Are you Data-Driven or Data-Informed?

Have you ever been distracted by two conflicting choices — does data make the decision or we use data to help us make a decision? In today’s era where digital dominance has access to more data which can be intimidating than ever before. Supercomputers can now soak up humongous amounts of data and sum up conclusions within seconds. Yet, experts argue that the logical use of data still requires humans to think rather than simply hoping on machines.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

People are persistently buzzing the term “being data-driven”. Trust me, you can’t often be deprived of hearing this term around you even for days. Underline is a subtle distinction that makes an enormous difference.

It’s crystal clear and sounds comprehensible that one needs to be data-driven and have data drive everything that you do. In simpler terms, Data-driven implies that you “always depend on data to craft your decisions”. Data-driven doesn’t consider your distinctive experience. It’s simply about the cold, hard facts.

Data-driven doesn’t consider your distinctive experience. It’s simply about the cold, hard facts.

On the contrary, if you choose to be data-informed which would translate to using data as a component in decision making rather than implementing it as the entire basis. Data-informed implies “looking into data and human behaviour”. In simpler terms usage of data alongside user research, experiences, and other inputs required to make decisions.

Data-informed means usage of data alongside user research, experiences, and other inputs required to make decisions.

Based on your role, it might be the need of the hour to be more data-driven or more attuned to human behavior. The work that I do as a Product Manager and certain tasks that I take up outside my job often requires the usage of data to assist me to craft a decision, despite that ultimately the data doesn’t ‘drive’ all of my decisions. Some, but not all, and that’s why we can’t just say we need to be ‘data-driven’.

The data I get has to be translated into a story that’s easy to comprehend and indicate what action should be taken. It strikes as an appropriate approach using data as one source of information to make decisions.

Recently the project I was working on was presented with an issue, wherein the team was required to come up with the best time to release X feature or do promotion Y? If the team was purely data-driven we could have jumped to the conclusion by just looking into the numbers. Rather teams’ exploratory approach of being data-informed, what actions are highly correlated to each other and highly correlated to the desired outcome were considered. The team was fully equipped with what and why and to use this information for making decisions and future strategies.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

The same approach is applied in our daily regime by most of us. I am sure when most of us have done this exercise when we’re searching a vehicle for our use we evaluate it against certain parameters, read articles about them, check brand reviews on social media, did the comparison with other brands, reached out to our family members for reviews, discussed it with friends…… then finally booked it.

You didn’t just use the data such as how many models sold last year, the ratings, you evaluated this with everything else. Henceforth, your decision was data-informed alongside research, experiences, and other inputs required to make decisions.

There is a great quote from Julie Zhuo, the Facebook product design director:

Data and A/B test are valuable allies, and they help us understand and grow and optimize, but they’re not a replacement for clear-headed, strong decision-making. Don’t become dependent on their allure. Sometimes, a little instinct goes a long way.”

Past few days, I was reading an article about Netflix. Netflix, we all know has been a data-driven company since its inception and they are renowned for their stunning personalization feed for user basis their viewing behaviour. While reading about Netflix I was amazed to find out in 2015 how they put a human face on big data. We can clearly state a behaviour change, driven to be informed.

In the end, we should remember that we are designing for Humans as I read this article by Adam Lefton on why he refuses to call people ‘Users’. When we factor other parameters like people’s everyday thinking, emotions, and behavior leads to a creative perspective to problem-solving and a more nuanced outcome than just data would yield.

Should you fully rely on data or better use it as one factor that guides your decisions. So which approach is best? Before you answer always remember

“Good product design comes from striking the right balance between data, empathy, and intuition. You need tolerance and perseverance, and the ability to understand what you get from data, research, and a gut feel of what is right or wrong. “

Additionally, if you want to read further here are some useful links :

  1. Know the difference between data-informed and versus data-driven
  2. Refuses to call people ‘Users’
  3. How Netflix puts a human face on Big Data
  4. Data-Informed marketing
  5. Adam Mosseri gave a talk ‘Data-informed, not Data-Driven’ in the year 2010.

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