When building interfaces, designers regularly face a number of subjective questions. How large should this button be, and what shape is most appealing to the user? Does this interactive element provide an adequate visual response? Is this progress bar useful, or will it just frustrate people?

Not every question can be answered through a UX designer’s intuition alone. Some require research. Designers should not be afraid to use data in their work. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Ask the right questions. There’s an overwhelming amount of data out there for those who seek it, but not all of it is relevant. In fact, UX designers can run into trouble if they base their conclusions on the biggest data sets possible. Big data is certainly a useful concept, but good design depends on asking specific questions. For instance, think about how a particular design element might be affecting a page’s bounce rate. Work from there.
  • Make use of quantitative and qualitative metrics. Not all data comes in the form of numbers. Quantitative information does, of course, and it is important to understand a website’s traffic rate, as well as a specific breakdown of who is visiting. But qualitative data is just as important, though sometimes harder to work with. Why are users choosing that specific website in the first place? The answer is complicated and demands follow-up questions, and will vary from person to person.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Using data for UX design doesn’t mean you always have to rely on the same data. Seek out a wide range of sources and try to avoid drawing broad conclusions based on just a few data points. Also, keep in mind that the trends you see today may change over time.

As Pamela Pavliscak argued last year in UX Magazine, data doesn’t necessarily kill innovation. While it is true that focusing too much on the numbers can lead to stilted, flat design that often fails to meet user needs, it is still important to have a foundation upon which better designs can be built. A deep understanding of the user base is the first step to achieving this.