What should trump your User Experience Data or Intuition-driven Design

What should trump your User Experience Data or Intuition-driven Design

As much as it may sound jarring, the customer may not always be right. This is one of the top questions that surfaced recently when, Douglas Bowman, a top visual designer, left Google.

Mr. Bowman explains the main reason for his abrupt exit was Google’s dissatisfying engineering-driven culture, where data trumps everything else. Overruling any design decision that he made during his tenure in Google, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with empirical data. While testing whether a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he needed to put up test versions of all three versions of all three pages on the Web. The amount of time users spent on a page, would ultimately help pick a winner.

This highlights the dichotomy between design and data.

Can a company blunt its innovation edge if it listens to its customers too closely?

There are two differing perspectives on the design process, one exemplified by the loud exit of Mr. Bowman, and other by the propagandists of evidence based design.

The Intuition Driven Design

This type of design is seen in most web-sites. This design is a result of the subjective perception, ideas, thought or imagination of a single individual or a small team. Often this type of design can cross the ceiling, and become popular if the people involved have talent.

Apple iPhone, Google Maps, Lotus 1-2-3 and Mac Paint are examples of such breakthrough landmarks.

However, dominated by intuition, the results may not meet the needs of both the user and the organization. There may be a spectrum of dismal results, some inflicted by designers, others by developers. For Example: the Razorfish design, or Boo.com went out of business for their fonts were unreadable, had striking colors that overwhelmed content, and layouts that only worked on the designer’s browser or large-screen display screens.

Data-Driven Design

This type of design is a process which involves a systematic reliance on empirical data or objectively observed user behaviour. The terms, ‘evidence-driven’, ‘data-driven’ or ‘analytics-driven’
are all synonyms of the same approach.

This type of design is a process which involves a systematic reliance on empirical data or objectively observed user behaviour. The terms, ‘evidence-driven’, ‘data-driven’ or ‘analytics-driven’ are all synonyms of the same approach.

Even with Bowman’s fight on sensibilities, it is hard to criticize the results of Google’s data-centric approach. It is hugely popular. If a certain hue of blue causes users to click on ads at even a marginally higher rate, it can translate into millions of dollars flowing to the company’s bottom line.

With this approach, design becomes less of an art and more of a science backed by engineering-style methods.

However, most organizations and development teams are far from these two ends of dichotomy. Most development teams would benefit from a strong-connection with user-centred reality and a healthy mix of creative innovation.