Business focus vs. user focus design: finding the balance in UX

Aug 16, 2017

As UX designers, we practise user-focused design. While we’d love to be able to only focus on user goals and outcomes, unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. In reality, businesses come to us to solve their users’ needs. But the catch is they have needs we have to meet too.

In a perfect world, business goals would also be user goals. You would hope a business would be created with just that in mind. And many of them are. But businesses need to survive, and with that comes business goals such as: making money, growing their user base, and increasing brand awareness.

So, how do you find the balance between business and user goals?

The key word there is balance. The first step is to find out the key user-objectives, as well as the key business-objectives. This is done through holding interviews, not just with users, but also with key stakeholders in the business.
It can be tempting to just assume you know what these are, and sometimes you will, but that's not the point of being a UXer. The point is to find the evidence to prove your assumptions. You may even be surprised at the hidden objectives that can come up once you conduct interviews. Once you have this data, it’ll prove invaluable, especially in stakeholder meetings. You can’t argue with the facts and your assumptions will be backed up with cold, hard data.

Identifying links between user goals and business goals

Once you’ve gathered your findings, it’s time to sort them out. We generally use a process called affinity mapping. You know how being a UXer is usually associated with Post-It notes on a whiteboard? This is one of those stereotypes that’s actually quite true.

You note out all your findings and then group them according to categories that have arisen. Having all your findings mapped out on the board allows you to then identify patterns and themes in your findings. This should lead you to identify some key goals and objectives.

Now that you have your list of user and business goals, you should start seeing some links between the two. The most obvious theme for all products will be the user's need for a valuable product that actually works and meets their needs (whodathunk?). Their need is balanced by the businesses’ need to make money in order to improve their products value and meet the user's needs. It’s a cyclical and iterative process to balance these two needs.

Balancing needs, wants, and outcomes

In saying all that, balance should be easy for a good product. Falling too far on either side is unsustainable - only delivering value to the customer will crash the business and prioritising profit for the business will annoy your user base.

Think of it like this... you have two ships. One is your users, and one is your business. You must ensure they’re a fleet going in the same direction. Only focusing on your user-ship and you’ll find stakeholders will be left unsatisfied, meaning no more money to put into the product. And if you only focus on your stakeholders ship you’ll watch your users jump overboard as they are left with an expensive, difficult- to-use product that doesn’t meet their needs.

This is why UX is invaluable to your product, whether that be a website or an app. The UX process is necessary to find out what it is that your users need, as well as what your business needs and to ensure that everyone’s needs are met for a successful product.