Our ideas about design are trapped in amber.

We associate design with someone toiling away, adding shadows to buttons or arranging shapes on a digital canvas.

But design is actually about influencing behavior, and what is more important than customer behavior?

Rather than thinking about design as how something looks, we should be thinking about design in terms of outcomes.

Look at this post by Ryan Singer on Twitter:

Activity-based thinking vs outcome-based thinking

The difference between UI and UX in one image. The key to understanding UX is to introduce time. Things like an increase in anxiety (wait, what?) or running out of time (this is taking too long!) happen at specific moments.

Ryan Singer

Now, he’s talking about the difference between two types of design — user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) — but I think it’s more accurate to view the illustration as a before and after shot.

On the left you have traditional thinking about design (an emphasis on production and activity), and on the right you have what a modern understanding of design (an emphasis on outcomes and usage).

Designers still have to think about UI, but the interface of a design is just a means to arrive at an experience that produces good outcomes for the business.

The outcome I talk about most is revenue. I’m interested in how design can help business’s bottom line by improving user experience. But in the graphic above, you can see how a more immediate outcome of design is the shifting emotions of the user as they interact with a company through its digital products.

Throughout the interaction, the person using the product feels different emotions. Positive emotions result in repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals; Negative emotions can reduce revenue and can spiral out as negative reviews online that impact other’s perception of a company.

We could even extend this comparison further. On the one hand you traditional marketing & communications (before) and today you have UX & service design. Many marketing & communications departments are about production. Everyone's busy producing more stuff. UX and service design, on the other hand, are all about measuring outcomes. A UX or service designer could spend weeks studying and reworking an existing system, never having produced anything "new", but her efforts would have a measurable impact on business goals.

Good user experience (ux) results in good public relations; Advertising and traditional marketing is the tax we pay for bad user experience.

Thanks for reading,

PS. If you’re interested in how design can influence company revenue, take a look at this case study I published last week.