Putting the User First When It Comes to Design

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The traditional UI choices available from SaaS analytics platforms, like reports, charts, and dashboards, are fine for certain applications, but they expect the user to conform to the platform, instead of making the platform work for the user. Very often the problem of traditional BI user interfaces is that they follow the “more data equals more value” approach. For them, data is the starting point of the design process versus  thinking about ease of use. But the main problem with data is that it is by definition, a long-tail asset . Everybody needs personalized data to solve for business critical decisions. So if you don’t know what data users will need to achieve their goals you will serve them too much information to cover all bases. This results in too many static dashboards, filters, charts, and numbers so users have no idea where to start.

User-centered design (UCD) on the other hand puts the user first, followed by context and then data. In contrast to traditional BI the result is a precisely defined set of data which users require to solve business problems.

No matter your industry, UCD follows the same thought process. First, you need to think about the users and their specific pain points. What problem is the user trying to solve? What are the roadblocks that keep them from solving that problem? What information and functionality do they need to solve that problem? And how can we visualize that for them in an obvious way?

As I said, the user doesn’t know how to interpret the data and what decision or action to take. Many tools force the user to search for the information they need by leaving their workflow and switching between multiple tools. Users almost unanimously want a simple, straightforward user experience that delivers the information they need in one pane of glass. Next steps are obvious and users can focus their energy on more strategic and valuable work.

The newest user experience (UX) trend is to merge the experience of user’s workflows with actionable insights, suggestions, predictions, and next best actions to take for the task or decision at hand. Savvy business users will still be able to drill into the data and discover patterns and anomalies, but they won’t be burdened with the overly complex and expensive tool sets that are used by dedicated business analysts.

Designing for the user - User-Centered Design - will require many companies to revamp their offering, but I’m excited about this. For too long, BI has lagged behind other areas, like mobile applications, in terms of putting the user first, and businesses have not been able to reap the full benefit of their analytics offering. Focusing on user-centered design will help make analytics more pervasive.

June 13, 2018
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