This guide is all about how to become a data-driven designer. It includes getting a data-driven design degree and the steps needed to become a data-driven designer.
It turns out that becoming an artist/designer in technology is as much science as art. Therefore, it requires deductive and critical thinking and data analysis, just like any other STEM profession. To become a truly successful designer these days, you need to empathize with your users and the data to back up your decisions. This is where data-driven design comes into play.
What Do Data-Driven Designers Do?
A data-driven designer is not your average designer. Sure they sip fancy sustainable coffee or Kombucha in the morning and wear sushi-print socks with sushi on them, but they’re not your run-of-the-mill designer. A data-driven designer possesses full creative expression yet uses data & design analytics (DA) to make informed decisions to design user-centric applications. A designer can be data-driven no matter what field they are in (user experience, user interface, etc.). However, some categories lend themselves better to this type of design. A good example is a user experience researcher, but we’ll get to that in a later section.
The data-driven designer knows what looks good on paper isn’t necessarily what will work for the users. A feature designed to make interactions easier may instead end up being impractical and confusing the user or slowing down the website leading to poor user experience. Therefore, the designer’s responsibility is to base their choices on user feedback to ensure this never happens.
The Data Part of Data-Driven Design
First of all, let’s start with that data is not just numbers. There exist both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data involve numbers and answering questions such as how much, how often, and how many. Some ways in which designers can extrapolate such data are through tools like heatmaps, A/B testing, surveys, and website analytics.
On the other hand, qualitative data cannot be measured with numbers and reveal important information such as the users’ pain points, motivations, feelings, and opinions. The methodologies utilized in this case are user interviews, focus groups, competitive analysis, and usability testing.
Through this data, designers can create user personas, use cases, user flows, and journey maps to guide their subsequent decisions when designing a platform. For instance, if a user persona is a senior, the application needs to have a bigger font or resemble an older application they frequently used in the past. Other examples might include analyzing a heatmap to determine if the CTA (call-to-action) button is visible enough or studying user journeys to understand why people abandon their carts on an e-commerce site.
If we can find out why our users use our product (qualitative) and how (quantitative) they do, we can build something that adds value. This is vital to any stakeholder or company to bring in revenue. In addition, through practices like gamification, we can ensure our users will continue using our product and will do so often while making their life easier. It’s a win/win for all parties involved.
Either way, a data-driven designer needs to have a good understanding of their target audience through empathy and validate their assumptions via data. They also need creativity and innovative thinking to build an intuitive design that makes it easy for users to navigate the platform while simultaneously solving their pain points. Phew, that was a lot.
Data-Driven Design Degree
Now that we put ourselves in the shoes of a designer, let’s explore ways to become one. Despite there being many educational programs and courses you can choose from, ones that focus on data-driven design are a bit more difficult to find. Therefore you need to take a closer look at the curriculum. However, ones that are more research-heavy tend to have similar naming conventions. For instance, programs with names like human-centered design, innovative design, human-computer interaction, and information experience design are a good place to start.
Alternatively, you can go the bootcamp route and take an in-person or online intensive course to get a head start. Bootcamps can help you enter the job market much sooner, but you usually have to start with a smaller base salary, and there can be gaps in knowledge. Maybe you can go rogue and take the DIY road instead. However, this requires a lot of discipline, and it’s rarely a straight road. Whichever option you go with, design and especially data-driven, is in high demand and is only projected to grow at an astonishing rate. So if you put in the work, you’re sure to succeed.
How to Become a Data-Driven Designer
Apart from education, having a solid portfolio is a must. Employers often overlook your educational background if you have strong case studies with real-life examples. Cheat code designers do the following to showcase their skills: they’ll take an already existing application (usually a big one like Uber) and redesign it. Utilizing research and data, they justify the conclusions they came up with and explain why their design is a better solution to what already exists. This way, they can show prospective employers their thinking process and potentially improve their product.
