Why All Designers Should Care About Numbers

Okay, so here’s the deal, I was actually good at math in high school — I took BC Calculus and passed. (Trust me, it was a major milestone at that time in my life.) Even so, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in design. Why? Because I didn’t want to “deal with numbers” or “ever take a science class again.” I just wanted to make amazing masterpieces that looked sexy and functioned seamlessly. Little did I know, I was so wrong in my perception of the world.

Fast-forward a few years and a few internships and lo and behold I land a gig in Austin, Texas at the largest coupon website in the world: RetailMeNot. (Those of you that have never heard about RetailMeNot need to go check it out now; they always have some great deal going on for Express in-store and online!) I joined the RetailMeNot design team because of the brilliant minds that I was going to be able to work with. As a young designer, I was so hungry and eager that I honestly would have done whatever task they put in front of me, not really questioning it. And so I did…

I began on the optimization team at RetailMeNot and my job was to design the UI, UX and copy to drive revenue to the company from their store pages. The thing was, I had never done that before. Everything I thought about user experience design was about user research and qualitative studies.

It was only then that it hit me like a ton of heavy skeumorphic pixels… Quantitative data (NUMBERS!) matter in the real world.

Even a slight change in color, placement, wording or even font size could change the click rate and make a monetary impact on RetailMeNot’s revenue; I had no idea that design was so powerful.

As I continued working on the store page and other projects at RetailMeNot, I began to learn the ins and outs of A/B testing and multivariate testing. When a product has a huge flow of traffic to work with, incremental improvements can happen quickly. Imagine if 1 million user came to your website on a daily basis and they bounced immediately on page load.(Bounce is a fancy word for I came, I saw, I did not click, and I left.) If you had 1 million users leaving your site in a hurry, you would know there was an issue. Maybe your users didn’t find what they were looking for, maybe your call to action was too low on the page or maybe they overlooked the most important text on the page because it was grey-colored in 10 pt Helvetica font. The good thing is you have 1 million people to test with! You could change your text colors with 1/3 users, move the call to action up with 1/3 of the users and leave 1/3 of the users alone to see how the variations perform against the constant. And if that doesn’t work, try 2 more ideas.

Analyzing the numbers can give designers priceless insight into what users gravitate towards and what they shy away from. Being armed with this information and understanding what it means makes educated in your design decisions.

Being able to talk numbers and think critically about data also means that you can speak the language of product manager. As a designer, you can pull numbers, crunch them and present them with an idea to a product manager who will be much more compelled to put your proposal on a roadmap. Numbers and data are how you can speak to marketing managers as well. Most people in marketing are looking to hit activation or retention numbers for a specific service or a product. Imagine if you could take a look at a group of Facebook ads, determine what’s not working and what is, cut it out, and make a new set of ads that saved the company thousands of dollars. That’s what the power of numbers can do for you, the designer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should drop qualitative data like a bad habit. I’m just saying that you should thinking of them both as a pair. Qualitative data can compliment quantitative data. Quantitative data can tell you how many times someone bounced when they landed on your site, but only when you sit down and talk to that user (to gather Qualitative Data) can you determine why they decided to leave your site. Being able to gather qualitative information can help inform what types of changes to make in things like an A/B test. And running A/B tests will tell you what qualitative data to gather. It’s an endless circle but it will make your product better and your service stronger if you’re able to analyze the information properly.

Gathering this both qualitative and quantitative feedback will not only make your designs effective, but it will make you lethal as a designer. And trust me, in today’s world, where startups are popping up left and right like whack-a-moles, you want to be lethal. You want to be the designer that everyone wishes they had.

So what are you waiting for? You’re not going to spontaneously turn into a magical UX unicorn on command! Go to your boss, ask them for the numbers and pull out a statistics book. Your career will thank you, I promise.

Still have questions? Comment below and ask away! And come back soon for more hilarious ramblings about tech, design and business. And of course, thanks for reading!

This post was featured on TheUXBlog.com on July 11, 2016.

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