5 Ways Data Informs Design

With the vast amounts of data made available to us, we put it to use in a multitude of ways. This article highlights just a few of the many ways we, and you, can leverage data to make more informed decisions while designing beautiful, actionable, and smarter experiences for your users.
5 Ways Data Informs Design

We make design decisions every day at Primacy. What should the call to action say (“Apply” or “Apply Now”)? Where should the image be placed on a page (right-aligned or left-aligned)? How should that slider work (fade in or fade out)? We believe that the smartest and most effective design decisions are made by leveraging data and insights throughout the entire design process. Data-driven design thinking, focused on the customer experience and backed with data and research, is fundamental to how we consider any experience – from a full website redesign to a new creative platform. 


Architecting Your Website

Your navigation sets the foundation of your website. It’s what makes a website usable, or not. And it helps you convey your story to your users – what you stand for, what you offer, what you do. Regardless of the size of your website – five pages or 10,000+ pages, making sure your site is easy to navigate is critical to its success.

Here are our two go-to approaches to help you figure out this organizational puzzle:

1. Analytics – An obvious, yet important, research tool to leverage when you’re mapping an old website to a new website is your website analytics tool (Google Analytics, Domo etc.) By investigating page views and visits, you could be surprised to learn that what you believe to be a highly trafficked page isn’t getting page views, and inversely, you may never know that a tier page six levels deep is one of your most visited pages. This is often the product of confusing navigation and can be a point of frustration for site users and marketers alike. By better understanding the behavior demonstrated by your site visitors and pairing this with an audit of your content, you can solve navigation challenges faster, and ensure that your visitors can find what they’re looking for and that you can drive them to action more seamlessly. 

 2. Tree Testing – Once you’ve got your site map in a good place, it’s time to test it. We recommend testing out your navigation, or site structure before you even get to wireframes. Optimal Workshop’s Treejack tool (an online testing platform where participants test your work in progress navigation) is a good solution for this. This tool allows you to upload your work-in-progress site map, ask a few questions to test users such as “find a specialist physician” or “locate an international campus”, and let participants find the information without the assistance of visual design or previous exposure to the site. Their tracked behavior will give you insights into how your users think and how they organize information in their minds – and, most importantly, it lets you validate some of your decisions early in the design process.


Creating Meaningful (and Actionable) Content

When it comes to content, there are many, many options for using data to help you determine the best course of action. From analytics to keyword research to A/B testing, content authors have a wealth of options to choose from. When we start to look at how to prioritize content and how to create meaningful, action-oriented content, we recommend starting to look at how your users think. This leads us to a few approaches we use early in the content development process.

3. Heat Mapping (best paired with analytics – see #1) – Ever wonder what your users are actually reading on a page? We know we can track where they click, but can we track what they are consuming? Well, heat mapping is our first stop in figuring this out. Heat mapping is a visual way to understand what your users are interacting with. By applying a heat mapping tool to your current website (we recommend HotJar, but there are many alternatives), you can see where your users are on the page and what they are interacting with. Being able to determine what your users are hovering over can give you a lot of insight into what they are interested in learning more about.

4. Card Sorting and/or User Surveys – Depending on the tools you have in your toolbox, both card sorting and user surveys can be used to figure out what types of content people are interested in. Card Sorting is a testing method where participants organize topics into categories that make sense to them. You can conduct card sorting exercises online using a variety of tools or, go old school, and use flashcards. Remember, the tool you use isn’t as important as the insights you collect. You can use user surveys to ask questions about content needs, interests, and opportunities. In short, these tools may seem rudimentary, but they can help you determine how people organize content, align topics, and compare different ideas. You can be lean with this one – and learn a lot, fast.


Validating Our Visual Direction

Your brand is the first touchpoint for your audience, and knowing how people respond to it is extremely important. Conducting qualitative research is key when it comes to visual design. Through qualitative research, we can learn more about what resonates, what makes people tick, and then use this information to refine a brands’ visual aesthetic to make the most impact with its target audiences.

5. Focus Groups & Preference Testing – Technically two inputs but, depending on your budget and timeline, if you can make at least one of these happen, you’re in good shape. Conducting both focus groups and preference testing can ensure you’re making visual design decisions that are functionally successful as well as aesthetically pleasing. A beautiful design is great – beautiful design that proves effective is even better. 

Preference testing can be conducted rather efficiently using survey and comparison tools such as UsabilityHubQualtrics, or a simple TypeForm survey. Asking participants about what resonates with them, what catches their eye, or a simple “name three adjectives that best describe this design” question, can give you all the validation you need when making otherwise subjective decisions. And if you can get your users and customers in a room (virtual or physical) to get the discussion going, even better! Hearing open, candid feedback from real users can make all the difference in the world, and help you uncover insights related to your audiences’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors when interacting with your brand. 


What to Take Away

There are at least another 100 ways to test and collect data to inform our designs, and they’re continuously applied throughout the life of any project at Primacy. Of all the decisions we make as designers, the most important decision is choosing to commit to vigilant testing. Even after the site has gone live or the campaign has launched, data can be used to inform future design decisions, optimize user experience, ad campaigns, and much more.