Evidence driven design

Choosing the right words are critical for conveying information accurately. But, as certain words or phrases are used over time there can become a hardened conception of their meaning. Sometimes words need to be changed when a different perspective is needed.

In UX work you often hear the term “data driven design”. It’s an important approach because it provides some of the information required to move work forward successfully. But “data” is often thought of as just what can be measured. Quantitative data is very valuable, no doubt, but in UX design the core consideration is always people. It’s the “why” behind the “what”.

We attempt to use qualitative data to translate human experience into numbers, but there are limitations. Although there are methods and processes that can be used to better understand people, how do you really see through someone else’s eyes?

By using the word “data” we often set the expectation that only what can be measured is important and actionable. But, if we start using the term “evidence driven design” people might start to think that there is a broader consideration to understanding a problem and solving it.

No UX is an island

When you make an investment you’re looking for the best return. You want to make sure your resources are put to their best use. But sometimes your investments don’t deliver the dividends you expected because they are put to work in an environment that can limit their effectiveness.

One of the best definitions I’ve heard for UX is that it’s the sum of all the touch points a user has with your product or service. This means that if someone uses your app, sees a commercial for your company, and walks into your brick and mortar store – each one of these touch points combine to create the user experience. If you want to get the best return on your investment in UX your organization needs to support collaboration and transparency.

In today’s marketplace it’s a given that you need to see things from your customer’s perspective and provide products and services that meet, and hopefully exceed, their expectations and provide value. You will see many companies with UX teams that approach their work with skill and passion and are truly focused on the customer, but sometimes a company can create unnecessary friction between departments that need to work together. This is because their organizational structure and culture doesn’t easily allow for the dynamic that’s necessary for great UX.

I was once worked on a UX team designing an app. We put a lot of effort into the app and designed it to be as elegant, intuitive, and valuable to people as we could. Our testing showed that the design worked very well. Since the app was designed to be company facing, our Human Resources department was involved in the project. Human Resources had a long history with the way they traditionally provided information to employees; excessive instructions for everything, everywhere. It bordered on the comical but I understood why it was like this. They were concerned that people wouldn’t understand the app so they wanted to add a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) to the design. We tried to push back, trying to explain that our testing showed there wasn’t a need for FAQs and even explaining the psychological principles behind why it’s bad to overload people with too much information when they are trying to complete a task. We went back and forth over the course of weeks. Eventually, they won. We added a 23 question FAQ to an app that basically allowed someone to record something they had done by answering 4 questions (and only one field required manual entry).

You could argue that our team didn’t do a good enough job of getting them to trust us and showing them why the app didn’t need an FAQ section, but there was also the element of an established culture and organizational structure that made the relationship more difficult. Human Resources were a more politically established department than UX and they were used to saying “this is what we want done”. There was also the aspect of “ownership”, where certain groups or departments owned certain elements of a system, and their KPIs didn’t measure anything that revolved around collaboration with UX. Even though there was a company wide effort underway to promote the value that UX provided and the need for collaboration, this was more lip service than pragmatism. 

Changing the culture of a company takes a lot of time and effort.  Especially considering the entrenched structures, power dynamics, and political realities of the status quo. But if companies are to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace they need to put more effort into creating an environment where it’s easier to work together. A company shares a common goal of building deep relationships with their customers and creating long term value for the business. A company needs a UX strategy, not just tactics.