The phrase “data is the new oil” was coined by mathematician Clive Humby as a retort to the growing reliance data-driven design. User data has become a staple in the development of digital products and is increasingly implemented in digital strategies as big data continues to influence businesses.
Tech-enabled companies and healthcare giants, among many others, use data governance to capture, storage, control, and exportation of customer data.
On the consumer side, many people are not fully aware of the extent that their browsing histories and app usage are tracked.
Who works with user data?
- Project managers
- UX designers
- Development teams
While user data is collected in several different departments, product teams use it to get a better understanding of human behavior. Data-driven design helps them inform their processes for building better digital products.
Successful products cater to their end users. Read on to learn about data-driven design and how it enables teams to build customized products that cater to user needs and behaviors.
What is Data-Driven Design?
Both physical and digital products follow some design process. These processes almost always make use of research to:
- Understand the target audience
- Determine how others approach solving the problem at hand (if competitors exist).
These processes help designers work toward crafting a positive user experience. However, not all design processes are created equal.
Simply put, data-driven design is a process that relies heavily on research to solve a problem.
Data comes in many shapes and sizes and can provide incredible insights into trends, behaviors, and user preferences.
Qualitative data – Information that can’t be measured, such as opinions or behavior
Quantitative data – Measurable numeric values
As Nielsen put it, “the web page is the most basic and foundational unit of the web.” However, today’s web pages did not always cater to fleeting attention spans and oversaturated marketplaces.
Websites have undergone consistent iterations in an attempt to cater to societal norms, adjust to changing behaviors, and chase user preferences. For example, today’s web pages have evolved to feature:
- Short paragraphs of text
- Thoughtful images placement
- Bulleted lists
- More white space
- Bolded keywords
Thanks to eye-tracking, mouse movement, and related research, we have an enhanced understanding of how people consume online content. Thus, data-driven design has led to web experiences that emphasize readability, usability, and improved UX.
However, not all data is always useful. Consider Clayton M. Christensen’s “Jobs to Be Done” theory. You will see that all of the demographic and psychographic data in the world won’t tell you how to serve a personalized user experience. Even specific user types don’t follow cookie-cutter patterns.
Data-driven design moves beyond correlating general data. Instead, it focuses on why users require a specific product and how to best deliver that product.
UX designers support this process by identifying user pain points and potential product holes with tools like usability testing and gap analyses.
The Building Blocks of Data-Driven Design
Without data, products often fail to reach their full potential. Data enables designers to better understand their users and what they expect from a digital product. Designers are empowered to deliver effective products by creating applications with:
- Faster user journeys
- Higher conversion rates
- Less clutter, more value
Naturally, collecting user data, analyzing behavior, and adjusting UI and UX are integral steps in the design process. We mentioned qualitative research above and how it’s necessary to the design process — now we’ll expand on examples of qualitative data and how it can provide value to a digital product.
The design process typically includes several steps:
- Mapping out user flows
- Painting on the UI
A great way to pull in multiple perspectives is by having multiple designers sketch out basic flows on paper and then presenting them one at a time to each other.
Sharing ideas makes ideating more effective! When you involve multiple designers in the creation and research processes, it is easier to communicate findings. Additionally, teamwork can often create a better understanding of which data is most important in specific cases.
Best practices for design illustrate the dangers of digital products released without taking user feedback into account. Products are designed for users to serve a specific purpose, making users all-the-more important during the data-driven design process.
Jakt designer, Brooke Altman, explains how user feedback is an essential step in data-driven design,
“I’ve found that usability testing with real users in the early stages of design often elicits invaluable qualitative data. Exposing a concept to people who are already deeply rooted in a particular space, even if it’s in the form of a low-fidelity prototype, can shed light on the clarity of dynamic features and validate (or invalidate) design flows.”
Preparing to Launch Your Product
A great strategy for new players in the market is to break a product down into testing phases.
Beta launching a product can be incredibly helpful for gathering research. Product teams use beta launches to:
- Collect live user feedback.
- Test different features.
- Test approaches on existing functions.
After collecting initial product research and seeing how people interact with core elements, you can make changes to the design in preparation for an Alpha launch.
Once a product is in its Alpha phase, data on your audience can be gathered formally through usage tracking and interaction metrics. Data-driven design also provides the means to uncover weak points in a digital product, such as areas where users take more steps than expected to complete a specific action.
When asked about a product launch, Jakt Designer, Brooke Altman, spoke highly of usability testing,
“By talking to real people and letting them navigate your product freely, you can uncover intricacies that are sometimes impossible to see from the outside. In these scenarios, the unintended transfer of tacit knowledge can make the difference between a good product and a behavior-changing one.”
Is Data-driven Design Dangerous for a Designer’s Creativity?
Data-driven design challenges designers to be more creative by encouraging them to take new approaches to proven problems. Encompassing additional perspectives exposes designers to brand new thought processes, which leads to long-term skill growth.
As Jakt designer, Steven Ko, puts it,
“It’s like knowing the rules of a game. In any game, you have to make informed decisions within the constraints of its rules. Creativity is finding opportunities within these constraints.”
That being said, designers can certainly limit themselves if they remove intuition from the design process. Data-driven design calls for data to improve a product based on user actions, not completely redefine it.
Designers should avoid completely overstepping style guides and compromise usability. In most cases, there’s a way to combine data with intuition to create a valuable digital product.
If you’re looking to create a digital product with strong design and a data-driven UX, reach out to us.