Boosting UX With Design KPIs

Imagine that you’ve just received an invite to a new meeting. The description is a bit vague, but the title is sitting right there, with its heavy weight, making you a bit worried: design KPIs. Now, what do you think the meeting is going to be about?

It wouldn’t be surprising to hear about conversion rates, new A/B testing results and bounce rates; perhaps exit pages and SERPs and funnel drops. We might expect data from Google Analytics, and perhaps a report about generated leads.

What we expect to see are data points scattered across charts. Each of the data points represents a unique experience, and when put together, they represent an average behavior in our products. The average user doesn’t exist, of course, but the data helps us identify trends and changes over time.

These trends are indeed valuable insights. But they also are only one part of the full story.

Hidden Costs

Over the decades, we’ve become remarkably good in digital design. We’ve learned how to craft truly beautiful interfaces and well-orchestrated interactions. And we’ve also learned how to encourage action to meet project’s requirements and drive business metrics. We can make pretty anything work really.

In the mock-up above, the option “Add to basket” is beautifully highlighted in green, indicating a way forward, with insurance added in automatically. That’s a clear dark pattern, of course. The design, however, will drive business KPIs, i.e. increase a spend per customer. But it will also generate a wrong purchase. The implications of it for businesses might be severe and irreversible — with plenty of complaints, customer support inquiries and high costs of processing returns.

Many organizations focus on a few selected business metrics; yet they need a holistic overview of metrics that have an impact on the entire business. As Paul Boag explains in his recent book, there are plenty of hidden costs that often stay in the shadows of business KPIs. This usually leads to short-term improvements with expensive long-term implications.

A healthy business metrics mix usually includes KPIs that go a bit beyond data from Google Analytics. We also need to consider life-time value, time to first purchase, time to upgrade, loss in processing returns, cost of support, sales, marketing, acquisition and ratio of negative reviews, to name a few. And that’s exactly where another significant set of metrics comes into play — design KPIs.

Design KPIs

How can we speak objectively about a particular design? It appears to be such a subjective thing, with plenty of personal opinions and individual experiences that flow into every individual design process. Yet ultimately design solves problems, and we surely should be able to measure how well a particular problem is being solved.

In fact, just like we define business KPIs, we can also establish design KPIs and track their performance over time. Design KPIs are key attributes that capture customers’ experiences for top tasks that users frequently perform in a product.

I’ve recently started setting up dashboards of design KPIs in organizations that I work with. Together, we decide on key attributes that are important to provide a better UX, and then we track them repeatedly over time, very much like we would track performance or business metrics.

There are, as it turns out, plenty of helpful design KPIs, but these are the ones that usually deserve special attention:

top tasks completion rates,
top tasks completion times,
accuracy of data submitted by users,
ratio of content vs. navigation (mobile/desktop),
error frequency,
error recovery rate (= quality of error messages),
speed of publishing,
quality of leads,
time to release,
time to upgrade,
conversion rate,
carbon footprint impact,
System Usability Scale Score (ideally over 75),
accessibility score,
web performance score.

These metrics are much more focused around the actual user experience and user behavior, rather than ambiguous data points in analytics that represent an average behavior. Of course, we also need to keep track on these KPIs as time evolves. And this requires measurements.

Measuring Design KPIs

Once we have defined the KPIs, how do we measure them? We can rely on Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks approach and identify the most frequent tasks that users complete in a product. We conduct research to discover the most important tasks. We study search queries and server logs, run user interviews and workshops with stakeholders.

Once we have that list, we bring users in to vote on the tasks that they consider to be important for them. Then we write down task instructions for each top task. These instructions will be handed to users in usability tests to validate that they can actually complete these tasks successfully.

Finally, we run tests with the same task instructions to the same segments of users, repeatedly, every 8–12 weeks. Based on these tests, we measure and plot success rates and completion times over time. As long as we improve our design KPIs, we should be on the right path. And we have data to prove it!

Design KPIs help us stay on track in driving metrics that actually matter. With them, we can gradually improve UX over time and gain evidence that our design decisions are actually effective in practice.

Wrapping Up

It’s worth noting that the definition of design KPIs should have a significant impact on how the quality of work is measured. Rather than focusing on the amount of produced pages or websites, bounce rates or click rates alone, we should be aligned towards producing quality content that is useful for people consuming that content.

Next time you are working on a project, consider establishing design KPIs alongside business KPIs and create a more holistic and healthy mix of metrics that capture user experience and business goals. In the end, both sides will only benefit from it, with a sustainable and effective strategy that keeps users and business stakeholders happy.

Just One More Thing

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