Heavily Regulated Industries Need Goal-Directed Design

Working in the insurance industry, an industry saddled with stiff regulations, has several implications for the design team. Generally, this means submitting each page to an internal review process and then to every state for their approval. If after filing there are additional changes, re-submitting a particular webpage earns extra scrutiny, increasing the chance that edits will be necessary prior to launch. As a result, every A/B test, every possible change, must be thought out ahead of time, without proving it first in production. Otherwise, the changes must be filed all over again. Because of these challenges, our digital experience and design team has adopted Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design (GDD) approach. 

How Goal-Directed Design helps

Throughout the design process, our team works hard to reduce ambiguity—lowering risk so that at launch the chance of something going wrong is minimized. To accomplish this, we need more information about our customers and users up front; we set out to discover as much as we can through talking with our business partners, subject matter experts, and, most importantly, the users directly. After analyzing the data, personas, journey maps, and context scenarios help us know what to build before we build it. As a result, we not only get early buy-in all along the way from stakeholders, we also have a far more focused understanding of what our customers will need, leading to less risk.

Understanding customers and users well is especially critical for organizations with strict regulatory requirements. Guessing and pivoting to a better solution takes too much time due to the filing and approvals needed. Knowing our personas allows us to make more informed decisions and instantly cures any dueling hypotheses within the design team or with stakeholders. On a recent project, I worked with a project team constructing a tool for a customer call center. Developers needed to get a better handle on a hierarchy that made sense, and the visual designer had to know what components ought to be grouped together. Interviewing and observing a few customer service representatives exposed their functional and data needs quickly clarifying what may have taken a number of cycles to get right.

Stakeholders also have a keen interest in understanding customers. When they are bought in and trust the work the design team has done along the way, they are more apt to support the project with limited interference. My design team was brought in to fix a particularly hairy problem along these lines. No one had a solid understanding of who we were building for outside of some marketing demographics. As a result, everyone had an opinion and what resulted was a compromise that pleased no one. We began by interviewing users and constructing personas. We built journey maps and context scenarios, gaining buy in from key stakeholders along the way. By the time we got to a framework, everyone on the design, development, and business teams were on the same page, and working to code out the vision we produced. A shared understanding of our users from the beginning cleared the way for building a website that works for everyone — even our users.

The example above took advantage of another GDD method: pair design. Although we’re still experimenting with it, we found that it helps us better focus on our personas and also frees each of us to be more creative. For example, working together at a whiteboard with one marker sharpened our collective thoughts and smoothed out our idiosyncrasies. Using the personas and scenarios as a guide, our work progressed more quickly, since we didn’t have to go back and forth about what we were building. Since we were working together, we were also free to explore crazy ideas beyond anything we had attempted before, because we could trust that our partner would bring us back to our persona’s goals.

Finally, GDD also helps the organization uncover what ideas have merit and how to bring them to life in a way that solves users’ goals. If your organization is looking to figure out if an executive’s idea will work or not, iterating with a scenario to figure out what’s best to build is quick and cheap. GDD makes this is possible because of the deep knowledge that personas provide.

Recently, I attended Cooper U’s Uncovering Customer Insights (now called “Advanced Design Research Techniques”) class. Instructors Jon Mysel and Jenea Hayes talked about providing stakeholders with initial research insights shortly after interviewing your users. Besides building rapport, sharing research data right away helps the business make intelligent decisions about whether the team should pivot to a related idea early on in the process. Though I’ve personally not tried this yet, I’m confident this approach will help my organization make better decisions quicker, before investing too much time in designing, coding, and submitting the wrong solution to a long regulatory review.


Goal-Directed Design provides organizations working under heavy regulatory requirements a way to pivot early and build something that actually works for users. Specifically, it provides a rich understanding of the user through personas and scenarios up front, provides a way to get to a solution quickly through pair design, and helps the business to rapidly determine what ideas will work, and provide the vision to make them happen.  

Grant Baker

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