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.