Are You Focusing on the Wrong Set of Goals?

Many product creators make a common but costly mistake — they focus too much on the business’ objectives and forget about their users. As a result, the products they design suffer from bad UX.
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
March 30, 2021
Updated: March 31, 2021
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
March 30, 2021
Updated: March 31, 2021

When designing a new product, we should always consider the objectives that both the users and the business have for it. Although this principle seems simple in theory, it might cause a lot of confusion in practice. Many product creators make a common but costly mistake — they focus more on the business’ objectives and forget about their users. As a result, the products they design suffer from bad UX. So, to avoid this trap, let’s get a better understanding of how user and business goals might differ and then look at practical tips on how to align the two.

User Goals Vs. Business Goals

Users adopt a product because they have a specific goal to fulfill. Whatever specific vision a company may have for a product, the ultimate goal is to drive profit. As a result, you should always make sure the UX serves the user’s goals first and foremost.

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User Goals

You should always start a project with user goals in mind. Why? Because you’ll never fulfill your business goals if you don’t fulfill user goals first. Most of the time, people start using your product because they have a particular goal they want to achieve. As the economist Theodore Levitt said: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Your product’s primary purpose is to allow the users to accomplish their goals.

For example, when a person searches for a coat and visits your e-commerce website, they likely want to find and purchase a particular coat as quickly as possible. You need to focus on providing the best possible user experience for doing so. The more your product facilitates their ability to buy a coat, the more likely they are to use it again.

Things to Do

First, make sure you learn who your users are. User research is the first and foremost thing you need to do when creating a product. Identify your target audience and interview people who represent it to understand their wants and needs. By doing that, you will understand which aspects of a product your users care about the most and what they expect to achieve by using yours.

Once you’ve got a handle on your user base, you can design the product for maximal user satisfaction. When building your product, you need to focus on core aspects of user experience — making it functional, reliable, usable and pleasurable. Always try to see a complete picture of the product; identify areas that can cause friction and redesign them to create a positive impression on your users.

Things to Avoid

Don’t design the product just for yourself. The maxim “You are not your user” is the most important rule in product design. When you forget this, you end up creating a product that your users might find not valuable.

Also, don’t be tempted to skip the validation phase. Validation is a step in your design process in which you test your solution with real users. Doing so allows you to understand how well the product works for the target audience and which parts need improvement. If you have multiple versions of your design and are curious about which version works best for your user, you should A/B test them. Let the A/B test results speak for themselves in terms of user conversion or any other metric that you select.

Finally, don’t evaluate each feature in isolation. You must evaluate each part of your product in the larger context of the whole. That way, you will see what role every feature plays in the whole user journey, along with when and how users will trigger them. If you abandon this rule, you might end up with a collection of individual features that work well in isolation, but the whole product will be bad in terms of its UX.

Tools to Use

Here are some tools that will help you better understand your users:

  • Empathy map. An empathy map visualizes all of the information that you have about your users. Typically, it contains information on what a user says, thinks, does and feels. As the name suggests, an empathy map will help you to build empathy toward your users and to understand the product from their perspective.
     
  • User journey map. A user journey map visually represents the user experience. This tool lets product team members and stakeholders look at your product from the user’s point of view.

 

Business Goals

Business owners hire product designers because they have a very specific goal on their minds — they want their business to be profitable and grow. This goal means that the product you design not only needs a good user experience, it should also be commercially viable (i.e., it needs to make money).

At the same time, you need to understand that you can’t force users to change their behavior. All you can do is make sure your business goals align with those of your users. That’s why setting business goals is both art and science.

Things to Do

Determine what is important for the business and why. Interview stakeholders to understand what they want to achieve with this product. When stakeholders tell you that they want to have specific features in a product, you need to know why nailing these features will help the business grow.

Once you’ve figured this out, identify key metrics for each item and then track them. The most basic business metrics are conversion and retention rates. The first will tell you how many people purchased something on your website out of the total number of visitors. The second indicates how many people become loyal to your business (i.e., how many returning customers you have). Together, these metrics will give you an idea of how successful you are in the marketplace.

Finally, you should focus on improving your brand perception, which is the sum of feelings a user has about your brand. This quality has a direct impact on user retention. Good brand perception makes people trust your company, and that trust means you are likelier to forge long-term relationships.

As a product creator, you need to measure brand perception on a regular basis. Practice social listening, which is the process of extracting information about your brand from social media channels, such as user comments and reviews. You can also conduct a brand audit of your company’s brand perception versus your close competitors by identifying which things users find attractive about your competitors.

Things to Avoid

Don’t take the HiPPO for granted. HiPPO is an acronym for the highest-paid person’s opinion.” Often, someone with lots of authority (think CEO) has a very specific idea about how a product should work and forces everyone to follow that approach. Fortunately, the solution to this problem is simple — convince the HiPPO that every hypothesis should be validated. In many cases, you can then design an MVP (minimum viable product) and conduct a series of tests with your users to see whether the HiPPO’s idea works for your users or not.

Also, stay away from using dark patterns in your design. Practicing good ethics is an essential attribute of good user experience. To that end, you need to be honest with your users and avoid dark patterns that trick users into taking unwanted action. These techniques can be good for business in the short-term, but they’re always bad for users. Dark patterns might lead to increased revenue, but they do so at the expense of long-term relationships with your customers. When you trick your customers, you will destroy the trust they have in your product. Remember that it’s impossible to reach your business objectives at the expense of those of your users.

Finally, offer easy offboarding. If your customers decide for some reason that they no longer want to use your product, you should allow them to cancel subscriptions easily and without much effort. Why? Because it will make unsatisfied users feel relieved, and at the end of the day, they will leave with a positive impression about your service.

Tools to Use

Here are some tools that will help you better understand the business side of your project:

  • KPIs (key performance indicators). Key performance indicators define a set of values against which to measure your progress. You can use them to periodically assess your product’s performance and see how well your design achieves the business’ objectives.
     
  • Stakeholder map. Stakeholder mapping is a process of laying out all the stakeholders of a given product on one map. Its main benefit is getting a visual representation of all the people who can influence your project and how they are connected. You will find out who has the most influence on your project and can then use this information to maximize project success by inviting key stakeholders into the product design process.
     
  • Business model canvas. This is a template for creating new business models or documenting existing ones. It offers a visual chart with elements describing a company’s or product’s value proposition, users and finances. A business model canvas gives designers a solid vision on how well a business operates. When designers have a good grasp on the business model (i.e., what product features have a major impact on a companys bottom line) they can better align product design decisions to maximize business success.

 

Balance the Goals

User goals and business goals aren’t competitors; they’re two sides of the same coin. Thus, it’s crucial to find the right balance between the two. Former IBM president Thomas J. Watson Jr. once said, Good design is good business. Product designers should always be user-centric, meaning that they have to find the right way to turn business objectives into customer features. Only when user goals and business goals go hand in hand is it possible to release a commercially successful product that will also feature a great user experience.

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