Episode 33: Avoid endless design iterations by focusing on outcome instead of output

Episode 33: Avoid endless design iterations by focusing on outcome instead of output

Sometimes, product teams or clients can be too focused on output or features. This is a problem, because you can end up becoming a feature factory, without knowing if the user really benefits from these new features.

If you want to avoid endless iterations of a design with clients or developers, it’s time to start focusing on outcome instead of output. In this episode, we discuss our experience with clients or teams focusing too much on output.

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Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode


Monique Another UX podcast. And it's about a topic I think we've been confronted with a few times. But I cannot imagine that other teams don't have the same problem that you need to convince your client to design for an outcome instead of an output or even their personal taste. How do you think about this topic?

Cathi Amen. Amen. I think people sometimes get overwhelmed with the term outcome, because then they start scrambling in their brains about the outcome and outcome is really just the goal. Right? And what are our goals?

Monique Yeah, I was gonna ask you what, how would you describe an outcome? Actually, that's what you want to achieve? Right? What what do you want to be the result at the end of the effort? Pink is not a result.

Cathi Oh, it is not a result? Yeah, I think also, it's the experience, it's an outcome is more focused on, from a UX perspective, is focused on what do you want the experience to be in the end? And it's less about a feature or a component. But it's about what's the end goal in terms of interacting with people on the final experience that you want? Does that make sense?

Monique Well, to me, it does. But you know, I have a bias because, you know, this is what we work with on a daily basis, I found a definition by Nielsen Norman. And they are an authority on UX, online experiences. And what they say is: "An output is a product or service that you create. An outcome is the problem that you solve with that product." What do you think about that?

Jackie I think, since we recently did a project last year, where this came up, I think that asking 'why' several times about why somebody wants to do the project, why they want to make changes, or have a new website or a new product, to continue to dig deeper and deeper to find out what outcome they want. What's the reason that they want to do that? And a lot of times, we've struggled with clients where their personal choices and the things that they want to do is that first level why like, I want a prettier website, or it's time for a color change, or it's, you know, I just want to make it more modern looking. Okay, well, then why and you keep going with the whys until you find out the real reasons. And that typically is the outcome that what the problem that you're trying to solve?

Monique Yeah. Do you think we could look at outputs versus outcome, see this as features versus benefits?

Jackie Yes, that's a good comparison.

Monique Right? Where, I don't know, maybe an output could be if you look at a website, like I want a page with videos on it, that's output, right? When's it done? When the page with the videos on it is built, you know, you've achieved your goal. So I can see where this gets confusing. We've got, we've met our goal, we've got the page, right. But what how does that help people visiting that page? Right, having that out there? What problem is that page with videos solving for the users? I can see, I don't think it's stubbornness from clients, or they just don't know they may have not been dealing with looking at their website or app or whatever digital service they're bringing to their clients yet. Do you agree it's, in fact, It' still pretty new.

Jackie I do. I think that comes down to knowing your audience, right? So doing the research in the beginning to find out, do does your audience want videos? Is it helpful to them? What kind of videos what they like and why would they why would they choose to watch the videos there versus somewhere else? And getting a good understanding of that will help you serve them. Instead of just coming up with an idea like let's put videos on a page and see what happens. That's just an idea, right? That's an output. It's not, and you're not trying, you're not solving a problem, because you haven't identified what the problem is yet.

Monique Yeah, and there's two different things. Sometimes you you're not looking to solve a problem, but you want to discover a new audience or, you know, reach out to a new audience. And a modern, like, modern visual is not gonna help attract that new audience, right? If the content isn't appealing to them, or if the format is not working on mobile, while maybe like, digital natives tend to be more like on their mobile instead of desktops. So it's, yeah, we get back to doing research over and over. And I've been guilty of that myself, like, I've been building websites since the 90s. But only when I started looking more and more into doing research. I got aware of the fact that it's not like, Okay, I'm the expert, I can advise you. That's what you want. We bring this together. And tada, here's the website, you know, we never properly learned how to how to do this in a way since it's still a fairly new topic.

