To design is to be intentional

about the outcome we want.

About a year ago I read this quote from Julie Zhuo from Facebook. After reading this I had this nagging thought in my mind about outcomes for some time.  I think everyone can understand the idea of an outcome in conceptual terms but the reality of things tends to get a fluffy.It seemed like such a simple thing, but I often found myself getting lost in the details and focusing on this more often then not.

I decided to spend some time and try to really focus less on the details and more on the end product I wanted to achieve.  I applied this thinking to three major areas.

Design

In general I started to think, frame and talk more about the work I am doing terms of what we hope it will accomplish. The meant in the context of design work to focus  less on the pixel (details) or the mechanics of design and more talk about what we hope will do when they are introduced with the design. What will be different about people’s behaviors, thoughts or comprehension when the design is completed.

I usually sum this up with a question:

It is often very difficult to define what the outcome of a design will be in words. I find people have an easier time describing a future situation, then coming up with an outcome statement there.

Feedback

When I give feedback. What outcome am I am hoping to realise by giving this feedback. And If I get feedback, what would it look like or the outcome if I took this feedback what should happen as a result. When someone gives me feedback I usually try to get them to describe what would be different in the context of a certain situation when I do this.

If this feedback is realised what would be different or better? How would one feel, what would that look like. This tends to make feedback less abstract and more concrete and helps both the one giving the feedback as the on receiving it as well.

Teaching

I have been doing a lot of teaching this past year and this is probably where I have seen the most dramatic benefit.

When I begin teaching I usually focus on a few questions:

  1. Identified a learning outcome  – what will a student walk away and be able to do. (“Use a storyboard to tell a product story”)
  2. Identified content that I need to teach (“Teach students the Story Arc, Storyboard, major components and how they relate to each other.”)
  3. Identified a way for students to arrive at that learning outcome (“Provide an example and ask the student to develop a Storyboard related to a product”)

With each step, we’re moving away from things the student does, and towards things the I do.

Outcomes in this context have a few advantages.

First, outcomes act as a guide for students. They indicate what a student can anticipate learning in a course. This sets expectations, so students can prepare for a certain type of learning experience. When students know what they are going to learn, they can better contextualize that learning as it happens.

Secondly, outcomes help me in designing the learning experience.

Once all the outcomes are defined, I can select the content and exercises needed and in which order they need to be delivered. This allows me the visualise the course over time and create a realistic schedule. 

Thinking holistically about a problem is a different kind of thinking then when you are focusing on the details. I found it challenging unifying these types of thinking, which is why I developed the question above. By integrating this question into the problem solving process I forced myself to at least reflect over the outcome. I am really happy with this change in perspective as it made me very aware when I was worrying far to much about the details. We need to step back from the pull of the details and and give the outcome room to take over.  

If you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organisations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. – Jeff Bezos