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Designing for *relational* outcomes

My regular coffee shop was a bit busier than usual this morning, and slightly under staffed. As a way to help us all, I offered to get some coffees to customers so the barista could continue churning them out. As a thank you, she then gave me a bit of a discount for my own coffee. I also got a laugh and an offer of a tip from the tables I served.

This got me thinking about something I've been grappling with for a while - the idea of designing for outcomes. While it is fairly well established that we should be designing for outcomes rather than outputs, the language of 'outcomes' has increasingly felt as transactional and extractive as that of 'outputs'. Also, measuring the success of something by whether we achieved the outcomes we intended often seems to leave out the unintended (and thus often un-noticed) impacts we've had.

But what if we were to focus on *relational* outcomes? Looking at it from a generic outcomes perspective, this morning's events could be seen as a series of transactions...I offer to serve coffee > customer gets coffee > staff get a breather > I get a discount > all of us are happy (outcome). What happened was a bit more than that, though. There was a sense of neighbourliness that was reinforced. This is a small neighbourhood cafe, and most of us are regulars and locals. I've written earlier about how much my sense of being a part of this neighbourhood increases my own wellbeing... I wouldn't be surprised if others had similar wellbeing upticks in response to the increased neighbourliness. While all of us this morning had a good outcome (save time, got coffee, is happy), the sense of being part of a community was a lot more than the sum of the transactions that occurred. Is this 'neighbourliness' an outcome that we can design towards? What might that look like?

I'm working on a project at work, that on the surface seems like an CX/UX problem. Folks don't love using our software, and have let us know. The deeper I dig, though, this is just a symptom of the disease. The disease itself seems to be that folks have lost trust in our ability to respond to their particular needs. They feel ignored, misunderstood, and hurt because they thought we would understand them and their needs. How different would it be if we designed our product to different outcomes? What if, instead of just trying to make our software's users 'happy' with the product, we also worked towards (re)building trust? Or perhaps, the outcome is to rebuild trust, and the UX is just a step (output?) towards that outcome? The goal then becomes maintaining the relationship (Samoan - "teu le vaa/protect the relational space"), and the actions we take (spontaneous or designed) are all aimed at maintaining that relationship.

What do you think? Could this work? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

See also:

  1. A bit more on my thinking/reading on Relationality

  2. A bit more on the Vaa (Melanie Anae)

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