Through prototyping and testing the Persuasive Patterns card deck, I’ve held a series of workshops to explore how the cards are best used. The goal was to come up with product ideas making both new and existing products more persuasive – but along the way, I was amazed about the troubles most participants have, defining their own design goals.

As I conducted test after test, I also found the key to successful use of the cards being as much being a good facilitator as it is defining useful goals and conducting useful exercises.

Why are goals important?

Defining good and useful goals to design for is vital to any design task. Without clear design goals, you are designing with no clear direction, purpose, and intent. Good goals help articulate the problem your product tries to solve: the need it satisfies and the value it provides.

The most effective designers are those who end up with a product that reflects their original intent; those who problem-solve within the framework of understood and well-defined problems. Time spent investigating needs, visions, wants, and dreams will dramatically pay off in the final product. It is through the union of design goals and reality that we can create great products.

The most effective designers are those who end up with a product that reflects their original intent

Aligning user goals with the business

A common flaw when choosing the right design goal to design for, is to either focus either too much on user goals or or too much on business goals. Focusing solely on user goals might result in suffering profits. Focusing solely on business goals will most likely result in the same – profits will follow user activity, but most likely will not make users stick around for long.

First define your business goals

Start by defining your business goals; desireable outcomes of your business. Business goals should represent the change you want in your business. What change do you want to achieve? Ask yourself these questions: What are you hoping to accomplish with your website? What are the three most important priorities for your website? What do users have to do, in order for your business to be successful?

Goals are specific strategies to leverage to accomplish your overall business objective. Where your business objectives operate on a higher strategic level like “sell more stuff”, “create happy customers”, and “improve marketing effectiveness”, goals are the next drill down.

Goals represent specific strategies to achieve a business objective. Drilling down to find the goals is about asking questions that start with “how do we…”. These will reveal specific strategies to reach your business objectives. Examples are:

  • How do we get users to upload more pictures?
  • How do we get more pageviews?
  • How do we convert readers to members?
  • How do we get users to tell us what they like?
  • How do we get users to spend more time with our service?
  • How do we get users to comment more?

Keep going exploring new questions until you feel as if you have struck the change that will make your business go in the right direction. For your business to change in the right direction, you will want to influence user behavior. The business goals you want to design for should be mapped to the behavioral goals you want users to do in order to make your business change.

It is common to settle on one goal only to find out that the real goal was an important variety.

Then explore user goals

Continue to look for the “why” of why users are doing what they are doing – until you have found a user goal that is concrete enough for you to be able to satisfy it.

Then, look at what goals your users have. Why did they come to your site in the first place? What problem do they want help with? What job do you help them solve? Look for reasons why users are doing what they are doing: for the essence of their actions. Continue to look for the “why” of why users are doing what they are doing – until you have found a user goal that is concrete enough for you to be able to satisfy it.

To explore user goals, you need to look at the world from the user’s perspective. Get in their shoes and dwell into their needs. Common examples of user goals are:

  • I want to get something others don’t have
  • I want to feel good about myself
  • I want to be good at what I love
  • I want to get acknowledged for my work
  • I want to find more of the things I like
  • I want to receive feedback on my work

Finally, find the sweet spot in the middle

The next step is to combine the two worlds. Business- and user goals need to match for your continued success – so you want to aim for the sweet spot in the middle. You want to find which of your business goals that align with what users want.

Usability always has the user in the center, but once you dive into motivation, psychology, and conversion tactics, the danger lies in forgetting the user’s perspective.

Mapping user goals and business goals into tactics

Business goals and user goals are often different from each other, but map nicely. For example, the goal of “getting users to upload more pictures” might map nicely with a series of user goals:

  • I want to feel good about myself
  • I want to get acknowledged for my work
  • I want to receive feedback on my work

Following the above mapping, a number of tactics could apply:

  • Adding comments so that user receive feedback on what they upload and in turn feel acknowledged and good about themselves
  • Supplying statistics on how many views uploads get, so that users will feel good about users seeing their work
  • Rank the best uploads in a scoreboard so that users have a metrical goal to strive for

For further inspiration, browse the Persuasive Design Patterns section of this site.

You want to end up with 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.

Behavioral goals represent changes in the way people act.

The goal checklist

So you finally broke down your business objectives into business goals and converted that into specific user behavior you want encourage. You are almost set.

The next step is putting your goals to use; to create designs that aim to create the change in the way people use your product that the goal states. However, once the design is live, it is vital that it’s possible to observe and measure if the change actually occurred. To assess whether your design was successful.

A common pitfall when picking design goals is, that they become too vague and hard to monitor progress against. Generally, you want to aim for your goals being SMART.

  • Specific goals provide a clear direction against which to make effective decisions. They should not be open to interpretation and thus explicit about outcome.
  • Measurable goals help users follow, monitor, and evaluate progress. Measurable goals make the process empirical and thus provide evidence to compare and benchmark.
  • Achievable goals are feasible for the specific user targeted with the resources available. Match users’ differing skill levels with Appropriate challenges. If the ultimate goal is not immediately achievable, consider intermediary behaviours as objectives, allowing the end result to be reached via a series of smaller, more achievable steps.
  • Realistic goals motivate users as they seem within reach. Unrealistic goals de-motivate as they seem too far away.
  • Time-bound goals keep users from procrastinating and sets clear expectations as to how a goal should be prioritized.


Designing for clear goals is to design with purpose and intent. It’s a step away from just making something that is beautiful, but ultimately doesn’t work in its context. You are making something for a specific purpose, so why not try to fill that purpose through its design?

The mature designer thinks every design decision he makes through. Doing so without goals is near impossible – or at least without purpose. But be careful, merely designing for goals isn’t enough for your design to be successful. First you need to find the right goals. A good place to look is the sweet spot in between user goals and business goals.

The perfect UX brainstorm tool

I’ve found this approach for defining useful design goals through a large number of workshops. I’ve had the chance to perfect them along the way as I was beta-testing my latest project: The Persuasive Pattern Card Deck. The cards will ship in the spring of 2016 – until then, you can pre-order the cards at a favorable early-bird discount.

Anders Toxboe Author

Based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Toxboe is a Product Discovery coach and trainer, helping both small and big clients get their product right. He also founded and a series of other projects. Follow Anders at @uipatternscom.