Data is information, information is knowledge, and knowledge is wisdom. Right?
Well, not exactly. As Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” In the same way, knowledge is using the information from your users; wisdom is not defining them by it.
Data-driven design is all the rage right now, but art cannot be defined by ones and zeroes. We’re not designing for robots, and we shouldn’t treat our users like we are. Instead, we need to aim for data-informed design.
Data can help us learn a lot more about the people using our products. When are people most likely to use our product? How old are they? How many people sign up for our services? As a self-identified complete nerd, the data we can record is actually really cool. After receiving that data, we can make better decisions about what people are doing and how we can improve their experience. However, as much as we want it to, the information does not tell us what users are expecting, what they want, or what they need. For that information, we still need experienced designers and lots of user research.
Here is an example. Let’s say only 30% of the new people who visit our website enroll in our rewards program, so we decide we need a bolder approach. Instead of simple underlined text that reads “Enroll in our Rewards Program” at the bottom of the page, we want a bright orange button that says “ENROLL NOW!” After just one week with the new button, the number of people who enrolled in our program doubled to 60%.
The initial data, the 30% enrollment rate, was a sign to us that we needed a change. We knew people weren’t enrolling – but we couldn’t tell, based on the data, why they weren’t enrolling. So we tried an approach to change the visual representation of enrolling, and boom! The rate doubled. From that we can extract that people most likely didn’t notice the button to enroll initially.
Another completely plausible explanation for the increased enrollment is that users really love the color orange and always click on orange buttons. (Of course this is super unlikely, but stay with me.) We have no way of actually knowing why the users chose to click the new button, yet this information will drive our next action. If we believe the button needs to be bold, we will continue to make our important call to action items bold. If we believe the button needs to be orange, we will make our color scheme orange.
Now, that was a ridiculous and extreme example. We know that people don’t always clicks on orange buttons. But it is an example of how relying on data only can lead you down a path that isn’t quite right. While that data is still very important, it should be used to keep us up to date and informed – and not to blindly drive design.