Insights for Design

Real anecdotes and a little perspective from an analytics and user research pro

The part I really care about is these anecdotes 
A person may google the question “design insights” or “user research” and find themselves sifting through a gaggle of gobbledygook about process. I don’t think that get’s us anywhere. I wanted to give some examples to riff off and also just a little color to what it’s actually been like over the years as a design researcher.

How I feel on process
I believe in a loose definition of insights and that “data-driven” work is largely creative. I am not proposing some type of insights making process or framework (yawn).

So here we go. A design insight can be…

A simple observation that does not require your own research

e.g. Visitors are more likely to navigate in-page then navigate to a new one > Put every product in “one page”

As a digital analyst, I had often been shocked by the lack of engagement on web properties. I cajoled my client to get on board with the “one page” product page. And the numbers are staggering.

e.g. The first song on Spotify’s “discover weekly” playlist must be amazing to achieve traction on that playlist > Ensure that first song passes as an “amazing song”

My first time trying “discover weekly” I heard a song so obscure and incredible that I found myself very encouraged by the promise of the feature. This is a really good idea…I don’t care if you have “data”, because that is a darn good hypothesis.

e.g. Nielsen’s usability heuristics. > Yeah buddy

I still get insane value from these and am fine with throwing them up on the board as an “insight.”

Inspired by a great question, not the result

e.g. Visitors spend very little time outside of one specific program > Sell the programs, not the school*

I wasn’t surprised by the result, but I’m sure glad I took the time to build 10 Google Analytics segments and put this handy-dandy chart together. The client was very surprised by the lack of overlap and the imagery of it was powerful.

*Note: You could also view the lack of overlap as an insufficiency of the design to afford exploring the diversity of programs on offer.

An inherited fact you are making too much of

e.g. Students and Faculty listed “leadership” as the least important item they would use to sell prospective students on the school > Get leadership content out of the highest level in the navigation and de-prioritize it as a message

On the other hand, the creative director for this project studied the competition and believed that 1 on 1 “leadership coaching” was a unique and compelling offering for a program in their market. Go with your gut, a/b test, recognize that the you don’t know, and always be trying to triangulate data sources.

An astute observation that was in plain site

e.g. Users will go out of their way to preserve context in their space > Be inspired to create interesting ways of a user staying in context as they navigate their OS

I noticed a very subtle behavior of users dragging a window to obscure less of the other windows in their space. This is similar to what is accomplished by the feature of “cascading windows.” We found out early that many users were averse to maximizing (by asking them) but through a keen observation, the implication that users want context gained a little more weight.

e.g. Knowing the weather is relevant to tasks users accomplish in their Maps app > Lets put a “67 and cloudy” in the map?!

If your maintaining an open mind, you would have noticed how often weather was part of the navigation and location-finding that is happening in maps.

A surprising finding that is also strong evidence for going with a particular strategy

For the lucky ones only.

e.g. Those who visited Doctor and Affordability pages were more likely to convert then visitors to other pages > Funnel users through doctor-specific, not clinic-specific conversion flows. Consider ramping up the doctor-centric strategy for content.

A simple tactic that eventually bubbles up as an important element of your new design strategy

Sometimes an initial straightforward observation may make a big comeback.

e.g. Those who apply to the MBA program spend a majority of time in admissions pages and do not visit alumni/careers/news content > Sell the program on admissions pages where prospectives are spending a lot of time

This was an early observation that users were not visiting these other pages, but as I worked with the creative director, the way to solve for that became front and center of our pitch.

The info is in plain sight AND the insight is very obvious

Sometimes you get to the insight right away.

e.g. You have as many Facebook visitors as actual visits on the year on your television site > When I started to look at the numbers for the Natgeochannel.com redesign, I advised them to focus on the Facebook snippet designs and specific strategies that start the CX journey in the Facebook-verse.

e.g. When I surveyed small biz owners, they reacted well to “A Professional Email” over “Private Cloud.” > Message that way

What was typically being advertised as Google Apps for Business (which you could set up on your personal domain), started to message itself as Google Domains. I also found that words like “Domains” didn’t resonate either compared to “Professional Email.” My own research with 20 users actually supported such a strategy.

You ran an A/B test, so you feel confident

e.g. Landing page “A” beat landing page “B.” > Use landing page “B”

“A > B” is “true” in a pretty specific context. This result is forever tied to the specific circumstances of that test, which will always have limited relevance to the real product. And do note, there is always an option C.

Let’s Recap

Basically, free your mind about where your insights can come from and what your takeaways can be.

Was the insight driven by…

  • A hard number (or an a/b test) or guesstimate?
  • Your own (primary) or someone else’s research?
  • Advanced/fancy or actually a darn simple metric?

Was the takeaway…

  • Perceptive or pretty obvious?
  • Top-down/design-related or more abstract?
  • Controversial or not controversial?
  • Is it an excellent hypothesis or ?

My point is…

  1. So much of insights work is a creative process. The outcomes are a result of the researchers choice to ask a good question, to point something out and prioritize it above other facts, and finally to sell it with appealing actionability.
  2. So don’t let your work suffer by limiting your “research” to hard numbers or your own primary research. Try and reduce your bias towards Reco‘s that you found yourself or the data sources you’ve been given access to. General truths, not necessarily “data” carry so much of the weight of good design. Step back. If you are doing this work you are a designer, dude. So start acting like one.