Some tools allow us to move pixels and some affect the bigger picture.

Uri Paz

In his recent lecture last year “The Tools We Use: Challenging Dogma in the Design Process,” Emmet Connolly, Director of Product Design at Intercom, broadened the definition of tools.

He introduced a pencil that, in addition to expanding our physical abilities, increases our intellectual capabilities.

To illustrate his point, he discussed solving a complicated math problem: the square root of 200 times 57. Although we wouldn’t be able to do it in our head, by using wood pulp, graphite and a piece of paper we probably understand the answer pretty quickly.

White pencil on white paper

White pencil on white paper

Photo by Yoann Siloine on Unsplash

To solve a problem or achieve a specific goal we need to use different kinds of tools — tools that help us in the building itself and tools that allow us to think and make decisions — KPI is one of them.

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that shows how effectively a company is achieving its key business objectives.

Success is based on the question “What is the goal?”

The goal is the outcome that we want to achieve.

The measure is based on the question “How many?”

By using the “How many” question we create a basis for comparison, i.e. whether or not the choices we made serve our goal.

1. A KPI is a tool to communicate

Common language within the team and between departments:

When we work with colleagues, we have to make sure that we measure success in a similar way. We want to avoid the situation when one team member says “what a failure” and another team member says “what a great success.” Everyone should agree or at least understand the KPI, when we are successful and when we’re not.

At the macro level, KPI alignment allows employees from different teams, such as UX, Development, Support, Marketing and Finance to speak in a common language and step towards the goal.

People are building a house

People are building a house

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Common language with management:

The best way to convey the importance of design to management is to start talking numbers as these allow us to compare results before and after.

The language of numbers is familiar to people who are planning projects or responsible for business operations. Using these metrics will make our communication more objective.

2. A KPI is a tool to spot problems

As a KPI can show us improvement, it can also indicate a failure. For example, what are the critical points in a particular funnel? Indeed, one of the UX designer’s role is to find and solve the right problems.

Lack of work with a KPI can create wrong assumptions that have a possibility to make our house of cards collapse.

UX Designers can find a source of inspiration, motivation and much more in KPIs.

3. A KPI is a tool to turn abstract into concrete

A strategy is abstract by definition, but measurable values give it a shape and allow our minds to grasp it more easily.

Each strategy has its relevant KPIs, for example: growth in revenue, a number of customers retained, saving of user’s time, decrease in calls to help desk, reduction of user errors, etc.

The right KPI creates prioritization that will bring more clarity and focus.

4. A KPI is a tool to connect the business goals and the user experience

“To understand products, it is not enough to understand design or technology: it is critical to understand business.” — Donald A. Norman

The success measure of a product produces a system of interactions between the business interest and the interest of the user experience.

Sometimes the business goal is linked with intuitive user behavior and sometimes with different behavior than the user expects it to be.

A good designer is measured by producing a good user experience that serves the business goal.

5. A KPI is a tool to make an impact

How can KPIs help us be influential?

  • It makes the impact of design decisions more objective and prevents doubt in its value.
  • By using it we can generate motivation — “we’re going to move that needle.”
  • It can help us to take a more proactive position to help organizations reach strategic goals.

Measuring success with measurable value doesn’t have to be just business.

During the past 6 months, I’ve been training to tone my body. The reason I enjoy the process and persist with the training program is that I see results and progress. Reaching my goal includes the following steps:

1. Defining Goal

The goal is the starting point for defining appropriate KPIs — but only if the goal is clear, specific, achievable, relevant and measurable.

Example: My goal is to tone my body, which means to reduce body fat and gain muscle mass.

2. Defining Indicators

For each goal, we have to define Indicators that will allow us to monitor and measure success.

Example: My indicators are: body weight, body fat, arm circumference and waist circumference.

3. Defining Targets

For each KPI, we have to set clear targets for successful performance.

Example: My target is that in four months my body weight will be 73kg, my body fat will be 13%, my arm circumference will be 35 cm and my waist circumference will be 82 cm.

4. Defining Data Collection Frequency

Some KPIs require data to be collected continuously, others specify hourly, daily, monthly, quarterly or annually.

Example: Each month I weigh myself and make changes in my training and nutrition program accordingly.

5. Defining Expiration/Revision Date

The KPI should include an expiration or revision date.

Example: In four months (10th of May 2020), I’ll update my targets.

6. Defining Way to Communicate the KPIs

We need to make our results obvious, therefore we have to think of a way to communicate our KPIs clearly.

Example: I made the following table:

Table that contain the following indicators: body weight, body fat, arm circumference and waist circumference.

Table that contain the following indicators: body weight, body fat, arm circumference and waist circumference.

There are ups and downs, but overall, tracking the numerical value gives me the motivation to practice hard and eat right to get to the next weighing in better condition.

“Dreams are for the dreamers. Goals are for achievers.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

A pile of weights in the gym.

A pile of weights in the gym.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

“You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.” — Banksy

Indicators can show us just the fact that a person went to a restaurant and had a meal, but they can’t tell us about his experience. Through quantitative research, we compare numbers that can be measured but we cannot rely only on it because numbers can’t be used to answer everything.

For example, when we want to check a funnel — when the users execute a particular action in the sequence of actions we mark it as done ✔️ — which is considered a success. However, between 0 and 1, the metric can show success but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a good user experience.

Actually, KPIs don’t do anything to improve performance. They only tell us if we’re achieving our target.

To get specific information we have to talk with users — what is the user’s background, what they choose to say first, what they choose to emphasize or not, what is their work process…

Quantitative research gives us a basis, qualitative research gives us depth.

We need to combine quantitative and qualitative metrics to validate the data in the present and in addition, to predict the future.

“Tools help us do our work better.” — Steve Jobs

The dialogue of designers often includes talk about different kinds of tools. Some tools allow us to move pixels and some affect the bigger picture.

This tweet sharpens the question — how do we as a UX community think and talk about tools?

While Product Managers have realized a long time ago that good product management cannot come without an understanding of user experience tools, UX designers need to realize that without using tools like KPIs, it is difficult to produce a relevant user experience that serves business goals.

This is no longer just a theory, good design drives organizations to deliver better products and services. It’s been proven frequently.

As mediators between the users’ satisfaction and business goals, our toolbox should include tools like KPIs.

This tool is one of the keys for UX designers to move forward and change our reputation. By measuring success, blurred concepts become clearer, principles are reinforced and there is a distinction between desirable and undesirable.

A KPI is a tool for UX designers to communicate, research, understand, criticize and influence.