Product development should focus on the why, not the outcome

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


In several conversations over the last few weeks, I’ve had discussions around optimising for the right things. As I have said before, the single biggest thing that I have learnt so far in the initiative is that having clear goals is everything.  

(Here comes the but …)

BUT, optimising for a single outcome can be detrimental. 

Product teams must not prioritise data over the why behind the data.
Product teams must not prioritise data over the why behind the data.

You may remember early in the initiative, I asked why the design of Amazon was so cluttered and why that was seen as a good thing. The answer is that Amazon optimises for sales, which has given them enormous success. Customers are at the center of everything. The “but” here is that now we are seeing that this ruthless optimisation is at the expense of other areas, such as employees and small businesses, amongst other things. 

Many of us optimise for time spent. It’s a reasonable assumption that if people are enjoying themselves or finding the content useful, they spend more time on our products — a sensible metric by all accounts and one that the industry uses as a benchmark. Yet, as Chris Moran, head of editorial innovation at The Guardian, pointed out on a recent Webinar, there are instances where people are coming to us looking for information. And the quicker we give it to them, the better. This very likely scenario skews our sensible metric.  

That’s likely why Schibsted in Norway optimises for time well spent — a small yet important tweak to how they view consumers’ use of their product. 

Another example came up when I spoke to Matt Cassella, UX and design director at Newsday in the USA. He told me about a scenario where some changes had been made to the design on the home page and the heat map glowed red at certain spots. He was skeptical — too good to be true! — so looked into it and his gut reaction was right. He found that the clicks were not a good thing: People weren’t going to other pages and staying on them. Through investigation, he found readers were “rage” clicking: they were clicking out of frustration, not because they were happily active on site. If they had been optimising for clicks, this would have been fantastic. But actually it was the opposite of the desired outcome. 

Why am I writing this? Because as product people we need to look at the why behind the numbers. The data is so vastly important, but we need to go beyond that when making product decisions. 

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Jodie Hopperton

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.