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Goal Setting and OKRs for Designers

By Betterworks
5 minute read
Updated on April 22, 2022
Goal Setting and OKRs for Designers

At Betterworks, we know that the best goal-setting process, like OKRs, leads to connected, supported, progress-based, adaptable, and aspirational goals.

In sales or support, where numbers are ever-present in day-to-day work, setting and measuring the goals is as easy as looking at the latest report or record. But how do those of us who are in less quantifiable roles, like design, measure success?

While you could argue that design is attached to metrics in the end (e.g product design leads to sales, etc) these chains of causation are too long to measure. Tying measures like a spike in qualified sales leads to phenomenal work done on a wireframe doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible for that feedback to be real-time, and it dilutes the impact of great design work leaving designers feeling under-appreciated.

Why is Goal Setting Important for Designers?

  • Goals are a transparent agreement on workload and priorities
    • Goals provide the context for discussion around requirements and reduces confusion around priorities
  • They keep track of all the moving pieces
    • Shared goals with the cross functional team helps you understand the status, keep track of feedback, and avoid duplication
  • Goals help designers get credit for work
    • Great design requires lots of iteration, and excellent work often ends up being deferred due to shifting priorities. Additionally, the process of sifting through file sharing systems to look for portfolio work or past projects can be painful. Goals provide the context for recording details and whereabouts of files so you can easily access your past accomplishments.

Setting Great Design Goals

The Mission

An effective first step toward setting goals is to define a mission statement for the next year. Is it to become more well rounded? Be a better team player? Develop management skills? This mission will act as your goal setting lens, while letting you stay focused on the more operational, day to day work.

With that mission in mind, I recommend setting 1-3 operational goals. These are the biggest deliverables for a given period of time (i.e we are on a quarterly cadence at Betterworks). For a design lead, the top 3 goals are things like this:

  • Ship visual designs for the best goals product on the market where each feature shown in product one pager grabs the attention of it’s consumers
  • Deliver a best in class integration/partnership experience
  • Implement a streamlined design prototyping process

In addition to those 1-3 essential goals, I recommend adding goals that fall into these other 3 types as appropriate. The magic number for quarterly goals seems to be somewhere between 3 – 5 goals. If your company practices the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) methodology, these goals would be your objectives.

Other Goal Types

Personal Development Goals: These are goals specifically related to self-improvement, and may be kept public or private, depending on the nature of the goal

  • Learn Sketch
  • Speak at a Design Conference
  • Improve Ability to Frame Projects

Citizenship Goals: Goals that define what you can do to play a role in the development of excellent company culture

  • Improve work relationships by inviting each engineer to lunch
  • Submit designs for team Dribbble account
  • Refer 5 friends to the company

Leadership Goals: Goals enhancing mentorship and leadership abilities

  • Teach a class internally
  • Mentor a new intern
  • Earn a new certification

Know what your 3-5 biggest goals are (1-3 mission-critical ones and additional goal types.)

Building the Goal

Once your goal is defined, break them down to help you focus on specific deliverables. We call these smaller deliverables milestones. These discrete milestones help you form a plan of action for your goals. They are also your measures for success. When all is said and done, you can point to the milestones you completed as evidence of your accomplishments for the quarter.

Milestones: Small, specific chunks of work that add up to your mission-critical goals; the things you need to do in order to hit your goals and keep your job. Milestones are specific to each person and their contribution to the company. They are the measures of a goal’s success.

  • Redesign the Activity Feed
  • Contribute 3 Modules to the Pattern Library
  • Complete 20 User Interviews

Depending on your company’s culture, it is possible to quantify these milestones, for example, “Redesign the Activity Feed to Increase Social Actions by 20%.” Metrics are highly effective when they point to an aspirational outcome, but not when they are so tightly prescribed that they reduce the ability to take risks.

Break down your bigger goals into milestones so you have a tangible plan for how you will achieve your goals and can measure your goal’s success.

Are metric-based goals appropriate for designers?

This is a question we get asked all the time, and the answer is yes and no; it totally depends on the scenario and design culture you have. If you have a strong analytics culture within your design and product teams, then metrics are a good idea. If not, forcing numbers and metrics onto your goals can actually be a very bad thing. What gets measured gets done, so use metrics with caution.

For those who are using metrics, one of the best tricks is combining leading and lagging metrics for the same goal. A leading metric could be 10 user interviews, and a lagging metric could be an NPS score of 50. If pinpointing a lagging metric is hard, trying setting a couple leading metrics that almost guarantee the success of the goal. You may not reach the goal, but if you set (and obviously complete) good leading metrics, it’s likely you’ll be close.

Connecting your Goals

Depending on your goal-setting process, you may have the ability to connect your goals to others. Alignment is especially common in operational goals, as they’re directly tied to the progress of company initiatives. A few benefits of connecting goals include:

  • Tracking dependencies within a project
  • Seeing how your work aligns to the goals of your company
  • Directly contributing to the progress of your team goals

betterworks screenshot goal setting

Here we can see Laurie’s design goals for her company. She has three operational goals (Designing Features (2) and Developing Patterns) and two development goals (UX Conference and GA Front End Course.)

Traditionally, alignment occurs between the goal setter and their manager, but more often, goals are connected at a project level to track cross functional dependencies across a project. In product design teams, UX designers will often want to align to a product lead so there is a holistic view of dependencies Additionally, designers may want to host a department-wide blitz on a cultural initiative.

Department-wide User Research Blitz


While some alignment is beneficial, it is rare that 100% of goals are aligned to another goal. Personal development goals, for example may be private to just a person or their manager.

In Summary

Building out your goals takes time, but the basic premises are very simple:

  1. Know what your mission critical goals are, and limit them in number so you stay focused (3-5 total, 1-3 operational goals)
  2. Break down those bigger goals into discrete milestones
  3. If possible, turn those milestones into quantifiable metrics
  4. Connect your goals lets your progress flow throughout your team and your company, and leads to greater achievement

If you’re interested in examples and insights for other roles, download the Sales Guide and Marketing Guide here.