This is Why UX Design and Big Data Need Each Other

August 16, 2016
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In the digital age, there’s been a relentless decline in businesses that run on instinct. These days, it seems that all businesses talk about is “Big Data” and how to analyze huge amounts of information to boost their business. The entrepreneur is no longer a pioneer, but a researcher. Why take a guess when you can analyze the data instead?

In the digital age, there’s been a relentless decline in businesses that run on instinct. These days, it seems that all businesses talk about is “Big Data” and how to analyze huge amounts of information to boost their business. The entrepreneur is no longer a pioneer, but a researcher. Why take a guess when you can analyze the data instead?

Older forms of marketing research simply cannot come close to the depth and breadth of this new generation of data and its colossal Bigness. But why? Big Data is defined by three distinct qualities:

1) Vast volume: it tracks everything everyone does in the digital sphere.

2) Velocity: real-time data tracking.

3) Variety of sources: mobile and desktop, social media and search, mouse movements and browsing habits, and more.

In essence, Big Data is really just standard user data, but on a massive scale, and with more user data, businesses can better predict user behavior and needs. For example, Big Data can show you that your new landing page is driving up the amount of time visitors spend on your website, or it can show you every visitor’s browsing history on your site. A business’s goal is to then take that information and increase the company’s profits by tweaking its online presence through UX design to better match user behavior and needs. After all, UX design is the process of guiding users to an end goal, so deep insight into user behavior makes Big Data incredibly valuable to a UX designer. This relationship is a two-way street, though, for how can we utilize all this information if we can’t visualize it in a way that allows us to quickly recognize valuable patterns and insights?

Here is why UX design and Big Data need each other:

Visualizing data

To process any amount of Big Data in its raw form with the naked eye would be impossible. Its size makes it too unwieldy to just read the numbers or even look at simple charts and graphs containing the data. UX designer Hunter Whitney, author of Data Insights: New Ways to Visualize and Make Sense of Data, writes, “much of the vast sea of data flowing around the world every day is left unexplored because the existing tools and charts can’t help us effectively navigate it…UX designers can play a key role in creating these new tools and charts. In these treasure maps of data, perhaps UX marks the spot.” What Whitney describes is the need for a new way to process and make sense of data.

UX design allows people to act on the vastness of Big Data because UX designers have made a career of analyzing user behavior and building designs to guide them to their needs. Who better fit to take vast amounts of user data and present that data in such a way to reveal  the most important behaviors within it? UX designers can create new visualizations of data, custom fit to whatever Big Data a company is gathering, creating unique opportunities to interpret that data and gain insight into customer behavior that they couldn’t tap into previously. Whether it’s creating heat maps tracking mouse movements that are updated in real time or presenting patterns in user browsing to build a recommendation engine, UX design is the most effective way to represent and visualize that data, so that businesses can analyze it for useful patterns.

Refining design

At this point, it’s common knowledge that the digital user experience is crucial to success, yet of the 700 million sites on the web today, 72% fail to attract visitors and drive customer growth. Similarly, just three apps make up 80% of total app usage. In this competitive market, one very much defined by failure, UX design has never been more important to capturing your audience’s attention, but the UX design process is expensive and time-consuming. It’s a process of iteration and making incremental improvements through UX testing and data collection in order to optimize a design and maximize the desired outcome. However, Big Data provides much of the data that UX testing looks for. With access to company-collected Big Data, UX designers could spend less time conducting their own tests and instead go straight to tweaking the UX and better-capturing customer’s attention.

According to Loretta Maron Smith, writing for the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, “Good user experience design has become table stakes. If you don’t do it well, you can’t even get out of the gate in this hyper-competitive digital world. What really differentiates companies is their personalization through data – which allows them to build unique experiences that lead to increased engagement and better outcomes for the user and company.” With Big Data, businesses can detect patterns in their customers more accurately and then design their UX interface to reflect those patterns. This kind of personalized design creates the possibility of predicting users, allowing businesses to target their customers with even greater accuracy.

Big Data and UX design have become buzzwords in the past five years, and for good reason. As Wired puts it, “the agenda of business is being defined by these two forces: massively available information and new models of individual engagement.” UX design is the key to unlocking Big Data, the newly formed treasure-trove of user information, and Big Data, in turn, contains the insights to refine a company’s UX design to better reach, capture, and retain customers. In the cutthroat world of business, entrepreneurs can no longer afford to ignore these forces that push companies around the world to a new ultimatum for the 21st century: learn and adapt, or die.