There are a lot of theories about what drives people and how they move through life. It’s my belief that on a subconscious level we are goal driven creatures. There is nothing people do that can not be defined as a goal. From this starting point I designed a simple model that can help us as designers make the decisions where to focus on in the design process.

Analysing ‘goals’

In order to work with the model we first have to get a simple understanding of the definition ‘goal’. In goal-setting theory a goal is an end state somebody wants to reach. In order to reach the goal you need to have a clear awareness of the tasks that need to be done. If all the tasks are done the goal has been reached. The interesting part about goal-setting is that each task in itself can be viewed as a goal, since it also should has an end state in order to be able to finish it. I would like to define these tasks as being ‘facilitators’ for the above goal, they answer the question ‘How do I reach this goal?’

An example: when the general goal is ‘Getting married’ the facilitators can be stuff like ‘find a boyfriend’, ‘get a marriage proposal’, ‘buy a wedding cake’, ‘say yes on wedding day’

The above approach is pretty straight-forward. The moment you have a goal, you can start defining the tasks and make them small and doable. But it also works the other way around. If we can keep breaking down goals we should also be able to build them up. Each goal somebody sets must come from somewhere. Above each goal are one or more motivators. These motivators are the reason we’ve set the goal in the first place. They are in themselves goals. When you pick a specific goal the ‘motivators’ above this goal will answer the question ‘Why do I want to reach this goal?’

An example: when the general goal is ‘Getting married’ the motivators can be ‘romantic relationship’, ‘financial security’, ‘have children’ but also ‘get away from my parents’

Finding the right motivation

So if you’d continue this way of thinking you could almost create an endless flow of interconnected goals. Each higher goal (motivator) becomes more generalistic, while each lower goal (facilitator) is more specific. When looking at the examples you also notice that defining the motivators makes you realize that not always the obvious motivations might be the ones that you’d automatically would have gone for. Not all people marry for a romantic future, but there are loads of people going for financial security. The same goes for all other goals. We can consider the facilitators to be the basic foundation of a goal. They should be there, but in no way they should go beyond just facilitating. In a way they are the design patterns and usability check of the goal. If it’s there and people can reach the end state than that’s good enough. On the other hand the motivators are much more. The motivators are the things we should remind people of. An example: when somebody is about to get married, but she is getting last minute doubts. What do we do? We probably won’t get here to marry by talking to her about the facilitators (“Hey, you bought a beautiful wedding cake. What a shame to throw it away.”). No, instead we need to remind her of the motivators above the goal (“If you don’t get married you can’t leave your parents house. Is that what you want?”)

Turning goals into design decisions

When we understand the way goals work we can start using the model. It enables us as designers to make fast and simple judgements in our design process. By analysing goals it will give us insights in what people want, how they will reach that goal and how we can keep them motivated while doing this. We can do this on different levels in the design process. Let’s look at some examples for a holiday website:

1. Overall user goal: I want to go on holiday

The overall user goal is one that will get people to your website in general, but not specific enough to dive into the details. In the case of a holiday website you’d want people to come to your website and immediately understand that here they can find stuff that enables them to reach this goal. By filling in the motivators and facilitators in the model you get an idea what you need to focus on. Users need to get a quick feeling that the facilitors are there, but it’s the motivators that you need to use to create the atmosphere. So in this case you can imagine a homepage with images of far away places, happy family pictures and copy that talks about being free and away. This is an ideal way to make clear decisions what is important on the website, because the motivators can be many things. It’s not just the ones I mentioned, but can also be ‘get a great deal,’ ‘have an adventure’ or ‘meet interesting people.’ In fact, the motivators that you focus on on this overall level should be linked to the strategy, they define the theme of the website (see: ‘Aristotle’s Storytelling Framework for the Interactive Products‘). Motivators: be free, enjoy the family, see the world Facilitators: get inspiration, find a place to travel to, find a good deal, book the holiday, …

