The difference between design and Design


I am guessing if you're reading this, it's because there's room for your analytics service or data product to get better, and maybe you know that simply adding more data sources, algorithms, bug fixes, or [insert today's hype cycle tech], isn't necessarily all there is to making it better.

Like some of my clients, you may not know exactly what is wrong or could be improved in your service, but you know there's room to improve, and maybe you're concerned your service is getting too complicated or complex. Maybe you're seeing low engagement, growing attrition, sales that are harder to close, or workflows that are getting more complex. Maybe it's just "ugly" and doesn't seem elegant/valuable.

A few months ago via my social feeds, I saw a design thought leader mention something along the lines that most bad design out there isn't really "bad design," but rather, it is the result of "no intentional design." I think that tends to be true. In fact, it's even harder for most people to identify bad design now because so many plugins, repos, and libraries have made it easier to put reasonably good looking surface layers on top of any data product or analytics service. From charting packages, to CSS grids, internal design system/components, and third party tools, it's so much easier today to get a decent looking something out the door.

What I hope you'll remember today is that design isn't just about pretty UIs that look polished. While the paint and visuals do matter (despite what the usability police will sometimes tell you), they can also hide a multitude of UX problems that ultimately may lead to, or may already be causing business problems.

Good Design–what I sometimes call—"Capital D Design"—has the power to make your data sing, delight customers/users, bring new/better ROI to your organization, provide inspiration to teams, reduce complexity, reduce engineering cost, save time for users, and expose new value in your existing service. However, the big gains usually don't come from focusing on the surface level alone. Better data visualization cannot fix every data product and analytics problem.

Good Design starts with a deep understanding of your customers' and users' behaviors and needs (not just desires) and a clear definition of what a successful business outcome looks like from leadership that are then encapsulated in a clear product strategy by the product owner. This probably sounds all handwavy, but you'd be surprised how many times my clients and prospects cannot quickly and clearly state these things to me (or more importantly, state them to the team doing the execution). When they can't, it's usually a sign that there is more design than Design going on, and that there's a lot of room to improve the service.

What kind of [d]esign is your organization doing?