Outcome-focused design

Design is a huge field that touches every aspect of our lives. How can we include design into our projects and enable ourselves to create the right products?

Design is a huge field that touches every aspect of our lives. How can we include design into our projects and enable ourselves to create the right products?

Hannah Jones
Hannah JonesNov 25, 2022
A target, representing outcomes
A target, representing outcomes
A target, representing outcomes

Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.

Brian Reed

“Design” is a deceptively complex term. Its intricacy lies in the wide variety of contexts it can be found. For this reason, it’s important to start by defining exactly what design is.

What is design?

Design deals with the conceptualization of new things, from physical objects to theoretical ideas. It is a vast field with a huge number of sub-divisions.

For this reason, the definition of design will change completely between different designers. For example:

  • design could mean devising the UI for a new piece of software,

  • creating the costumes for a new TV series

  • or planning the curriculum for the new school year.

When we think about design with such a wide focus, we can see how much design touches every aspect of life. Every item we use has been created, and therefore designed. Every film we watch will have been designed, every book we read, every theoretical idea will have required design at some level.

So why, according to Brian Reed, are so few things designed well?

Outcome-Focused Design Projects

Here at Donux, we believe that an often missed step in design projects is keeping design outcome-focused. By focusing on the outcome (i.e. the objective) of a project rather than the end products, you change the way design projects are approached and steered.

Let me explain:

Imagine that a bank decides to build a new app to help users access their accounts more simply:

  • they create a list of outputs they want at the end (features, visual guidelines, etc),

  • the design team starts their work,

  • at the end of the project, the design team delivers all the requested outputs

  • and the project is completed.

They included “design” in their project and therefore should be almost guaranteed a success, right? Sadly, not always.

In this case, a key question should have been asked at the very beginning. What are the outcomes of this app, for the bank and for the users?

In reality, we have already heard the answer: “to help users access their accounts more simply”. However, what solutions are already in place? How would this new app fit into the bank’s current customer environment?

For example:

  • What if an app already exists but it’s difficult to use?

  • What if most users don’t want to introduce more technology into their lives?

  • What if users are worried about the security of mobile solutions and only want to access their accounts from their home computer?

In each of these cases, building a new app is almost certainly not the right move. It will likely cost time, energy and money without resolving the key issues customers are facing.

What Outcome-Focused Design Brings to a Project

If we are always oriented towards our outcomes, it means we will always have an answer to the key question, ”Why are we doing this?” That is why we believe it is so important to keep outcomes at the heart of a design project.

It also helps everyone who is working on the project. Whenever a department needs to debate an aspect of the project, they can turn to the outcome to help examine their plan of action:

  • Why does the project exist?

  • Where is the project heading?

  • Does this action take us closer to that goal?

This is especially true for designers. Design is a complex discipline because it has to consider so many moving parts.

It needs to take users, stakeholders, environments and dynamics into account, which is both wonderfully and horrendously complex!

This is a key reason why we advocate for more design teams to be outcome-focused. We as designers need to have a reliable compass when navigating through such complex and confusing territory.

While it can be easier and tempting to follow a list of features and outputs, if they don’t serve the objective then all the work will be for nothing.

Try keeping outcome-focused design at the center of each project. It keeps everyone focused on the “why” behind each project and helps make end-products that are useful for the company and its clients.

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