The Romance of Data and Design

Using data to refine your next design project

For those who think design requires no logic or algorithmic mindset, let’s be fair — design is quite an art as it is a science.

It takes quite a lot of skill to immerse completely into an idea, and iron out the wrinkles characteristic of youthful concept. Eventually, this idea is the answer to questions of the end user. Sadly, ideas are futile unless nurtured, which is why design — QA, A/B-testing, and end-user validation holds an important role in the lifecycle of every product. Without the data from end-user validation, all that is left is ‘opinion’. And to refute an opinion in the absence of data is unproductive.

The ‘Bubble Days’ have helped us experience and inherit the potential power of hidden data patterns that exist in our lives — we see them every day! Likewise, 1THING is assisted by startups to aggregate this data and also comprehend the underlying patterns.

Becoming more data-driven and being data-led in your decision making is surely something that I’ve listened more and more recently.

Facebook encourages its developers to ‘think design’, understand its users and observe the impacts of its products on lifestyles of people.

“Move Fast and Break Things” are words Mark Zuckerberg has lived by for years. In an interview on ‘Masters of Scale’ the Facebook CEO details how his obsession with testing everything has helped his company scale.

“At any given point in time, there isn’t just one version of Facebook running, there are probably 10,000. Any engineer at the company can basically decide that they want to test something. There are some rules on sensitive things, but in general, an engineer can test something, and they can launch a version of Facebook not to the whole community, but maybe to 10,000 people or 50,000 people — whatever is necessary to get a good test of an experience,”

This ingenious move by Mark has enabled its designers and engineers to live in a continuous feedback loop, allowing them to test their beliefs, without ever having them to waste time arguing whether their idea will succeed or not.

Design + Data in La La Land

Coming into the 21st century we observed a tectonic shift. An era before that, designers starved for a seat at the table — years of struggle and now we have, finally, earned it.

Design is no longer subjective. Instead, it’s all about the data that drives design it. We have certainly got what we were eager for: quicker results.

Open the analytics dashboard and its all there waiting for us: The Behind-The-Scenes, the mechanics that drive the effectiveness of smallest of design decisions. This constant stream of data plays a vital role in helping us discover what new products we will use, what form they might take in the future.

Confluence of Data, Design and UX

Designers do not always run a parallel race with the tech industry, especially when it comes to using metrics and analytics in their daily workflow.

In Design, there is no finish line, but then what keeps us going?

Users are a difficult nut to crack — in that their wants and product-usage are barely analogous. UX Designers can easily crunch user behavior into numbers and count on these numbers to earn early adopters of the product.

Data helps you understand what users are actually doing on a website or app. With the power of data, a designer can shamelessly gamble on it blindfolded.

The best and the most appropriate designs are not always based on history or popularity. Reinventing the wheel, might not always be the best decision a designer makes, it’s difficult and even risky to break from established practices, but data can help give designers the courage they need to unshackle themselves from tradition and produce something new.

You’re probably still guessing how I came up with ‘Romance’ in the title. Well, if you’ve seen 500 days of Summer; A love story of Tom and Summer, you can completely relate their relationship to a Designer’s with Data. Take Tom as the Designer and Summer as the Data.

Process of Data-Driven UX Design

The way people interact with their devices is dynamic, monitoring which helps us develop a holistic view of the user behaviors.

This fuels new insights which can be converted to radical ideas and designs.

In about 2–3 weeks you should be able to kickstart your analytics dashboard and, at first, it might not be as easy as it sounds, but it will definitely be worth the effort. It might not be as easy as it sounds, but it’s always worth the effort. More importantly, there are a ton of amazing services out there that make it much easier today, with round-the-clock support.

Range of Analytics tools

1. Analytics

Tom believed in the message that all of the romantic movies conveyed that he watched as a child, whereas Summer didn’t .- 500 days of Summer

How many times in your designing careers have you thought, “I wonder how many people will notice the button if I place it at the left bottom corner” or, “What is the average number of interactions it takes the user to reach the payment page?”

