Ways to make your design process data-informed

How Dropbox designers leverage data to inform their designs

Illustration by Fanny Luor

Your team decided to redesign the onboarding experience for your product. This flow is outdated and needs a refresh. The goal of the project is to increase the number of users who take the key action of your product in the first launch experience. The hypothesis is that by doing so, you would see an uptick in user engagement and retention.

As a product designer, your first step in this process would be to correctly frame the problem. Usually, this starts with a broad design question like, “How might we use onboarding to increase the number of users creating a folder in their first-time use?” This prompt brings up a lot of research and data questions, the answers to which can help you identify where the problem is and what the design should focus on:

  • [Quantitative] What is the current completion rate for the onboarding?
  • [Quantitative] How many users are taking the key action?
  • [Qualitative] How much education do users need for your product?
  • [Qualitative] What is the job to be done users hired your product to do?

… and so on.

Once you get these answers, then you form a more informed understanding of the problem to develop a better-framed hypothesis. This makes it easier for you to know where to start this redesign.

Questions are everywhere

This is just one example. But for every project, there are a ton of both quantitative and qualitative questions. One thing designers struggle with at both big companies and small is feeling empowered to get answers to these questions.

  • Is there any past documentation I can dig into to get these answers?
  • Is there anyone in the company who can get me these answers?
  • Are there any internal tools I can look into?
  • Is this information even being logged?

In this article, I have shared some ways Dropbox designers get answers in the problem discovery phase. While the amount of data accessible and the tools vary from company to company, this can spark ideas for tactics you could incorporate into your design process to be more data-informed.

5 ways you can start getting answers

1. Look into numbers with product analysts

At Dropbox, we have embedded Product Analysts (PAs) in our product teams. They help to monitor our logging and analyze our data to find insights. To make these insights accessible, they create dashboards using Tableau, which the team uses to look at the funnels, cohort analyses, long-term trends, and more.

Designers work with analysts to understand how to navigate the Tableau dashboards. Digging into these numbers, we are able to validate the project goal or find counter-evidence which can help the team pivot to solving the right problem. Along with Tableau, if digging into large databases and writing SQL queries is your jam, then you can query the tables and pull your own insights!


2. Build user empathy by talking to customer support

Customer support is one function that knows your users’ pain points and frustrations really well. From managing the customer calls and email queries to publishing help articles and responding to customers on forums, they are in touch with your customers 24/7.

At Dropbox, our Customer Experience (CX) teams are spread across the globe. Every product area has a dedicated Product Operations Manager who manages the team of agents and specialists who talk to our users and resolve their issues. Getting to know our CX partners and checking in with them regularly helps designers build more empathy towards our customers. We also dig into some of the CX tools to go deeper into users’ problems.

The first tool, Zendesk, is our ticket management system at Dropbox. Going into the tool and reading through actual support tickets gives us insight into the troubles customers are having. The second tool we use displays the analytics data for our help articles. These dashboards show the traffic we get on our help content and the helpfulness ratings on those articles. This helps us know what issues our users look for the most.


3. Understand how sales teams sell your product

Sales and CX teams are closer to your customers than designers are because they’re talking with them every day.

Sales teams pitch your product to customers and learn about product perception and feature requests. Listening into sales calls and looking at sales chat transcripts can give you a lot of insight into user needs and your brand perception.

At Dropbox, the Sales team sends out regular reports with some of these consolidated insights to the product teams. These reports help us find answers to questions like what is the main reason customers download Dropbox for?


4. Read what your customers are writing

Users write app reviews, fill out surveys on why they are deleting their account or canceling their subscription, and post about your product on social media. Reading through these can give you a better understanding of customer sentiment and product perception.

At Dropbox, we use Appfigures to cross-publish reviews from the App Store and Play Store to Slack. So every time a customer reviews our app, the product teams get that on the Slack channel. Same thing with cancelation surveys and Twitter feedback.


5. Finally, listen to users talk first-hand!

The best way to get qualitative insights into how your users use your product is by talking to them face-to-face. Designers at Dropbox are super-lucky to have an amazing User Research team that makes this happen.

Every other Wednesday, we conduct what’s called a Real World Wednesday session. Anyone can sign up and talk to 5–6 users for 15 minutes each and get user feedback on stuff they’re working on. We also use usertesting.com for quick testing and getting feedback from users virtually.


These are only a few ways that help us get answers to questions when the project is in the problem discovery and definition phase. What are some approaches and tools you use in your process? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Thanks to Andrea Drugay, Bjørn Rostad, Michelle Morrison and Kevin Yin for the feedback and Fanny Luor for the illustration!

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