Cathi I think that research is often overlooked. Well, we know that research is often overlooked, or I guess what I'm trying to say is, it would be useful in working with outcomes to help us determine what we should research. So does this research support the outcome? If we're researching a catalogue of video library, and it's not part of our outcome, or experience, this year, this quarter, this next period, then we can put that off till later and research it. So it can also help you prioritize what to research. And you know, you're researching the right things, so that you can know if you're building the right things. And at scale, it's just too much. If you're working at enterprise level, it's too much for one person to shepherd like the entire engineering team can't shepherd the outcome all the time, because it's a lot to build all those features. So it's a cross team collaboration effort. At scale, not just someone's personal taste.

Monique Yeah, it's, I wonder because it's, it's also about education, right? I think as people talking to clients, you need to create awareness and educate them and help them learn. I think too often, maybe that's especially with like small businesses, that people tend to do things on their gut feeling, because, you know, they've been successful for a long time, and it's in their family, and it's how their dad did things. And but I think it's totally different. If you're like, on the floor, right? Let's say you have a shop, right, and you're on the floor, you can actually talk to your customers, that's sort of like user research as well, because you get input from the people, like coming to your shop, like if they say ah! If you have a drugstore, and everybody comes in, it's gonna can't find the soap, right, then you know, oh, I have to put the soap in a different place. That makes sense. And it's not really maybe perceived as research or as data getting from the users. But you act on that you act on like moving that to a more prominent place. People don't really perceive that as research, that's just something they do on the go away while they're working. In the digital space, you have to put more effort into getting this feedback from your users, right? Because you don't meet with them face to face. What do you think would be a good approach for for organizations to get that feedback from their users?

Jackie I think about it on a, say for example, you have a physical store, you can notice a lot of things that are going on positive and negative, you can see where people are happy about something and how they're finding things. And you can see where people are struggling on say, for example, a website, you really don't have the ability unless you've installed some software or something like Hotjar things to actually kind of peer in and see what's going on. So it becomes most of the time you're going to get feedback that's negative, because somebody has a problem, they're more likely to contact you than if somebody is happy that they found what they were looking for. They're less likely to contact you to let you know: Oh, thank you. I found this page very helpful and it was great, and I watched the video and it was wonderful.

Monique That may be normal for them as well, right that it works.

Jackie It may be expected. So the positive things can be expected. So in that case, your, your view may be skewed, you may not be seeing the whole, the whole experience that everybody's getting, and you, whereas if you're in a physical location, you can see these things, if you're in a, if you're a manager of a store, you can see what's going on during the day. And you can see where you're doing well, where you're failing, where there's problems where customers are happy, you can tell by their expressions on their face, you can see a lot you can glean a lot of research from that. And if you watch it over and over day after day, you have a really good feeling for it, it's a lot harder on a digital product to do that. So you have to do surveys, you have to do qualitative research, you have to find ways to to see and hear what's going on.

Cathi We learned from the Jared Spool UX strategy playbook of fantastic exposure formula, which I think is rang true. And I always try to get engineering teams and product owners to participate in what's called the exposure formula. And that's when you expose your software to users in a cadence like qualitatively, so that you can actually ask them questions and observe them using your software in a pattern that comes out to be about two hours, every six weeks. So for a large product, that's not a huge expense of your time. But if everyone on the team is exposing their software, to people trying to use it, that much every period, the quality is exponentially better of what we can create for them. And their experience goes up.

Monique Yeah, I get that. But I see a disconnect here with people operating in the space where he's working, which is mostly enterprise, or the software as a surface like really like where the digital product is the thing that people make their money with, right? Like Uber, or Airbnb, or, you know, everything goes into developing that digital product where I see a disconnect with, for instance, small businesses, where they see their website, or maybe even an app or a web shop that they've created, especially during the pandemic as something that's needed to do some marketing stuff, but not really their their main goal or focus. And a lot of these, like high level UX talks I see and read are really focused on enterprise like, having a full team, like work on the product day in day out and then prioritising. But then it's not your sort of like thing that that's on the side. And I think for the majority of companies, that's not the real world, right, having like this dedicated UX. So do you agree? Or do you think that there's also opportunities for smaller businesses? Can you can you understand why they don't look at it the same way as where the digital product is? Like the thing there, but that is your business?

