December 22, 2022

Outcomes vs output


These two words keep coming up on Design Twitter (or what’s left of it…) recently, and they’re also words I’ve found myself saying a lot to my team this year.

So why are these the design buzzwords of 2022? Well, understanding the difference between them is key to levelling up in your design career. So let’s start by defining them:

Output (noun)
  • the amount of something produced by a person, machine, or industry.
  • the action or process of producing something.

Outcome (noun)
  • the way a thing turns out; a consequence.

We talk a lot about process in design; about the double diamond, components, wireframing, and meeting deadlines. We celebrate shipping a big project or handing something off to a developer to be built.

This is our output as designers.

We produce designs for websites, products, graphics and whatever else we might be tasked with. And we can experience a lot of growth in our careers by fine-tuning our output; making our process more efficient and reliable.

But an efficient process can only take us so far. To produce truly great work, we have to focus on outcomes.

What results are our projects driving for the business? What effect is our work having on a users perception of the brand? Did it meet the project goals? And if not, where did it fall short? Why did that happen?

With our busy workloads (especially as marketing designers) as soon as we wrap up a project we’re moving on to the next one, and it can be easy to forget to make time to look back on how the work we shipped is performing. We figure “no news is good news” and that if the marketing stakeholder isn’t reaching out to us and asking for changes then it must be meeting the needs defined in the brief. We can feel content knowing we did our part and got them the files they needed.

This is a huge missed opportunity.

By not taking an active interest in the outcomes of your work, you’re treating yourself as nothing more than a pixel pusher and you’re leaving a ton of insights on the table that could help you make the next thing you design more effective.

When we take responsibility for not just designing something (the output), but for the outcomes of that project we can unlock a new level in our careers.

Outcomes inform the output

We can take what we learn from the results of our work and use it to inform design decisions in the next project. We’re problem solvers, and outcomes give us information about how well the design solution we provided solved the problem (or not).

Senior+ IC’s and design managers are held accountable to results. They understand that their role in a project isn't simply to complete the design process, but to impact a business metric. And when the process goes smoothly and the work is beautiful… but it doesn’t drive the desired outcomes? A senior designer understands that it clearly wasn’t the right output, and takes ownership of that rather than blaming it on the brief.

Reaching this mindset shift takes time, but I hope breaking down these buzzwords has been useful in helping you understand the difference and importance of each one.

What's your take on this? Are you held accountable to outcomes as well as output in your role? Tweet me and let me know!