What makes a successful product design, and at what stage should metrics be defined? Let's dive into why, when, and how product metrics should be set.

Why Metrics Matter

The success of a new feature or product depends on a complex combination of multiple factors, and achieving the expected outcome is never a guarantee. Even when we are confident that we delivered the best design work, we can't consider it a success if our team doesn't have clear metrics to assess the results of a project. Of course, the need to measure results is not a new idea, but designers frequently overlook how crucial it is to define those metrics at the beginning of any job. More than a tool to evaluate results at the end of a project, success metrics guide the focus of research efforts, increase the speed of decision making, and help the team stay aligned. 

Solving a Real Problem

One common pitfall of agile teams is to come up with creative solutions that are innovative and exciting but do not address a real need or respond to a real problem. For example, we might have a great design for a new onboarding flow for a music app. When we spend time thinking about how we will measure the success of this new feature, we are forced to make a connection between what we are implementing and the business goals, such as acquiring new users, converting users from the free plan to a premium plan, or reducing churn. We are also forced to face the fact that the change we are considering might not affect the business goals in a significant way. Recognizing that disconnect allows for an early course correction.

Identifying the Solution

Once the team establishes that a new feature is worthwhile, designers are free to start exploring possible solutions, different user experiences, and potential ways to support user goals. When choosing the best way forward between multiple options, we want subjectivity out of the way as much as possible. This process is faster when the whole team uses the same criterion: which solution will more effectively affect the success metrics selected for the project.

In our previous example of the new onboarding flow, we might create a simple onboarding flow to make it easier for new users to sign up, or we might include more steps to gather information on the user's music taste to provide better recommendations and increase usage. After the project, having a set of success metrics is necessary to determine if the investment on the project was worth it, to iterate on the design, or to go in a completely different direction. In the end, design is about making intentional decisions, and success metrics can be a valuable input to guide those decisions, if they are properly selected.

Design success metrics can also be useful as predictors of more strategic business metrics. The most common business indicators are "lagging indicators," or indicators that measure results after the fact. For example, a team will know if they hit their quarterly sales goal at the end of the quarter. Before that, they can measure "leading indicators," such as reduction in cart abandonment, or percentage of returning customers.

Selecting the Correct Metrics

One of the main reasons why not all teams use metrics to evaluate projects more consistently is the fact that selecting the right set of metrics requires some thoughtful consideration. Let's imagine the re-design of the payment flow for an e-commerce app motivated by the business goal of increasing sales. The first thing to keep in mind is that some subjective aspects, for example "ease-of-use," can still be evaluated with objective measurements like "time to complete an order." The same team might want to evaluate how the new design for the payment flow communicates trust, something hard to quantify. In those cases, the appropriate measure might be subjective, such as user feedback. The lack of hard numbers is not a reason not to measure success.

Another consideration when selecting a metric is finding an indicator for which you already have a baseline to compare: measuring the "percentage of users who successfully complete a task" is only helpful if this data was already being captured before the launch of a new design.

How to Get Started with Success Metrics

If defining success metrics is not part of the culture and the design process in your team or organization, you can get started by familiarizing yourself with the strategic business goals of your organization and how they are being measured; investigating which product metrics are already available to you (click-through rates, Net Promoter Score, conversion); determining if any of those metrics are appropriate to measure the success of the design you are working on, and if not, if they can be reliable proxies; and then starting a conversation with your stakeholders. Everyone should care about success metrics, and there's no one better to lead this process than product designers!

How do you measure success for product design at your organization? Leave a comment and let me know!


Jessica Toyota

Jessica Toyota is a Product Designer at Avenue Code working on web and mobile applications. She has a Master in Interaction Design from California College of the Arts and a background in management consulting.

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