Judging what’s best for an audience is never far from an analyst or web designer’s mind. The ability to predict whether a web design will soar like an eagle or sink like the Titanic is among the most subjective and complex measurements you will encounter.
While resources that explain best practices exist, and your visitors contacting you about serious issues and offering you feedback relating to your site will occur if you have the proper mechanisms in place — it’s ultimately your responsibility to be proactive and research, investigate, and determine the what, why and how to ensure widespread usability.
Designing by numbers
Before we examine the types of statistical information you should be looking at — and the relevance they have to your web design projects — we first need to go over the 3 single-word questions that relate directly to all the design decisions you will make.
These 3 questions are ultimately at the heart of your research, analytics and motivation behind designing by the numbers.
What, why, and how is a simple design process that:
- Defines what the issue is
- Proves why it is an issue
- Determines how to fix the issue with the optimal solution (if it is an issue)
Of all the questions that may enter the mind of a web designer, “What?” is probably the word that relates to the task at hand. The process of understanding relevance and the usefulness of information explicitly relates to the decisions we undertake.
- What do site users need?
- What things frustrate site users?
- What can I do in this design to accomplish the site’s objectives?
- What’s wrong with the site?
- What’s right about the site?
- What can be made better?
Asking “What?” will yield to a lot of information that will help you make optimal design decisions. What your audience requires is a fundamental principle of designing by numbers.
Next on the list of determining factors is the question of “Why?” Because making changes or implementations beyond what you initially set out to achieve may cost time, money or resources — the ability to back up your ideas with hard data and facts will be enough to even make the bean-counting bosses go weak at the knees and take your professional guidance and ideas more seriously.
- Why are people not using the comments?
- Why is the community participation on the site low?
- Why are users having trouble finding what they need?
Knowing what needs to be done is one thing — knowing the justification to why it needs to be done is another.
The last single-word question is “How?” which makes sense in that once you know what needs doing and why it’s required, the method of actualizing the “What” is important.
- How should I go about increasing user engagement?
- How can this design improve community participation?
- How can I fix the issue of users not finding the product they need?
A Quick Measurement
The next thing to take into account is how to filter the information once you’ve collected it (which meets the “how” element). Having lots of statistics and ideas may help but filtering the stream of data will be critical to making sense of the best route to take in fixing a common problem or deciding the next step. The simplest way to prioritize your data is to follow the “zero-clutter rule” which I as an analyst tend to apply to my data set.
The Zero-clutter rule basically involves you asking yourself or your team a simple question that helps you decide whether that data point is useful in impacting a decision or not: “What does this data point tell us?” – By understanding what that data set can do for you, you can narrow down the numbers to useful statistics that would ultimately impact how you proceed with your website development.
While this article is not a comprehensive guide to research and statistics (there are entire books on the subject), the importance of knowing your visitors is showcased. When you come to build a site or implement a new feature, it’s important that you do your homework to avoid falling into a pitfall that could have otherwise been foreseen earlier. Taking the time to understand how products like Google Analytics work, what their weaknesses are and how to get a well rounded overview and an intimate knowledge of your visitors gives you the best possible chance of hosting a great experience.
It’s also worth noting that while this article does indeed focus on the numbers and opinions that lead to decision making, it’s very important not to forget the individual as a person who visits your realm (no person should be directly treated as a statistic, they are all just as important to the full equation as each other) and while numbers are great for measurements, opinions often lead to the most amount of innovation.
This article highlights the benefits of research and data for more than a personalised view of a site, hopefully, you will go on to target a loyal audience in the future!