The importance of data in UX

ByGabriel Pinheiro in

In recent years, data on people are becoming increasingly accessible and important to organizations. When data collection first appeared, a lot of people where excited with the amount of information that could be obtained, and the opportunity to leverage business growth.

But what in fact we can do with this data? How can they be used? And, especially, what do they mean? We see a lot of concern in simply collect and store all this data in a large mountain – as Smaug did with the dwarves’ gold in Erabor – even without an answer to those questions.

I confess that I’m excited to notice that the market seems to be maturing and leaving the stage where these questions had no relevance, and going to a level where experiences and discussing what they represent, and look for ways to leverage this information to them to bring a consistent return.

We are going beyond the macro view, and into a layer where this data is becoming more targeted and personal. Great service companies have begun to develop complex and intelligent systems for content recommendation and evolution of the experience, such as Netflix, 3M, Disney and Spotify.

Netflix, for example, performs research, testing and metrics analysis not only to improve the user experience but also the proper product positioning. An example of this is the evolution of the company’s business model, going beyond the streaming and starting to produce own content, based on data and preferences of its consumers, as the highly successful “House of Cards”. They can, for example, identify which episode the audience actually engaged with the content.

To understand how we can use all of these questions as a way to deliver solutions and more consistent experience and to keep pace with the needs of people, it is important first to understand the importance of data and how accessing this relevant information impacts on our discipline.

Data, behavior and context

“When I look at these numbers, I see patterns of behavior, needs and motivations” – Arianna McClain
More than knowing when and where to impact people, it’s important to seek the opportunity to begin to better understand their needs and how they behave on a given context.

Clayton Christensen, management professor at Harvard, recognized for his study on innovation in large companies, in one of his videos for the University of Phoenix, speaks of a situation where the numbers indicated that launching a new product would be a success, but after it was proved to be a failure. Intrigued, he and his team had to go to the stores to observe the behavior of people and understand the context in which they bought that particular product, and how it was impacting the customer journey.

To look at the metrics without a purpose does not allow us to see what they really mean. In our universe, when thought strategically, these metrics can help us to understand the behavior of people. The needs and expectations of people on a given context has always been the focus of our discipline, supported by two characteristics that are the basis of an UX professional: empathy and questioning.

Empathy helps us in the quest for understanding the needs, feelings, use context and expectations of people who are related to our product or service. The questioning, basis of any discipline related to design, makes us able to go beyond briefings and goals of the organization, which often end up making up the true scenario.

Seeking the comprehension through observation and results monitoring were methods that shape the way we work today. The monitoring and data analysis allow us to think of reactive solutions, they can evolve in stages, taking into consideration data that enable the identification of patterns and are contextualized.

Max Mckeown , author of “The Strategy Book,” says the world is more complex than our ability to plan, and so react to events is as important as planning. He also states that our visions of the future are incomplete and are subject to small, medium and even large events that challenge the initial proposal, but bring opportunities to develop an even better job. And these statements fit perfectly into the vision of product/UX. Even if we perform tests, accompaniments and interviews, the needs and expectations of people are susceptible to change.

Clayton Christensen , argues, in “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” that many organizations use all resources and involve several sectors for the launching of new products, but do not know what is the next step.

The data analysis for monitoring and evolution of products leads UX to a new stage. Now we can observe and understand patterns in different parts of the process, being able to establish a reactive experience according to responses and needs of people in contexted way, and providing information for the creation of new hypotheses on the development of new solutions, steps and processes.

Big Data and UX

There are many reasons why organizations do not think before planning/designing, and among the most common are lack of time or difficulty to justify the investment necessary to develop a consistent experience.

In such situations, when the result is positive, the lack of method or planning is exalted as a great knowledge about business or about your consumer. But when the results are negative, no one can explain why, and a civil war start, with each area justifying the decisions, throwing it all up. It’s like imagining a ship leaving the yard without a crew or a defined route, completely adrift, with people celebrating the fact that the ship did not sink, but without knowing how to say for sure where it goes.

