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Hungry for data: Creating data-informed design

Published December 15, 2016 by PLATFORM

Much has been said about data-driven design and more broadly decision-making in the past years, and while data need to play increasingly more important role, we should speak of data-informed design rather than data-driven design. The distinction is important if a company wants to avoid the potential pitfall of blindly following what data may suggest.

If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.

A famous quote by Edward Deming sums up this view perfectly. Deming points out that data can answer many questions, but asking the right ones is the key. Every business owner or entrepreneur competing in the digital economy should learn to use data insights when making decisions. They should also understand how to improve their conversion funnel on their website or mobile app so that their hard work brings more profit.

During the design process, there are several different times at which data may be important in informing the designers but perhaps never as critical as during the initial stages when the problem/product is first defined and then in the testing stages when the potential solutions are evaluated by target customer segments. As you can imagine, solving the wrong problem very well still does not provide a proper solution and thus it is key to identify the problem clearly. It is also important to always remember to take into account prior experience and other available knowledge. Some tips that should help you use your data most effectively:

Be strategic, know what you want to discover

Have a vision of what you will do with the data once collected. Know why you are collecting your data and what questions you expect to answer.


Example: For example, you may wish to understand why people are leaving your mobile application or a website. Funnel analysis is the perfect tool that can help you understand what your app users might find confusing and where they are dropping off. Understanding these breakdowns in their journey is important, so that you can streamline your conversion funnel and make well-informed changes. For example, if you find out that your users are finding your two-step authorisation burdensome, you can consider making changes to your requirements if two-step authorisation is not mandatory for your industry.

Collect correct, not easy-to-get information

We all love to feel accomplished and sometimes it seems much easier to complete a task just to complete it, rather than to complete it as well as it can be done. However when it comes to data, you will lose in the long run if you choose to collect easy to get data instead of data that is really necessary in order to give you appropriate feedback regarding your problem.

correct info

Example: Don’t just consider pageviews but look at click through rates, engagements, activations or bounce rates for a better understanding of your page’s success. Try to understand what the people are doing on your page, get to know your conversion funnel well and understand which subpage of your webpage might turn people off. Similarly understand what part of your mobile app people like to interact with most. It may be better to have 10,000 highly engaged visitors than 50,000 visitors who spend only seconds on your page before leaving and not engaging with your content. Similarly, if your end goal is to increase response rates to some call to action button placed on your website, don’t measure increase in page visits but measure increase in CTA conversions.

Data tell stories about people

It is important to always remember that when we are collecting data, whether it is using A/B tests, analytics, interviews or surveys that what we are ultimately collecting is people’s perceptions or use of our products. Thus when we interpret these results, we should always remember to interpret them keeping the people in mind who are behind the data. Here it will be crucial to collect data using an appropriate market segment rather than an opportunistic group in order to get the best information. The best group to consider are always actual users and this can be done even before launching your final product by collecting data using your MVP.


Example: Two people are never the same but there are groups of people that behave similarly. People analytics helps you understand your customers, their likes, dislikes and also their activities prior to using your product and after they are done. Better understanding of their activities can help you customise their experience. You may be able to re-engage some using notifications, even send them reminders telling them they left something in the shopping cart. You may also find out that 80% of your customers spend majority of their time using a particular feature of your product. Perhaps improving this app feature and giving them an even greater experience will bring you the greatest returns. Additionally, analytic tools are now able to predict users' behaviours before they ever take them allowing you to spend your time on customers that are the most likely to convert.

This was just a brief overview of what to consider when trying to understand your customers. Some of the tools we use at PLATFORM Digital Agency are Google Analytics, Mixpanel and VWO. All of them allow us to understand the user's journey so that we can optimise our mobile app and web designs for our clients. However, it is important to note there are many other tools you could use.

Shift your subjective assumptions from we think to we know.

In summary, when data are used to understand the core problem, designers and decision makers can move faster and more efficiently to propose correct solutions for website and mobile app designs. When used correctly, data can be viewed as a roadmap to guide decisions and allow designers to arrive at their destination faster and with better precision. In other words, data cannot provide all the answers but data can provide valuable insights.

Anna McNab is a product strategist at PLATFORM and an associate professor at Niagara University

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