Intuition & Data

Design isn’t only about solving problems, it’s about finding good problems to solve. Research and data are key to finding out where you should be putting your energy, but are they also key in solving problems? Or should that be left to the intuition of your professionals?

I’d assert that you can’t rely upon data or metrics alone to tell you what problems to solve, let alone how to solve them. For that you need human input. Having said that, data is key to making informed decisions, validating them, and getting them pushed forward.

We talk a lot about the balance between intuition and data, and how that plays into making design decisions. I think they’re both needed. You might say there is a balance to be struck here.

But these things go beyond hand-in-hand; they don’t really need “balancing” exactly. Intuition is just another form of data, and it can be learned and made more effective over time (and with more data.) Intuition from experience should very much be weighed as heavily as any other data.

(Related: Blink Then Think.)

You need data to help you find problems to solve. And you need intuition, or human reasoning, to decide what to address and how to go about it. Once you’ve got some solutions to experiment with, you need to go back to the data to verify that you’ve in fact solved the problems.

I’d add that relying on metrics alone is probably not a good idea. You should be coupling your numbers with user testing and the like. I’m a big proponent of getting infront of users. Not only do you build up empathy for them, you can gain added insight into your metrics; validating your numbers, etc. and, often lend new perspective to your solutions.

What really matters here is what you do with the data, regardless of the source. The worst thing you can do is let that data stifle you. Get out there and experiment, try things out and learn, gather more data, find more problems. Rinse. Repeat. Just don’t be afraid to go for the long ball or try a big, wacky, hard-to-measure idea. Being able to quickly verify your assumptions will sometimes put you off on trying big things, be sure to keep that in mind and ignore the move quickly/break things/fail fast mantra. It doesn’t always make sense and intuition and inspiration can lead you amazing places.

You certainly can use data to help bake inspiration and intuition into a product. You can take that crazy idea you had, try it out and if it succeeds get it past any sort of committee roadblocking that might be holding you back, thus getting more buy-in on risk taking.

Data is not meant to replace intuition or good product design sense. It’s there to give you the ability to experiment, validate and bring your ideas to consensus. Consensus with out data is probably bad, but being proved by solid data? Totally awesome! :)

Want to talk more? I’ve started a Branch for this topic.


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