CDDD- contextual data-driven design

CDDD- in short

It was a long process that led to me creating a whole new methodology, which I call Contextual Data-Driven Design (CDDD).

I’d been working in TTL marketing and communications for many years and, more recently, had specialized in branding, digital services, strategy and holistic ecosystems. Yet no matter where or what I was working on, I consistently faced the same issue. No-one — not me, not the agency and, more importantly, not even the client — could ever see the full picture. I was provided with briefs with homogenous data, siloed and restrained synergy thinking and a unspoken rule not to delve too wide or too deep into unchartered waters.

Was it really the case that companies, who wanted to excel in customer experiences, were somehow scared of discovering the truth? Sadly, yes. And to a large extent that’s still the case.

I had four ambitions when I sat down to create my methodology:

  1. I wanted a methodology that could drive change in organizations that were siloed, allowing them to discover new needs and patterns.
  2. It had to cater for projects with a rich dataset, moving companies away from “narrow” data thinking.
  3. Its purpose would be to enable more creative and solid strategies.
  4. It would allow companies to create a holistic picture of what to do and how to do it.

The result, CDDD, is a data-driven design methodology which aims to create solidity and disruption by connecting the dots. At its core is the analysis of different types of data acquired from multiple sources. The outcome is usually a creative strategy that guides the craft of a digital product or services. I would recommend a very thorough CDDD-process when carving a transformational strategy that then links subsequent projects to one another.

The amount, and the type of data, makes the extraction of rich insight possible as they are layered on top of each other and the patterns are found. This methodology has been created to help create disruptive, holistic and contextual services or strategies for digital. It has been used rigorously for international projects that require a multi-cultural approach that can be implemented, with slight changes, all over the world.

By its very nature working with CDDD requires a curious mind and willingness to trawl through large amounts of mediocre data. However, only via exploration and further development of data, can CDDD yield great results.


CDDD- the four phases

CDDD can be divided into four incremental phases:

  • The research phase
  • The strategy phase
  • The creative strategy phase
  • The conceptual phase

The methodology changes processes in all phases but the real disruption is done in phases one and two. It is extremely flexible and, with only minor alterations, can be used across a broad spectrum of projects such as: brand strategy, digital services/ecosystems or cx/marketing programs. Each requires a specific emphasis, and a different toolset, but the overall model remains the same..

The benefits of CDDD are multiple, but the most valuable is that it creates a whole new perspective within categories. This is because it takes into consideration a comprehensive analysis of varying points of view and creates enough inspirational insight for the conceptual process.


PHASE 1: The Research Phase

CDDD begins with scoping the project and identifying where insights can be collected from. In the most comprehensive projects, research should always contain a wide range of data types, as outlined below. At the very least, competitive context is a must-have but each of the others can offer extra layers of insight.

Data types:

  1. Competitive context: primary (brand or services who offer the exact or similar offering) and secondary (what could the user be engaging with instead of what we are offering)
  2. Target audience (TA) behavior within direct field (e.g. beauty)
  3. What behavioral trends are there within the target audience?
  4. What other influences are there?

To elaborate further , I’ve compiled a list to help clarify what kind of data each point needs.

  1. Competitive context: primary (brand or services who offer the exact or similar offering) and secondary (what indirect content/ service/ channel could they be using instead of the primary competitors):
  • What exactly is the competition offering and how do they position it?
  • How do they rank in search? (backlink amount for competitor sites), often via this we get the contextual competitors who rank high within the theme/ context
  • What channels are they using? And how coherent is the experience through the channels/ touchpoints?
  • Social listening. What are users saying about the product/ brand. This can be extracted from forums, blogs and products reviews on ecommerce sites)
  • What does the competitor look like? What typography, gestures, colors etc. are they using?
  • Which technologies are used, what content is offered and how?
  • Do they integrate CRM?
  • What possible collaborations are there?

