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Thinking about outcomes

Fish swimming in the same direction, except for one

A little over a year ago, while I was working on‘s site creation flow, our former head of design, John Maeda, shared some helpful advice that helped me rethink my approach to how I was working on the problem. He recommended that I start with the end result first and then work my way back from there. This new approach brought a fresh perspective to my work and helped me achieve what I thought were greater results. It felt very akin to working mobile first or designing all of sub pages of a site before tackling the home screen.

Fast forward to today and I have since moved on to work on other things for While I still cherish the advice, I didn’t think it was applicable anymore because of the nature of the work I’m doing — that is until today. I recently wrapped up some work on my first block for WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor. Paying little attention to the final output, I focused on the usability of the block and making sure it was easy for people to add their content and manipulate it.

Then as a follow up, we had one of our other designers use the block in some new templates that would help our customers get up and running quicker. She noted a couple issues with the block that limited her ability to do some of the really cool stuff she shared with us. When I saw her work, I first thought about John’s advice but then immediately saw how I could have avoided those issues if I had been working with her from the beginning or if I had put more time thinking about the final output up front.

Looking forward

With a little bit of reflection, and connecting some dots, I can now see how John’s advice can continue to inspire my work moving forward. One of the practices I usually follow at the beginning of my projects is to outline the goals for the work we’re doing. Rather than starting with just the goals, I’d like to start my next project by defining outcomes we want to achieve too and then working my way back from there.

I know they’re pretty much the same thing but in my mind there’s a slight shift in mentality. For me, goals are aspirational and I see them as high-level like “increasing conversions by 30%” which can be an outcome but at that point in the project you don’t know if you’ll actually active that. Outcomes, on the other hand, could be something like “customers can cancel their subscriptions” which feels a little more concrete.


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