ROI by X amount of dollars. They talk about how to always put your design problems and solutions into business terms, to put your design successes in the same terms as the greater team’s successes. Putting a measurable outcome or a dollar amount behind a design solution makes it easier to prove the validity of the design and earn trust and funding from higher-ups and other teams.

With this sort of mentality, it’s no wonder that companies like Intercom and Dropbox  house some of the more well-known in-house design teams in the B2B software scene. It’s not necessarily a design a led company, but it’s an outcome led company. They align themselves to business needs and design efficiently, earning the resources they need to do their best work.

It’s really simple y’all. Design for business outcomes.

A few years ago, this would have all been totally over my head. In most companies, you’re constantly distracted with unexpected request, tasks and issues. The to-do list you made while drinking your morning coffee, has nothing checked off, while you unexpectedly spent the entire day putting out fires left and right. The clock strikes 5pm and you begin your day.

Though we had business goals and OKR’s discussed in every monthly all-hands, as a designer, a lot of the time you’re not quite sure how the microsite you’ve been working on all week has anything to do with it. It was dropped on your lap from a program manager on your team, who had it dropped on their lap from a product marketer upstairs, who got the idea to build this microsite from their manager, which is basing this idea off a quarterly acquisition target… If that customer acquisition target was clear to you from the start, then it’s easy to align your design process with business outcomes.

Then it becomes your job to find out all this information which is more work for you, and requires a better design kick-off process that you might or might not even have in place.

Oh and by the way, here’s another fire to put out, so let's just drop that and work on this instead 🙃

Almost every in house design team I’ve ever worked with works in a similar, and hectic, way. There’s no time between putting out fires and catching up on our tasks, to think about an outcome we want from all of this. The truth to “Designing for Business Outcomes,” is that it’s exactly what we should all be doing, but we don’t have the tools, systems, or mentality in place to make an outcome-driven culture viable in an organization. So how do we solve this?

  1. Clarity. Your company has high level goals, whether you’re a start up or a large org. If you don’t, that’s a whole other issue. The key to being able to work toward those goals is having access to them, making sure everyone in the company knows those objectives. Not only that, but then how you can contribute to that. How do your team’s goals help to achieve that company level goal? Transparency at the top level, allows for you to start building a goal framework for your team from the bottom up.
  2. Accountability. There are distractions, there is always a fire to put out–that is the nature of work. What you can control is how you manage that, prioritize and shift focus back to where you’re making the most impact. It’s easy to get lost in every day distractions and tasks, so do a check-in every once in a while to see how close you are to your desired outcomes. The distractions are inevitable, but a quick weekly check-in can be an easy way to realign and get back on track with what you set out to do.

If a designer, or any employee, knows how their work directly affects the success of a company, they are given  more ownership of their contribution to the company. They aren’t just accomplishing tasks at the end of a long supply chain, but owning a part of a bigger desired outcome.

At Tability, we follow this framework. I personally make design decisions every day with business outcomes in mind. We have a quick weekly check-in to see how we’re doing on all our major business goals and how we each are contributing to it. It’s easy to do when we’re a small team, but we plan to continue to scale this framework and maintain our transparent outcome-driven culture, with the hopes of empowering everyone here to do the best work we can.

If you want to build a similar outcome based culture in your org, you can! We’re building a tool called Tability to help you organize and track your company objectives, and you can start using it for free today. ✌️