Gut driven, data informed

Very few organizations exist that are primarily data driven when it comes to design. These organizations allow data to call the shots. They’ll head whichever direction the data points them.

Most organizations these days seem to skew heavily to the other side of the spectrum. They rely almost exclusively on their gut (plus experience) to make design decisions.

Where do you stand?

It’s natural to feel polarized toward one side or the other. Many organizations are either all in on data driven design, or zealots about listening to their gut.

You already know from the title of this post where I stand. I believe pretty strongly that there’s a sweet spot, and I don’t think it lies at either end of the spectrum.

In my experience, the sweet spot comes when a designer primarily trusts their gut to design, but also allocates some time to collect data, and to do some testing. These last two things are key, because they help you validate your assumptions, and they add clarity to your design process.

Trusting your gut is paramount

Great design comes primarily from a combination of experience, and from a designers gut intuition. That said, at what point do you know (not think, but really truly know) whether a design is great?

Truthfully, many designers and organization never take the time to find out. They’re content to ship whatever design they think is best. End of story. But that’s a shame. Launching designs without testing is just ignorant, lazy, or both.

Think about it. You’d never intentionally launch a design that stinks (at least I hope you never would). But chances are that some of the designs you launch — even though you may feel they are great — may actually stink. If you aren’t testing your designs, you’ll never really know which of your designs are the great ones, and which ones could still use some love. Without testing your design or looking at any data, all you really have is a hypothesis that the design you’ve created is great.

Clarity comes via data & testing

Just mentioning the word “data” can brings a sour look to some designers faces. But it shouldn’t. Data in and of itself isn’t bad. Data when leveraged properly can lead to insights and clarity.

It’s worth noting that there’s a huge difference between being data informed, and data driven. Data’s only role should be to inform – never to drive design decisions.

So far, I’ve been ranting about incorporating some “data” and “testing” into your design process, but what does that really mean?

Let’s look at a few examples

Here’s a list of things that you can do throughout your design cycle to add clarity, and gather insights about your design:

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Each of these activities will help you validate the hypothesis that’s in your head, and either A) confirm your assumptions, or B) give you insight into how you might tweak your design to make it even better.

Feel free to pick and choose. If you try one of these things a couple of times, and it doesn’t work for you. No worries. The important thing is to try a bunch of them, especially early in your design process. The earlier you incorporate these activities, the quicker you’ll know whether the design you’ve come up with is a great one, or whether it’s a dud.

I’ll repeat this one more time, because I think it’s important:

The sweet spot comes when you A) primarily trust your gut, but also B) use data, and testing to validate your assumptions, and add clarity.


I don’t do comments on this blog, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at designpro@gmail.com.

A big thanks to @hnshah, @melchoyce, and @folletto for reading, and providing feedback for this post.