If I asked you to name the most important skills in product design, you might say user research or interface design.
These are two very reasonable answers, and there are many, many more: design systems, product thinking, information architecture — the list goes on.
In fact, there are so many skills that complement a product designer’s skill set that it can be a challenge to figure out where to focus your professional growth. It isn’t easy to assess which competencies will bring you the best return on the time and effort invested to learn them, and there has never been a shortage of opinions among designers on this very topic.
“Should designers learn to code?” was perhaps once a serious topic of debate, but has since become more of a running joke in the design community. It has spawned all manner of “should designers _______?” threads on Twitter that inevitably deteriorate (or blossom) into memes and sh*tposts. Should designers write copy? Should designers make the logo bigger? Should designers make it pop? Should designers design?
So, it’s with a healthy awareness of the “should designers” discourse and all its absurdity that I forge ahead and pose the question:
Hone your design intuition
A well-honed design intuition is what empowers a product designer to steep in a brew of dreams, fears, opinions, data points, and ambiguities, and emerge with a vision that is unanimously tangible, measurable, and real. Design intuition is the catalyst for every contribution a designer makes with their work. If designers were video game characters, design intuition might be the most expensive skill to upgrade.
I am not posing the question above so that I can wax about the value that analytics brings to digital products. Tools that can track, quantify, and report data about real users offer immense and obvious value. But if you learn to thoughtfully implement and make sense of analytics, you accelerate the development of your design intuition.
Funny enough, analytics tools like Mixpanel and Google Analytics provide a value that resembles design intuition. These tools consume vast amounts of raw, ambiguous data and shape it into insights that empower designers with a deeper knowledge of how customers use their products. But those tools can’t do that on their own. They need us to thoughtfully consider what to measure, track, and learn, and to tell the tools what to do.
If you’re starting to think this sounds like a “designers should learn to code” pitch, I promise you’ve got me all wrong. You don’t need to own analytics, but you should seize the opportunity to participate.
Think in questions
Implementing analytics starts how a typical digital project kickoff should start — with lots of questions. Getting involved allows you to ask the questions that will help your design process and measure your product’s success. Questions like:
- What events and actions can we quantify as evidence of success?
- What are the biggest risks to the project’s success?
- Are we capturing the right data to assess if these risks are being actualized or not?
- How will we know if an insight is statistically significant?
- How will our findings be used, and by whom?
- How will we ensure data quality?
- How might we visualize certain insights?
Questions like these help you focus and guide a product through its earliest phases and ensure that your analytics tool is set up to track and measure the information you care about.
Analytics can also help you better align with your team’s OKRs or KPIs. If you know what to ask, you can track metrics that measure your product’s performance against your goals, identify opportunities, and inform the next generation of your product. Think:
- What do we want to learn?
- Do we have the right data to answer our questions?
- What does success look like on this project?
- How will we measure that success?
Designers are expected to do a lot of different things these days. And the landscape of tools, practices, and web technologies is constantly evolving, so designers must evolve too. The designers I work with already do A TON — I bet the ones you work with do too.
If you’re up for it, learning analytics can help make you a better designer by helping you think in questions instead of thinking in answers. You don’t need to become the lead analytics engineer on your team to get started. Start small. Ask to be included in the next meeting. Think about the question you wish you had the answer to the most about your product. Then explore ways to answer it with analytics. Hey, it’s better than learning to code!
Matt Vaccaro is a Product Designer at Postlight. Want to talk about product development, user experience, or service design? Drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Postlight has an extraordinary team of people who love to make great digital products — and we’re hiring. Come join us.
Story published on Jun 16, 2021.