This is where analytics kicks in — it can quantify the ‘real’ user behaviour and prioritize design decisions.

Giving designers ecstasy

As I said, aggregating all the user behaviour into streams of data is not the goal here. Understanding the hidden patterns is. One feature that I found to be essential was, Funnels. Funnels convert complex user behavior into neat little chunks of data.

Let’s say you have an amazing number of signups per week — 1000. However, this is not actionable to you as a designer. Direct derivatives of this number, namely, percentage increase from last month is also a child’s play and still not advantageous.

Design is about ‘flow’, and funnels are a great way to identify starting points of redesign. You can prioritize fixes first by looking at conversions and drop-offs, and also which route to signups is the most successful and which isn’t.

2.User Testing

Their relationship just… fizzled out, and it crushed him to learn that they weren’t destined to be together when he learned that she was engaged to someone else. - 500 days of Summer

User Testing is the best way to identify how design is preceived by your users, and to ensure better conversion and engagement.

The user flow originally considered during the wire-framing stage face several iterations, ending up in an entirely different design sometimes. We as users, try to customized the products according to our needs instead of getting accustomed to the original flow, that is why user testing is extremely important.

Being a designer, I is difficult to overlook the visionaries of Airbnb: Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia. Airbnb has design in its DNA, but believes Data Science belongs everywhere.

Earlier this year, we looked at how people were sharing Airbnb listings and realized that most travelers preferred to share via Email and Facebook. So we ran some experiments and ended up altering our sharing widget to focus on Email and Facebook and put everything else in a “More” dropdown. This drove a significant increase in sharing since we molded our product to match people’s intended conversation format.

Real scenario or Lab?

There is always a leverage in creating real-time test scenario and observing user from a closer distance.

Clear-cut Objectives

Even before starting out with user testing, you should have a clear set of objective in your mind. They can differ from validating a design issue on the current version or a new design flow on the next version. Going into an interview its important for you to have your own thoughts in the right place, with the right rationale.

Right set of Testers

After you have narrowed down on the objective of user testing, you need to carefully select a cohort of users to test your product on. You’re lucky if your product already exists in the market — you already have a user persona drawn out.


Once you have done user testing with your current design iteration, you are done with the easy part. What comes next is even more critical and complicated — analyze the user testing results, figure out the KPIs and decide how to iterate on the designs from these results.

Iterate as early possible in design process to save time and effort.

3. A/B Test & ‘Cee’

Because of the romantic films Tom had watched, he had a specific expectation of how relationships were supposed to happen, and that it would follow the cliches and ‘rules’ that the movies set out, but his relationship with Summer didn’t happen that way. - 500 days of Summer

At its simplest, A/B testing is a method for comparing 2 versions of something against each other to discover which is the most successful. A/B testing has helped many start-ups build more localised products according to the demographics, and helped start-ups in understanding different use-cases in different markets.

A/B tests can often help you in getting to conclusions where you might be stuck at 2 shades of blue to chose for link text, icons, text sizes, etc.

Multivariate testing is another form of A/B testing in which more than 2 versions are compared and more variation is included. This can enable designers to test multiple items at once and how they interact together.

The penultimate aim of A/B testing is to enable you to make incremental improvements to your website or app. By putting your current website or app against one or more variations, you can constantly iterate your design and validate this with real users, in real time.

With A/B testing, each test generates new data about what has worked and what hasn’t. Every time something works, this can be included in the website or app and now forms a new and improved design.

You probably have noticed that the featured show on the Netflix homepage seems to change whenever you log in. They’re all part of Netflix’s complex experiments to get you to watch their shows, and push latest releases.

Tom then goes back to Autumn, she says her name and he looks to the screen with a witty smile. - 500 days of Summer

This is why good design can help us make better decisions, and data inform that successful breed of user-centered design.

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