AEA Debrief: Designing Using Data

At An Event Apart in Atlanta, Sarah Parmenter encouraged designers to use data to inform the decision making process. Here’s a collection of take aways that resonated with me.

Parmenter opened up by referencing a polarizing post recently made by Jeff Croft. In his post, Croft states that web designers need to diversify their offering. In fact, he concludes with: “Diversify or die” . It’s a bold statement that ruffled feathers, but Croft doesn’t give much guidance on how or in what direction designers should diversify.

“Instincts are experiments. Data is Proof.”

Parmenter picked up where Croft leaves off by proposing that data is a valuable asset for designers. One that should no longer be dismissed as someone else’s responsibility. When the decisions you make are based on real world observations of users and there habits, you’re more likely to see success.

“…designers go from decorators to problem solvers.” — Aarron Walter

Armed with metrics from a successful redesign, you can qualify the value of your efforts with hard numbers. People want to believe that design is valuable, collecting data enables you to prove it.

“Nobody has an excuse to make an uninformed decision anymore.” — Federico Holgado

She argued that collecting data has never been simpler. Then, backed that up with a laundry list of services that focus on collecting and presenting information about your site’s traffic:

Separate the wheat from the chaff

There’s a lot of data out there to be observed. Not all of it is helpful. Parmenter lumped all data that can not, directly, be used to make a decision into the category of vanity metrics.

In addition to that rule of thumb, she presented a list of vanity metrics that tend to be particularly seductive to naive data enthusiasts:

“Many designers who are skilled technicians, craftsmen, or researchers have struggled to survive in the messy environment required to solve today’s complex problems. They may play a valuable role, but they are destined to live in the downstream world of design execution.” — Tim Brown

Design is not simply making things pretty. Start grabbing data to validate your efforts.