Being an Evidence Evangelist as a Designer

As a designer or PM, it can take time to earn the respect of your peers when having design discussions. One of the best methods I’ve seen is being obsessive about citing evidence during design discussions. The evidence should be things like user research insights, quotes from usability testing, trends in customer feedback, or stats from production data. One of the PMs I used to work with was really good at doing this. He was soft-spoken and calm, but his voice was strong because he regularly cited both usability testing data and analytics data. This made it easy to trust him, so we just questioned him less often. His ability to recall evidence on a moment’s notice was impressive — but not too surprising given how closely he worked with our user researcher and our data scientist.

Learning to cite evidence during a heated debate isn’t easy. It’s a mentality shift. And if you’re like me, you might be awful at memorization. But it’s absolutely possible. Here are three techniques that have been helpful for me.

  • Golden Nuggets: Create a central wall somewhere to collect your insights. This wall has to be physical. You and the rest of the team need to see it every day. In one of my design projects, the team and I put up a poster with the title of “Golden Nuggets”. Anytime one of us found something to be interesting or surprising, we would write it up on the poster. During design discussions, it became much easier to refer back to our insights to drive decisions.
  • Write your own user research reports: Never just “sit in” on a usability study. If you’re watching someone else conduct a usability study, you should also write up your own report. There’s a big difference between simply tagging along on a study versus analyzing what you heard, putting it in writing, and sharing it with the team. Not only do the insights get imprinted into your brain, but you’ll develop a reputation among your peers for being a true voice for your users. And if you’re worried about overstepping, just make it clear that your report is intended to support the main report — put a link to the main report at the top of yours. Doing all of this helped me develop a fantastic relationship with my user researcher. We even discussed me joining her team!
  • Become BFFs with your Data Scientist: In a lot of companies, “data is king,” which means you have to play ball with the data team. This means hanging out with them at lunch, placing silly bets on A/B tests, and begging them to teach you how to build queries. I started memorizing data at Imgur by setting up occasional meetings with my data analyst. We would figure out what metrics were important for upcoming features, and draw graphs on a whiteboard showing how we expected those metrics to change. It was purely conjecture — but it laid the foundation in my brain for it to store the actual data later on. She also taught me how to immerse myself in our analytics software in order to look for trends and interesting stats during my free time. Citing trends that you uncover will make you come across as a source of objective truth, and not subjective opinion.

Think about the people you work with. Are you in the top 10% of people who provide input based on evidence?

This post was written by Chris, the founder of Purple. We’re building planning boards for designers where you can keep all of your project work in one place. We integrate with a lot of the great tools you already use. Head over to www.purple.pm to sign up for the free beta.

Thanks to Morgan Samson, Nathan Bashaw, and Jasdev Singh