2. User goal: I want to book this specific hotel

Somebody went through the website and found a great hotel that he wants to go to with his wife. In almost all cases you’ll pass through a series of forms. These kind of flows have a tendency to focus primarily on usability issues, but keeping the user motivated is just as important. When we put the goal in the center we find the practical form steps as facilitators, they should be there and work without trouble. Again the motivators are the most important aspects. The user is booking the hotel because of multiple reasons, for example ‘A romantic weekend away with the wife,’ ‘It’s a super deal’ or ‘This is the cute hotel we always wanted.’ You can already guess what I am going to say next; it’s the motivators you should put on the front. If it’s a super deal, show it on every step of the booking process. If the booking date is around valentine’s day, make it romantic. And at least always show a picture of the hotel room and the price, since that was in itself a motivation to book it.

3. User goal: I want to sign up for the newsletter.

You can use the model for big issues, but also for very small ones. For many teams it has been a great way of understanding how to make certain features on a website appeal to users. Take for example the newsletter sign-up. How many times haven’t you had a discussion with a client about the fact that people don’t want to sign up for a newsletter just for the sake of the newsletter itself? And there are many similar issues like these around. By putting the goal ‘Signing up for a newsletter’ in the center of the model you can easily let a client discover what the real motivator for people is to sign up, like ‘Be the first to get good deals’ or ‘Automatically receive monthly articles’.

To conclude

This model was designed to create a simple tool that enables us to make decisions on any level in the process. It’s an easy way to explain to other designers what they should focus on in their design. I’ve also used this model in workshops with web editing teams for different clients. It gave them an hands-on way of approaching the content of the site, helping them to understand what they should focus on when writing text for specific pages or how to set up a flow.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

8 comments on this article

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  2. Fantastic – I want these on a Post-It note!

    It’s a lovely concise tool for design ethnographers too – a lot of our work is just trying to figure out what the goals and motivators of the person commissioning research are so we can figure out the facilitator (i.e. the research plan). Thanks. Will pass this around my MSc Design Ethnography students here in Dundee.

  3. Great post! Analyzing user goals, first, is a great way to also break out of simply designing to fix a convoluted or confusing task in a user’s work environment. Reminds me a lot of Jens Rasmussen’s work on the Abstraction Hierarchy, a cornerstone of Ecological Interface Design.

    Although the AH is more complex, each level in the hierarchy (which can be considered to represent one’s view of or interaction with their work domain at that time) can be evaluated such that elements above represent the “why” whereas elements below represent “how”.

    Why: “Why do I want to go on holiday”
    What: “Go on Holiday”
    How: “Find a Location”

    As users move up and down in this goal decomposition, the same rules can apply. Taking the example above, if we move down in the decomposition, it *could* look like:

    Why: “Go on Holiday”
    What: “Find a Location”
    How: “View an interactive map of holiday locations”

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  5. Justo on

    This sound much the same as Cooper and Goodwin’s “goal directed design” approach, but without the context, depth and narrative that personas and scenarios provide. I agree it is a quick and simple way to get inexperienced designers or non-designers to think about the ‘why’, but shouldn’t this be second nature to most designers?

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  7. I’ve been a long-time fan of goal and data directed design methods. I never understood why designers were so gun shy to having a benchmark like a goal, or using data to help guide their design decisions. Every design problem I’ve encountered in 15 years, too many to recall at the point, has had multiple possible solutions. How do you pick the right one? Well, if you’re using goal oriented, data direct design, then you’re reducing risk and increasing the likelihood for success.

    The best design and business decisions consider customer goals, business objects, and what’s feasible. Drop one of those legs from the stool and your decision just can’t stand up as well.

    @justo, while it should be second nature to most designers, unfortunately, in my experience, it’s not. Hopefully articles like this, and a handy little app that just launched last week (Reframer, will change that. Reframer is a collaborative, realtime, team driven decision app that helps you decide what to focus on based on value and feasibility. So, you can capture research, tie it to a customer goal, business goal (value), and come up with design concepts, which you rate on feasibility.

    Here’s to more goal and data direct design approaches and less guessing.

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