How to define design goals that support your client’s business goals

When projects wander and clients micromanage… the cause is not what you think. Avoid drama-filled projects by requiring client clarity (yes! you can!) before you define design goals.

Define Design Goals

I like to think of myself as a results-first designer… one who sets design goals that support my client’s business goals.

I define design goals as… the intentions I set for design that will create the action and emotion needed to get users to do what I want them to do.

We can’t set design goals when clients aren’t clear

There’s one super big variable in the whole equation of our work with clients. Our clients come complete with all their own opinions and ideas – and frequently they lack clarity.

Clients’ lack of clarity creates a wobbly foundation for our work… which makes it hard to set project design goals.

Some clients don’t know where they want to go beyond something that looks nice. They often don’t understand what a “goal” really is (even experienced business owners can struggle with this).

Where clients go wrong with business goals

A useful business goal is something you can measure but don’t fully have control of the outcome.

Here’s where clients typically go wrong in communicating goals:

  • They confuse them with projects.
  • They make them too vague.
  • They don’t make them measurable.
  • They confuse them with their overall vision or mission.

Things that we often hear from clients that are nice but not really measurable goals:

  • I want to be seen as a thought leader. This is not measurable.
  • I want to be perceived as vibrant and edgy. This is not measurable.
  • I need a website. This is a project.
  • I want more sales. This is too vague.

Help clients provide well-defined business goals

Knowing this, how can you help your clients provide you with better goals (aka a better foundation)?

  • I want to be in the top 10 results for the phrase [insert key phrase here] within 6 months.
  • I want to attract 8-10 new leads each month, specifically vibrant women entrepreneurs looking for business coaching.
  • I want to increase my email list by 25% in the second quarter.
  • I want to double my sales while keeping my operating expenses the same over the next 6 months.

This might sound like I’m suggesting that we create marketing plans for our clients… I’m not. But we have to understand how our design goals make marketing more effective for our clients.

Useful business goals help us define scope

When clients provide useful, measurable goals – they give you a starting point for project scope. During a consult call, you can drill down with questions like these:

  • What would achieving this goal mean for your business?
  • Who else does a good job in this space? What are they doing differently? What do you like? What do you not like?
  • Where do you think the customers that are looking for [insert your client’s offering here] hang out? Do you have a plan for reaching them?
  • When you say you want more sales, what does that look like?
  • What marketing tactics would be most effective in reaching this goal? How can the website support those marketing efforts (through automation, structure, etc)?

When you and your client mutually agree on a measurable goal, then it’s easier to agree on the projects required to achieve that goal. Projects such as updating the site design, adding a blog, optimizing for SEO… how might each of these move your client toward their goal?

Using business goals to define projects creates an agreed upon scope for the work… something you can outline in your proposals and circle back to if your client tries to change direction.

Defining business goals creates a mindset shift

If we can help clients provide us with useful, measurable goals, we can get them thinking results rather than costs.

Why is this shift in thinking important? If a client can’t give you useful, measurable goals, then the whole conversation becomes about the transaction, not the results of the work.

You’ll constantly be defending the value you bring to the project. When this happens, you have to ask yourself – is this client a good fit for you?

Business goals inform design goals

Once I understand what my client wants to achieve after they’ve defined usable business goals, I need to shift to thinking about my design goals for the project.

How will the design I create encourage users move from A to B? You might have heard this defined as “customer path” or “flow of the website”. Similarly, you could ask what needs to happen with the design to create the action and emotion needed to get users to do what I want them to do?

Point A is usually the homepage or other entry point (like a blog post or landing page) and B is the action I want them to take (click on something, sign up for something, buy something, inquire about something).

Design goals are business goals expressed as behavioral goals

Head of digital development at DR, Anders Toxboe, suggests that we turn business goals into behavioral goals.

“Good design goals are business goals expressed as behavioral goals. Where a business objective might be to “increase the number of paid subscribers”, your business goal could be to “get more paid subscribers via the sign up form”, then your behavioral goal would be to “get more people to click on the register button” or “help people understand our pricing plan options”.

Behavioral goals represent changes in the way people act. They are observable and measurable changes – also in users’ cognitions and emotions. One business goal often matches many behavioral goals. Stating goals in behavioral terms will result in more focused and effective brainstorming exercises.”

Break design goals into tactics for creating action and evoking emotion

I like to think of action as expressed through structure (or what we call the wireframe). When I review my clients goals… I think about how the layout of my site will impact the action the user should take:

  • There’s an order I need to present the information top to bottom that will help the user understand what they are supposed to do first.
  • There’s a hierarchy I need to apply within each section so that users notice what I want them to notice.
  • Each section should have a clear purpose – like either clarifying the message, establishing trust and credibility, and/or having a clear call to action.

Both the order of the information on the page and the size and weight of the elements in each section will guide users toward fulfilling my project design goals.

Evoking a desired emotional reaction is the result of styling (or specific design choices). When I work with a client through styling, I’m trying to accomplish the following:

  • Gain an understanding of how my client wants to be perceived by the world.
  • Mutual agreement on what that means visually.
  • Create a starting point for the design direction that evokes the emotional response I’ve defined in my project design goals.

Present design concepts with confidence

The strategy and intentional choices you make in structure and styling will allow you to do what you love… design with confidence.

Which translates to presenting your concepts to the client with confidence. They won’t be surprised… in fact, you might find it is a little anticlimactic (you know… without drama).

Because you’ve taken the journey WITH your client and found the intersection between their business goals and your design goals… you’ll have their participation, their buy-in and your projects will stay on time and in scope.

Can you see how your client’s lack of clarity can be the cause of all kinds of drama in your design process? It might manifest itself as projects that wander… or have endless revision cycles with indecisive clients. If you’ve had a recent drama-filled project, can you pinpoint the cause? Head on over to the Drama-Free Design Collective and tag me. I’d love to know what you thought of today’s article.

PS – I’m speaking at the Simply Profitable Designer Summit on April 26th about THIS SAME TOPIC. You’re invited! Get all the details and grab your free ticket here!

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.