The truth is often not properly inserted in the strategic stages of the project. Unlike what happens in other countries where our discipline is more mature in Brazil is still very common to relate the UX professional structure or the surface of an experience, associating UX entirely to Information Architecture and Interface Design. Therefore, design or plan without minimally meet people, contexts, needs and what the solution is to be delivered to the ecosystem of the organization, unfortunately, is still a reality.

Toi Valentine in his talk “The death of creativity” at < a href = “http://www.adaptivepath.com/” target = “_ blank”> Adaptive Path , says that our generation has forgotten the importance of observing and researching, and we are more concerned with execution and quick responses, leaving aside the research, testing and monitoring. At the end of the talk, she proposes a balance between enforcement and research, combining the best of both generations.

Decision-making based in data is fundamental to begin to position ourselves as strategic professionals within organizations. In addition to creating valuable experiences, we need to justify the investment of time and resources to achieve the necessary goals.

How to use data in your favor: Bottom-up-Bottom

John Steel states in his book “Truth, Lies & Advertising” that the development of researches is essential to communicate with people, but also brings a great responsibility for what is being said. Often a poorly developed research can bring negative impacts to the organization.

Rochelle King , product designer at Spotify, warning in his TED Talk “The complex relationship between data and design in UX”, that the more we dive into data, the more likely we get lost in the numbers and forget that they represent real people actions in the real world.

To deliver consistent solutions that enable a scalable development, able to anticipate and deal with unforeseen improvements and needs, it is essential to go beyond the data monitoring and question intelligently: What do I want to know? Why do I need this data? What assumptions doI want to validate? What do I need to follow for my future decisions? What do these data tell me about behavior? Can they be validated/compared with other information?

These questions can and should happen at different stages of a project, so it is interesting to bring the Jesse James Garrett’s Bottom-up method, with an additional layer of clear data above the surface, able to feed the strategic basis.

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The begin

The UX team at the solutions in health area at 3M, for example, brings all the data available for validation of qualitative methods (surveys, maps and interviews) still in the strategic basis, ie at the beginning of the project, which is where the strategic base is being formed, and eventually will directl the remaining stages of development. Here there are some longer research and raising hypotheses steps. Macros questions are “where are you?” and “Where are you going?”.

  • Who are the people that use your product or service? (Personas)
  • How is your organization’s market?
  • What are the specificities of the niche?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What are the attention points?
  • How isyour organization’s ecosystem impacted?
  • What are your competitors up to?
  • What have other companies from different segments done?
  • What are the project objectives?

Development

During the development of the project, the definition of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is something essential to determine whether a project is going well or not. What do I need to follow and which tools will be used?

  • What are the project objectives?
  • What can be mapped in each of the points of contact?
  • What will I follow?
  • What needs to be improved?

Follow up

Monitoring and analysis of metrics gives us the opportunity to be reactive, that is, change the direction of the strategy, turning problems into opportunities and offering a contextual experience with people’s needs and expectations.

  • Are your goals being achieved?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What are the points of attention?
  • What are the insights?
  • Which standards were identified?
  • How can you evolve the solution?

Conclusion

The use of data products should be seen as a tool to highlight behaviors, because a project does not end after the release, and having the smart metrics provision is essential to plan, improve and evolve your product or service constantly with the organization’s goals.

But this should not be understood as the solution to all problems. Christenses has a line that makes sense in this context, stating that data are based on past actions, and so they do not provide the clarity of what to do further, and need to get consistent hypothesis made from a way of thinking, and that so it is interesting to search for understanding of planning concepts and strategy.

The relationship between data and UX has impacted positively our course. Despite the overloaded functions and knowledge, it’s making possible to train professionals who are able to base and execute promptly their actions, evolving its products and services with contextualized necessities.

Some positives points that we can take advantage of:

  • Engage the UX team in key stages of the project;
  • Offer the justification of projects and investments;
  • Enable the development of scalable solutions;
  • Allow the reactive monitoring of products and projects;
  • Increase the comprehenssion of patterns of behavior, of people and context;
  • Increase the visibility of the impact on the business chains;
  • Allow event resolution before they become problems;
  • Ease up the engagement and participation of the teams;
  • Transform assumptions into decisions.

References

If you want to delve into this subject, I leave here some study and research references. Have a good read!

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