Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ignore All Data

"Data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions."
         -- Douglas Bowman, Creative Director, Twitter (formerly Google)
"We let the math and the data govern how things look and feel."
         -- Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience, Google
These quotes are from an interesting article in Sunday's New York Times. Marrisa Mayer is a very smart woman, so it's disappointing how dumb that quote makes her look. I don't want to jump into the middle of this argument (oops, I already did), but the fact is that, despite the title to this post, neither of them is right. Real data about usage can be really useful, but over-relying on data can be a disaster. Over and over again, I've seen companies (and UX consulting clients) so buried in data they they couldn't figure anything out.

The data might tell you where users clicked, but it won't tell you why. The data might tell you whether users accomplished a task, but it won't tell you if they were happy . The data might tell you whether users clicked more or less on ads, but it won't tell you how they felt about the advertisers.

More importantly, the data might tell you what's broken, but it won't give you any hints as to how to fix it. No matter what the data tells you, it can't give you inspiration to boldly go new places (yes, the new Star Trek movie just came out).

I'll admit that I probably should have titled this post "Ignore Most Data" but that's not as provocative.

Data can be amazingly misleading.  It's garbage in--garbage out, but the garbage going in is the questions. Unless you really know what questions you should be asking for, what you should be looking for in the data, what options you should be considering, and what the differences are -- unless you really understand the feel of what you're trying to figure out -- all the data in the world is worthless.

And guess what? If you know all that stuff, if you understand the feel of what you have and the feel of what you want, you're 80% of the way toward figuring out what you should be doing. And 80% of the way is pretty good.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Does Mint Want Unhappy Customers?

Imagine you go into a cheese shop trying to buy some cheese. You just want some Cheddar. You ask if they have it, but they won't tell you. Instead, they want you to sign up -- give them your name, contact information, bank and credit card accounts, and only then will they answer your question. OK. You do it, you give them all that information and then the answer is, no, they don't have any Cheddar, they've never carried it, and have no idea if they'll ever carry it. But they'll make a note of it as a suggestion.

Sounds preposterous, doesn't it? Well, it's, a site which touts themselves as "the best free way to manage your money." But, if Mint doesn't support your bank, they can't very well help you manage your money, can they? They can't support you as a customer -- they shouldn't want you as a customer. But, they'd rather you go through the bother of signing up to discover you wasted your time because there's no way to find out if your bank is supported before you sign up.

But, wait, it gets worse. Mint seems to think this is a good idea. Their support staff argues that they can still help you with your other financial institutions and that tracking some of your financial institutions is better than tracking none. What?! The number one financial institution that most people have is their bank (or credit union). If they don't support your bank, Mint is probably useless to you. They should realize that. But, even if that wasn't the case, Microsoft Money or Quicken probably does support your bank, so tracking just some of your financial institutions is certainly not better than tracking all of them in Money or Quicken.

Does Mint really want unhappy customers? Apparently so, but it's a bad business practice.

If there are customers you can't make happy, you should send them away and you should send them away as early as you can. Don't spend your time and resources or waste their time if you know you can't make them happy. Send them to a competitor who can make them happy.

The fact is, customers who you cannot service are going to go away sooner or later -- your goal should be to make sure they don't go away mad.