How to Use Data to Inform Your Design
In a previous post we talked about the importance of prototyping in UX design, but there is another process you need to undertake before you dive too deep into designing and developing your final product and launching it into the world.
You must collect and analyze data.
Lots and lots of data.
In fact, the more data you look at, the better.
Using data to inform your design is a surefire way to make sure your design will do what you want it to do. As much as designers love creative freedom, there needs to be a method to the madness when you are trying to get your audience to do something in particular, and let’s face it, we all are. Whether it’s to sign up for a newsletter or press that coveted “buy” button, applications must be designed in such a fashion that the user understands the intention and can perform the action.
To do this, designers need to understand how their target market uses certain applications, as well as what they want or need an application to do. This is where data comes in.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data
There are two types of data that work together to encapsulate what is often referred to as data-driven design: quantitative and qualitative.
“Data-driven design just means you are going out into the world and you are getting informed,” says UX specialist Matthew Weber. Weber is the VP of UX at Zoomdata and the founder of the monthly New York meet-up UX & Data. He also teaches UX at New York University.
“You’re asking questions of other people or you’re measuring things in one way or another. Then, when you’re informed and you know about what people are actually doing or how people want to use a product, you can make smart design decisions that match what they actually expect or need.”
Qualitative data is what Weber refers to as an “event.” It’s “more descriptive, a little fuzzier and less defined, but it’s usually much richer in terms of what kind of information you get out of it,” he says.
It often involves an element of storytelling, and is especially informative when you don’t have a website to monitor traffic or interactions, or a prototype of your product to test. Asking vague questions via interview or survey will help you better understand your intended users’ triggers. You can ask questions like:
- How often do you perform an action or use a certain application?
- What time of day do you use it?
- Who do you share it with and how do you present it to others?
- What are you hoping to get out of it?
- Tell me about a time you performed a certain task (specific to your application)
“Finding out as much as possible about what they’re actually doing makes us more informed,” Weber says.
Quantitative data is more numerical and measurable. It’s using analytics and tracking to determine the frequency an action is occurring; such as how often people are clicking a button.
“The downside of doing that is it doesn’t necessarily tell you why people are doing something. If you know people are, or are not, clicking on a button, there’s no way of telling you why it happened,” Weber says. “That distinction between qualitative and quantitative data is certainly important.”
Of course, data can be both qualitative and quantitative. Weber gives an example in a video he created for his students at NYU where a design team for a travel company is interviewing people about the last time they purchased a trip online. They find out that three out of five people had booked a trip with friends, something the team hadn’t considered before. They can now take this piece of information and use it to inform their design.
3 Steps of Data Collection
Weber says there are three steps he typically follows to collect data:
- User interviews – interviewing and talking to people
- Analytics and tracking – finding out what people are actually doing
- Usability testing – watching how people use your application
Usability testing is a crucial part of the data collection process. For example, if more than one person from a small test group experiences the same issue, that is considered significant and needs to be looked into.
Using Data to Inspire Innovation
“Once you know what the problem is, you can do the solution in a lot of different ways,” Weber says.
“The data tells you what an issue is, but it doesn’t tell you necessarily this is how you need to deal with it. It just frames the problem and you can be incredibly creative in how you solve it. Once you’ve solved it, you can use data to check to see if you’re solution actually worked. It can validate your creative solution. It doesn’t make things less creative, it basically gives you direction to where creativity is needed.”
Data is Empowering
The more data you have, the more you can be empowered to create a product that supports your mission, benefits your target audience and meets their needs.
It also makes the design process easier.
“To me design is really simple when you’re well informed,” Weber says. “If you know what people need, then the solution almost designs itself a lot of the time.”