2) Target audience behavior within direct context (e.g. beauty)

  • Data around purchase drivers/decision making drivers (usually quantitative market research-data, usage and attitude studies) to understand the motivations of the target group
  • Social listening to understand what attitudes exist towards the category/ theme User behavioural data based on real-life observations or interactions or focus-groups

3) What behavioral trends are there within the target audience? What could the user be engaging with instead of what we are offering)

  • Here service-design methodologies come in handy. What could the user be doing instead of using my service or engaging with my product? So exactly how do we define the competitive context? Additionally trending topics/ themes can be uncovered via social listening or trend-scouting.
  • This depends if it is a B2B or B2C approach but here is it really important to establish where the challenges etc. are coming from. Usually a SWOT can be built out of this. It could be as small as a check-out process problem that is disrupting check-out processes in general. (This can qualitative or quantitative data)

4) What other influences are there?

  • What other related things could influence behavior? Are there behavioral trends which drive the TA? Are there related services which could change expectations? Are there fundamental changes in other categories which change something in the expectations of our TA?

PHASE 2: The Strategy Phase

In the strategyphase each data source will have a conclusions-outcome. One cool tool is the category SWOT, which helps us build a holistic picture of all of the data. It’s, in essence, the outcome of what we’ve researched in phase one. Usually analysing the category gives us a clear understanding of what to do within the category. However the challenge and the fun begins when you layer the additional data insights on top and start seeing opportunities and threats on a bigger scale. This the phase where the big picture is drawn and the ‘playground’ for creation is built.

The strategic recommendation is based on the following:

  • What we want to achieve (short term, long term)
  • What already exists in the category and what opportunities we have to top it
  • What our potential users value, want and need
  • What influences our potential users
  • Where the actual competition comes from

As these multiple layers of data are compiled on top of each other the picture emerges. We start to see what we should be doing now and in the upcoming 3–5 years. We also have the information to allow us to write a strategic manifesto — a story format that enables the client to understand the recommendation in a few paragraphs of text. The storytelling format helps explain the core strategy while its inspirational nature helps to drive commitment from the client.

Additionally different modeling canvases can be visualized to help evaluate options. This phase maps out the big picture — what kind of actions should be taken to meet the goals and how the goals can trickle down to subgoals. If a service is created, what channels would be best.


PHASE 3: The creative strategy phase

This phase is a direct continuation of the strategic phase and is sometimes best presented together with the strategy. The client seldom understands the difference between these phases anyway, and that’s fine. However, it does require a different set of competences to work on phase 1, 2 and 3. The creative strategy phase takes the strategic phase and dramatizes the direction. Usually it means drafting a big picture of what type of service/ platform/ content/ ecosystem should be created. This doesn’t mean layouts or wireframes, it means a concept presentation of the idea. It can be either based on budget or based on positioning within category. The big difference here is to draw a picture of the direction we’re exploring so that the fourth phase can begin.

Where this phase really makes a difference is that it i begins to outline a visual and ux-approach based on evaluation of the competitive field and the given brand assets. Therefore it provides a clear model for the concept team to follow.


PHASE 4: The conceptual phase

This phase follows any good service design/ agile design process. At best we know:

  • What the category looks like (ux, visuals, channel)
  • What we need to develop to stay in the game or to be ahead of it
  • What the users want and are used to
  • What our budget can afford

Based on these it’s easy to draft flows and screens which can then be tested with smaller or larger audiences. This specific phase can be run in the same way as the above-mentioned methodologies with the difference of actually having set visual and ux-design input from the strategic phase to guide decision-making. What I’m referring to here are not design drivers (although they could also be used, but I’m not a huge fan of them). It’s more a clear picture of what users already know.


What does it change?

CDDD enables a variety of points of view to be taken into consideration and therefore stimulates a desire to find newer/ fresher ways of making the life of the end-user better. What is does, is match brands with user needs, but in a more disruptive way. If done correctly it gives creatives more food for thought and inspires them to create totally new solutions.

It’s a blend of solid quantitative data, planning, creative direction and service design. I would say it’s the best of those worlds but it requires an open mind, persistence and an ability to withstand uncertainty. As it is so versatile it works really well in a multitude of project types. It gives more freedom to designers and has been proven to work incredibly well on large scale projects.

I can’t really find a down-side to it except that it requires an investment in research time up front and you need to source talent that is versatile and able to find patterns and create a bold enough recommendation.


Work with CDDD

If you are interested in hearing more, contact me.

Illustrations with love from Hamburg: Laayer, Linus Lang and David Hansmeyer

The right words: From the talented CarinaMartin in Oxford