Cathi There are two different engines for sure. I mean, we've had clients at scale, and we've had clients that just don't even think their websites. Important because they're running a business, a physical business, and they have to do this website, and they just they don't, it's not their most important thing. To them, and, and maybe to their business. It depends on what their goals are long term. Do they want to open up more businesses is growth a part of their plan is, you know, it's very subjective as to what their goals are with the business as well. But yeah, they're two different animals, for sure.

Jackie It depends too, on how closely the two are related, right. So if you have a small to medium business, and they have a marketing website, and they don't update it very much, then there's a much bigger disconnect to their day to day business that they're running. And the product that they're selling, how it connects to the to a website, right? If the website is very integral to the products that you're selling, even if it is physical products at a physical store, and perhaps a lot of the orders come in, it's an ecommerce site, but yet you pick things up at a store and they start to become more closely related. Well, then the experience that people have on the website, have more importance, I think, or more visibility right? So customers might tell you, Oh, I had trouble doing this or I had to you Hear those things and you. So you'll have a closer connection and you'll say, oh, gosh, we have to fix that, or we have to do something about that. That isn't working very well. And sometimes on the marketing website, you really don't hear that much you. You're not as connected to it on a day to day basis. So I think that that's why what I was saying in the beginning about drilling down into the whys of something, you know, we need a new website. Why? You know, well, because I want to change the colors. Why? Well, because I don't like those colors. Okay, what are you okay? Does your customers like the color? So I don't know, you know, and you just keep asking questions to try to find what the real reasons are for something, you know, or you may find out that they want to sell their business. And that's why they want to redo their website or something like that. So asking those questions is important.

Cathi I'm sorry, I keep interrupting. My bad, but you both are so great at at drawing out what the purpose of the website is for customers. I could I always learn from you both on asking why enough and drawing out what the purpose is of the site now, as compared to what it's been in the past? If it's a redesign and stuff.

Monique Yeah I had a new requests, where someone asked me to connect and said, because our website needs UX. And I was good, you know, obviously great that someone thinks it's important, but it's never the end goal. Right? UX is not just a magic sauce that I put on and then they're all done. It's you need to embed it in your thinking and put your your customers the people first like human centric design or strategies from the organisation on. Also, one of the myths I like to debunk is that people sometimes say that they don't need a new website, because they they are busy enough already. They don't need more work, not from like maintaining the website, when it's really good. For them, having a good website automatically translates into like more work, like more orders. How do you see that? You agree?

Cathi I've worked with customers who definitely feel it amplifies what's not working well in their business. So they don't want to amplify what's frustrating if their accounting system is a pain or it can flare it can amplify what's not working. Well, if you grow too fast, for sure. Does that answer your question?

Monique Well, it wasn't a question that way. I just Yeah. If you think that's it, growth could be a goal, right, have a new website that you want more growth, but it doesn't have to be.

Cathi It could be just you want to reduce churn and improve the experience for the people you're already serving, right, so that they stay engaged.

Monique Yeah, or that they email you less, because it's more usable to them. And they have less questions about engaging with your website. You know, we've recently redone a web shop for someone who sells online courses. And one of the goals there was to lower the burden of duplicate administration, right. So the whole backend was redone, we made the checkout process more fit to selling courses instead of just a normal product that sells physical products. So the goal, there was never growth, but less administration. So automation, and that way a website can help you get less busy, right? Because things are more automated, because you review your processes. So again, this is an outcome, right? It's an the user in this case is also the owner. It's not just the user, like the client, but also someone who uses the backend, I think so that that's often overlooked. Like, just don't focus too much. But I read an article recently as well about like, earning more money. Yeah, you're a business. You're a commercial organisation, that the one of the aspects of having a business is earning money, right. And you're not a nonprofit, you're you're they're out in the world as a business to make money so that that also could never be the end goal. Because that's, that's obvious. That's that what you want. Yeah, so I think, yeah, personal taste. Maybe, you know, we have like five more minutes to discuss this. But what I find hard sometimes is if a client is open to thinking in a way of outcomes, if they see that, then it's not really a big deal, but how would you deal with clients that are resistant to that. It's like, okay, that's so good that you're saying, but I still want it dark pink. That's what I like. And I'm paying.

