Good habits to help meet design goals

Using vision, goals and habits in design

As a designer, you would have been trained to recognise the importance of the design process. Some of you will have also used a design vision to drive your vision. You may not use it regularly, but maybe at least in a couple of projects. But do you regularly set design goals for your projects? And have you tried establishing design habits? Without all of these elements working together, the design process is incomplete and inefficient and will only give results when the right team uses it. If fact, these are the elements that set high performing design teams apart from the mediocre ones.

The importance of vision and values

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.

-Yogi Berra

A process without a vision is like having a detailed map but no idea about where you want to go. You might find yourself on a path only to find out much later that it led you astray.

I’ve often talked in the past about having a vision and starting with the right set of values. You can read about it here.

I see three ways that you can approach the product vision. You can have business needs drive the vision. A lot of designers prefer user needs to drive the vision. I, however, prefer that the vision is driven by the value that takes into account both the user and business needs. Read this article to know more about this approach:

Most design processes, unfortunately are not designed to incorporate the vision into the process.

Limitations of the design process

Luckily however, the good ones do start off with an examination of exactly where one is. Take the famous double diamond design process for example. The process starts with a discovery stage where one has to first determine the current state of the product and also get an understanding of the users’ mental models.

The end state however, in my opinion, is not very well defined. It is only in the prototyping stage when multiple iterations are built and tested that the end state emerges.

However, when we compare this to using a map, you can see the stark difference. In the case of a physical map, you have a good idea of the destination. Or at least the kind of destination you are looking for (hotel, gas station, etc). When we start our design, we rarely start with the destination in mind. We assume, we will find it along. During the journey.

Happiness is a journey, not the destination

Unfortunately, when we are building a commercial product, nobody is interested in the journey. It is the final outcome that matters. To the user it does not matter if the iPhone underwent 1001 iterations before the release or just 3. What does matter to the user is that they have a product that completely reimagined what a phone is supposed to do. Now phones have:

  1. Intuitive interfaces
  2. Direct manipulation
  3. A scalable platform for continuous improvement.

These are not objectives that can easily and organically emerge by just following a process. To achieve these results, the project needs to be led by one or many visionaries.

For that you can depend on having a visionary on the team. Like Steve Jobs. Or use a process that incorporates the vision into the stages. Like value centered design:

But having a vision is not enough. Once you have the vision, you need to set the right goals.


I used to consult for a number of design startups till about a month ago. With every startup client I would work with I would recommend shifting to an OKR based system. Everyone who did have thanked me a lot for the suggestion.

Now that I’m leading a team of designers, my first task has been to come up with the goals and key results that are going to set the direction for the coming future.

Betterworks has a great article on how OKRs help designers on their blog. The three primary advantages they describe are:

  1. Goals are a transparent agreement on workload and priorities.
  2. They keep track of all the moving pieces.
  3. Goals help designers get credit for work.

Take you vision as the starting point and set your design goals for the team and don’t take the design goals cascade from product management goals or business goals. Instead of cascading goals, we should be cascading meaning.

Achieving your goals

Good habits are the key to meeting your goals. In fact, habits are the physical manifestations of your goals and visions. They are a vote for the kind of person that you are and defines your identity. And some habits are more important than others.They are known as keystone habits and it is basically a habit that puts the rest of your life into place.

Similarly, there are keystone habits that will help your design team get into place. These design habits should come about as a result of a proper interpretation of your goals. And depending upon what you wish to achieve, decide the key area you wish to strengthen in order to achieve the goal.

For example, if you are at a stage where you are looking to develop a new product line, your design team to be innovative. To foster innovation, you need to set up some keystone habits that will help the team be more innovative. James Clear, the best selling author of the book Atomic Habits, defines a habit loop that can be used to reinforce habits.

For example in order to nurture innovation, you need to create an environment where there are enough cues that triggers forward looking ideas and keeps everyone craving to be at the leading edge of development. This behaviour then needs to be rewarded so that the habit loop is kept in motion.

So what are some of these cues that can trigger innovation? You should start by making the team aware of the innovation happening around them. Encourage them to take things apart and put them together differently in Hackdays. You could also encourage cross learning by having book clubs, screening industry talks and holding internal brown-bag talks.

This helps build habits that foster innovation. Similarly you can use other triggers that help cultivate other keystone habits. Here is a quick list.


  • Team meetings
  • Standups
  • Walk up to people
  • Don’t send emails
  • Ask for help
  • Ask how you can help
  • Sketch out ideas on a whiteboard


  • Practice time
  • Brownbags
  • Challenges
  • Rewards
  • Ping/Pong design
  • Follow industry news
  • Focus time


  • Keep a Journal
  • Book clubs and TED clubs
  • Take risk/ Keep risk takers safe
  • Highlight what’s new in the market
  • Question everything
  • Surround yourself with ideas
  • Take things apart
  • Hackdays
  • Look for patterns


  • Ask questions
  • Listen
  • Discuss Stories
  • Build personas
  • Be curious about why someone did something


  • Follow checklists
  • Eat that frog
  • Spend your most productive time on high value tasks
  • Reduce distraction
  • Do bug bashes
  • Crit sessions
  • Detailed demos
  • Don’t settle


  • Test early
  • Test often
  • Frequent check ins
  • Be constructive in feedback

You can pick up any of the habits from the list above to cultivate the behaviour you desire that will help you meet the goals that will help you realise your vision. And build great products.

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