Articles · · 4 min read

Overcoming The Desirability Gap

Simple in structure, a Strategy Map shows the relationships between organizational objectives through underlying quality perspectives.

The biggest issue I've experienced is what I'll call The Desirability Gap.

When teams are discussing quality, everyone has an idea or opinion of what that means. It's totally healthy and valid for colleagues to share their thoughts and beliefs. But, when teams are trying to track and measure quality, WAY too much emphasis is placed on metrics that are in service to the company, not the customer. Most of the objectives and measures teams use to measure success don't tell the story of why a customer is satisfied, why they continue to engage, if engagement is healthy for the customer, if the product is meeting accessibility needs, etc.

We also know that information exists though! It exists in research, in reports, inside design teams, in the heads of subject matter experts… it exists in lots of places. It exists in the preferred languages of those who have it. In order to be heard, it needs to exist in the love languages our colleagues receive.

Strategy Maps is one of my favorite business tools that works well for designers.

What are Strategy Maps?

Strategy Maps are one of my favorite business visualizations. Simple in structure, a Strategy Map shows the relationships between organizational objectives through underlying quality perspectives.

Strategy Maps were originally popularized in the 1990s as part of a strategic management framework called The Balanced Scorecard. Now they’re a popular tool for describing and visualizing business strategies at companies large and small.

While traditional Strategy Maps connect objectives of company health, we can use the same structure to talk about desirability. Desirability Strategy Maps create a clear viewpoint on how separate perspectives of desirability influence product success.

Strategy Maps are also the visual representation of POKRs.

Desirability Strategy Maps

In order to keep things simple for my business partners, I use only four desirability perspectives. Doing so allows me to align objectives related to accessibility, trust, usability, task success, friction, positive impact, etc. to objectives business partners care about; adoption, retention, revenue, satisfaction, etc.

While I'll later share how to develop your own desirability perspectives, I'd like to share the four perspectives that have worked well for me over the years.

These perspectives, in order of understanding their meaning are:

These perspectives, in order of importance are reversed:

  1. Credibility
  2. Impact
  3. Usability
  4. Detectability

If you want your organization to prioritize factors like ethics or accessibility, you need to first emphasize the perspectives they belong to. I place credibility above all others because, ultimately, factors like trust, accuracy, and good intentions matter more than usability. If a customer doesn’t believe your product or service is credible, they’ll quickly take their business elsewhere.

This setup gives design teams an initial outlook on what desirability is: a detectable, usable, impactful, and credible experience that leads to adoption.

Desirability Objectives

A common dilemma designers and researchers face is when a colleague who has not participated in the research has their own idea of what to do. When this happens, your other colleagues do what’s natural: they base their own guess on their past experiences or prior knowledge. This is problematic because it leads to inaccurate conclusions across the board and difficult political situations.

One common approach to working through this dilemma is to expose colleagues to users. But we shouldn't just rely on them showing up. Another helpful approach is to show your logical reasoning. This approach involves two steps:

  1. Create desirability objectives
  2. Connect those objectives with conditional statements

Create desirability objectives

After we have our four desirability perspectives, it’s time to capture two to three strategic objectives for each. These objectives are where you clearly associate values like the environment, trust, society, ethics, diversity, or inclusion with the importance of usability, functionality, or aesthetics. Objectives are likely familiar to you too. The easiest way to express an objective is with a phrase that combines a verb and a specific noun. For example, “improve trust,” “increase inclusion,” or “reduce errors.”

Connect those objectives with conditional statements

Conditional statements are formed by connecting two separate statements. The first provides a hypothesis and the second, a conclusion. If you’ve ever developed an app or written code, you’re familiar with “if/then” and “if/else.” These are examples of conditional statements.

Conditional statements create a cause-and-effect model in which being successful with one statement promotes the success of the other. This is where the beauty of visual diagramming comes into place. Rather than trying to write out these statements, Strategy Maps hlep you illustrate this relationship using arrows.

Once we’ve captured a few desirability objectives, we can use the Strategy Map structure and arrows to align each to the specific perspective with a simple chart like the one here. As you add objectives, a more refined model of desirability emerges.

As you build out your model, you have clear statements of your reasoning of why focusing on important things like accessibility are vital to important things like adoption:

Increase accessibility -> reduced errors -> decreased friction -> increased credibility -> increased adoption

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