Data-driven + design-driven + user-centered = awesome design

Did you hear the one about the Google designer who didn’t want to improve his designs with data?

The New York Times covered the story of the Google designer who defected to Twitter because Google was hellbent on testing designs to pick the best one.

Deciding which design is “best” depends on what school of design you come from. Here’s a cheat sheet for the big three — their philosophy, criteria for good design, and a phrase you might hear such a designer say.

Data-centered design

Philosophy Test everything and let the numbers be your guide.
“Best” criteria Crunch the numbers and find the best combinations.
Key quote We’ve got web tracking. What do the metrics tell us?

Design driven

Philosophy Designers know best; follow your heart and best practices.
“Best” criteria It just feels right.
Key quote That’s doesn’t work for me. Can we try it one more time?

User-centered design

Philosophy You gotta find the problem before you can build the solution.
“Best” criteria It solves their problems, and they love it.
Key quote You can’t read their minds. Can we talk to them?

But these design philosophies don’t live in separate silos. They can easily coexist.

For example, a data-driven designer should be very interested to know why the numbers ended up as they did. To find out, you can turn to your underlying design principles (design-driven) or ask people (user-centered).

Similarly, a design-driven person should make sure the designs resound with real people (user-centered) and that the results pan out when launched (data-driven).

And a user-centered designer should look at statistics to see where problems are occurring (data-driven) and trust gut feelings when translating user feedback into feature ideas (design-driven).

There’s room for everyone in the design world. How narrow-minded do you have to be to ruthlessly test everything? Or not to trust your design instinct? Or not talk to people about their problems?

One way of coping with the reality of design is to leave your company because you couldn’t find a way to balance your design sensibilities with the company goals. *cough* doesn’t play well with others *cough*

But I think there’s no such thing as the “right” way of approaching design problems. You should always look to expand your design horizons, even if you have to venture into new disciplines or combat your own opinions.

Design is as much about your opinion (design-driven) as it is your audience’s (user-centered) and your employer’s (data-driven). The best designs come from a healthy acceptance of all three.

By the way, does anyone know which line size — 3px, 4px, or 5px — worked best? I’d love to know.

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