Jackie I think that you've, you've solved that a couple of times, Monique for us by asking, how will that make this better for the visitor? Or how will this improve their experience? So going back and bringing it back to the how and the why, and getting the client to start asking those questions and get them trained to to think that way, right. So I want to I want to make these changes, how will this improve their experience, right. And also, we had good success last year in improving the experience for the, our, our client, right? So work that they did in the backend, how to make things easier for them to build pages and to create layouts. And a lot of those changes that we built, we did research with the client to find out what their problems were, and what their difficulties were in using the website and creating content on it. And then we helped put together solutions to make it easier for them to use it right for to create the content that they needed to. So I think in that way, that was a success as well. It's not just always like you were saying, just for the visitors of the website. I mean, a lot of the work we did last year was improving the experience for the people who work on the website.

Monique Yeah, the content managers right there their users as well. And that's, again, a focus, like who are you going to focus on? Whose problems are you trying to solve if you're working with existing users? Right, but the other thing could be like, looking at new markets, and then you have to let go, you'll be more in the problem space, then instead of the solution space, like, Okay, how is the bigger audience? What kind of things do they like? Why would they choose a competitor? You know, what, what moves them? I think, also, personal taste is so subjective, if you like something or not, it will hardly help your users to get a desired outcome. Right? And, yeah, like you said, we need to help remind our clients who they're building something for, and also not come up with another shiny object or feature, you know, oh, let's put this in. Yeah, why? How is gonna help?

Jackie If they don't know, going back to research to find out to find out I mean, we've had we have really good success last year with doing some research first, that really helped define what the problems were, and what were the best solutions for those problems. Right. And I don't think we would have had that we had a lot of surprises, you know, we learned a lot of things that were counter to what we were thinking, like, you know, finding out that a lot of people don't even visit this client's website, but they shopped at their store all the time. And you know, just want the phone number. That's all they just need the phone number and the directions and, you know, putting in all this effort.

Monique So you can also look at the fact like, if you want to drive people to your website, you can do a different kind of research, like, if you like, if you want a website or use it, what what would you use it for? Are there other like comparable shops or organisation where you prefer to visit the website first? And what what's on it? And then you can decide like, Oh, should I put that on my website? Is that the purpose or not? Yeah, I think it makes it if you're saying about this particular case where people didn't visit the website, I think that was part of a client delivering us the wrong people to interview like a wrong like wrong data gives wrong output right or wrong interviews gives us wrong data. And if you base everything on that, then it could give you a bias on the information you get back. So you you have to make sure you are interviewing the right people. Are we asking the right questions.

Jackie Yeah, I agree. We could have improved that a little bit. Had we been more selective about the pool of people that we were going to be talking to.

Monique And I think and sometimes clients find that hard as well make the outcomes measurable, right. If someone says I want a pink website that's like if we've made it how do you know if it's a success? You know, when can you celebrate and break open a bottle of champagne? You know, when when did we? Yeah, meet our goals? And it's hard sometimes for people to quantify that. I think clients what I've noticed often like what if we don't meet those goals, right? What if the outcome is not met? Well, then you learn from the feedback you get, and you're going to improve, right?

Jackie It's iterative, right? iterative.

Monique Yeah. And I think people have to start looking at websites as something that's on the side, but take it in as part of their whole business model and their strategy as one of their channels and keep improving and adjusting because your clients, I think, yeah, your users might not be the same people and will have the same necessities as maybe five years ago, the world is changing as well. Right. So you cannot always keep going. I'm talking a lot.

Cathi That's alright. I just want to say that the demand for this kind of research and facilitation now, and maybe it's just me, maybe I'm projecting my own professional experience over time, the demand for that, and the requirement for that kind of research and facilitation is is the primary work that is required on project. Whereas like, 10 years ago, it was just visual design.

Monique Yeah, so that has changed as well. Right?

Cathi It's changed a lot, right.

Monique Any final words? On this topic?

Jackie No.

Cathi Good user experience is good for business. I'll say that. I'll keep repeating that over and over and over.

Monique I see a tattoo on your forehead

Cathi It's all about the outcomes.

Monique Well, this is a topic I think we could go on and on about for it keeps.... We have to keep educating and creating awareness about you know, it will be more efficient, more effective if you keep the user in mind and be clear about the end goals. We'll be back with this with new insights, I guess.

Cathi Right. Excellent. Bye!

Jackie Bye!

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