The Failure of Data

A short while ago — I pondered about the use of the term experience and its relevance to what many people use the internet for — completing tasks. I finished with the line “An experience is memorable — completing a task should be forgotten”.

So, within the ‘digital industry’ we complete millions of pounds worth of research, design and development to deliver task completion. To make experiences that should be forgettable.

In many cases, this is a good thing — look at GDS — they’ve become so good at making online experience forgettable — they’ve won awards. Deservedly so, who wants a fulfilling and memorable experience when paying tax or renewing car tax?

But I am beginning to hate to use the web. It has become a mixture of blandness interspersed with adverts, GDPR and Cookie pop-ups. All the wonderful task completion UI in the world couldn’t make me have a good experience.

We’ve let the web become an advert and conversion funnel-led platform of confusion, contradiction and tick-boxes. All of us involved in the industry have to take responsibility here. We have mis-sold what the web should have become to our clients and each other.

I blame data.

We hide beneath the power of data-led insight.

Data comes from the past. It identifies trends that may not actually exist. If we are forcing our users down a data designed suite of interactions in the pursuit of efficiency and conversions — of course users are going to follow that journey. They may not want to but they have — so it must be working. The data proves it….

We ignore the human user. The one that is full of contradictions and uncertainties, the one that may sometimes want to do their own thing.

Marketers crave certainty so they can develop campaigns and solutions that confirm what the data says. (Big) data creates certainty in a world that is uncertain — otherwise Trump wouldn’t be in The White House and the UK wouldn’t be leaving the EU.

But the industry hangs onto data to justify blandness, confusion and tick-boxes.

We make it so easy for users to buy or select what the data has told us they want, that its almost impossible for them to actually do anything else — maybe even something that they want to do.

How disappointing is that? A multi-billion pound industry failing it’s end users…..

We ignore the power of creative led innovation.

Ahhh innovation. As Rory Sutherland says “Innovation isn’t in conventional logic. Reason and logic are everywhere — innovation comes from non-reason “.

We see creative as something we layer on top of data. We stymie many creative designers and thinkers by restricting them in a box of data. We then ask them to come up with solutions that motivate, engage and inspire. It’s a bit like putting an Alvin and the Chipmunks voice over on Trump. It’ll engage and distract for a while, but pretty soon the paucity and bile of what you are seeing and hearing will come through.

The balance is wrong between data-led sameness and creative led innovation in the development and design of the web.

In many ways, user research can very often ‘soften’ the guidance and impact of the data. I’ve sat down with actual people many times and found that not only did they contradict what the data presented, most wanted to simply have more enjoyment using the web.

But again, user research tells you what people want in the confines of what they have seen and experienced. What they have seen not just online, but in that wonderful thing called real-life.

But true creativity can address that. It can design positive influences to encourage and enable wonderful experiences now and in the future

Creatively that is encouraged and supported can deliver breathtaking moments of beauty. It makes us stop and not follow a data designed journey, but wonder, imagine and appreciate what we are seeing, hearing and feeling.

It delivers an experience and of course when we feel, we experience..

So, there’s a balance. If we want to create real experiences for people we need to get the balance right between data and creativity.

Putting experience at the centre

Putting experience at the centre

If we respect data, but love creativity we may actually deliver on the potential of what the web could become.

What some evidence of where we are going wrong? There is a great example right in front of us. Voice interactions. It’s because the web that doesn’t work for users is that there is now such a focus on voice interactions. We’ve recognised that as an industry and now we’re implicitly saying — “We know the web is a mess and in many ways we’ve failed. Come and try voice so you don’t have to deal with all the mess”.

Innovation not to progress but to hide and ignore. That’s not innovative its distraction.

So data is a scam — we’ve increased its importance to such a level we hide behind hit and deliver blandness. That’s why Tim Berners-Lee is looking at a new web. That’s why the number of creatives in the industry is reducing and the number of account managers increasing.

Let’s remove control from data and put it back in the hands of the real innovators — we might all enjoy what we see — we might all enjoy what we experience.

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.

When is UX not UX?