As a designer, you will also need to know how to use various software to assist you in researching and designing your product. For instance, to discover how your users navigate your application, you might use HotJar to create heatmaps. If you want to see which landing page converts them to buyers, you might use VWO to do A/B testing. And after you’ve done your research to design (or redesign) the visual aspect of your platform, you might use Sketch or Adobe XD. Finally, to present your idea to stakeholders, you might take advantage of a prototyping platform like InVision or Figma.
So whether you decide to attend a bootcamp or go the old school route and get a master’s (or bachelor’s) degree, we’re here to assist you on your journey. The good news is that even if your undergraduate degree had nothing to do with design, you could easily get a master’s degree in the field. Design has existed since our ancestors covered themselves with leaves to sleep at night, but data-driven design is a relatively new field. It hasn’t been until the last decade that people realized design is as important as building the product itself. Because even if the application solves a major problem, what’s the point if people can’t use it? And since the demand for such professions is rapidly growing, the job market is hungry for designers and excited to find the one who will make their application the next unicorn.
As for bootcamps, the ideal candidate is someone already in the tech industry, maybe in a different role but is looking to transition. These individuals already understand how applications work because they were software developers, tech project managers, or graphic designers. However, at some point, they realized designing applications was much more interesting to them than building or managing them and decided to make the switch. Of course, this is not to say you cannot attend a bootcamp with no prior experience. Many bootcamps claim you don’t need to have any tech experience, but the truth is the learning curve might be a bit steeper. You will be unstoppable if you learn to have a design mindset.
Data-Driven Designer Career Path
The more technology evolves, the more complex it gets. And the more complex it gets, the more important the need for intuitive design. How can we make today’s powerful and multi-functional applications be used by everyday people from all walks of life? This is the main concern most designers are faced with, and the only way to solve it is through experimental thinking informed by robust data.
For this reason, design positions that focus on collecting and analyzing data are some of the highest-paid in the field. Even though user experience designer (otherwise known as UX) seems to be the all-encompassing umbrella title, subcategories such as user experience researcher and usability testing have sprung up in recent years. Roles in these areas solely focus on the initial discovery stages of building an application. They utilize various previously discussed methodologies, such as A/B testing, focus groups, and surveys to build reports that guide the entire design process.
However, their work does not stop there, with research occurring in many steps throughout the building process, especially during the iteration stages. Unfortunately, many businesses think conducting research before building the product can be expensive and time-consuming. The reality, though, is a lot different. Studies have proven that companies save money, time, and resources by doing this since it reduces the number of iterations it takes to get a product right.
As for job growth and demand? Just in 2017, there were 1 million UX positions available. This number is expected to reach 100 million in 2050! The rate of increase? You do the math. Still wondering if this career choice is the right move? Again you answer that. So let’s look at various design positions, which are data-driven, and their salary averages.
Data-Driven Designer Salaries
Here are a few data-driven designer salaries by job type
- User Experience Researcher: $128,682
- Usability Tester: $88,072
- Information Architect: $113,758
- Interaction Designer: $122,552
- User Experience Designer: $91,950
- User Interface Designer: $84,351
- UX/UI Designer: $117,141
- Product Designer: $105,448
Wondering where to move to make the most money?
Average Data-Driven UX Salaries in Different States (according to ZipRecruiter):
- Washington: $108,521
- Maryland: $106,682
- Nebraska: $104,503
- New York: $103,947
- Virginia: $103,131
To be a successful designer in tech, you need to possess the empathy to make decisions that will benefit your users. However, these decisions must be verified by conducting extensive research and collecting and analyzing data. Sometimes an assumption need not be made as the data speaks for itself. You might think your users need one thing, and it turns out they need something completely different. Of course, we always have to be aware of limitations such as observer bias but overall data-driven design trumps all other kinds of design.
That’s not to say creativity has no say in all of this! If you take a look at awwwards, you’ll see the mind-blowing creations of some of these designers. However, creativity and innovation backed by data inspire and have real-life applications by solving real-life problems.