5 things everyone needs to know about data

True Digital's Ollie Ware looks at the tension between data and creativity, and how to resolve it.

Ollie Ware

Ollie Ware

I started designing websites back in 2004. The agency I was with had no analytics department and no UX professionals.

As the web designer, I was responsible for the design of a website from start to finish. The only things guiding me were my Graphic Design degree and an interest in Flash animation.

I was relying on my instinct. The questions 'Could I use this site?' and 'Is it simple?' formed the basis of my thought process. Looking back, I designed some terrible websites.

Fast-forward 11 years and everything looks different. We now measure, track and analyse every element of the web. Clients (quite rightly) want a clear demonstration of ROI. Every pixel of a website is accountable. And thanks to advanced technology, we can now see exactly how visitors to our sites are behaving.

This was unimaginable back in the heady days of 2004. But has all this accountability made the web a less creative space? Are we now in danger of creating homogenous, templated sites? The good news is, data and creativity can co-exist. Here are five things you need to know to make data your friend and not your enemy...

01. Data bookends everything we do

We use data to inform and inspire the creative brief. The analytics team unearths fascinating insights that focus our creative thinking. We also use data to measure the success of a site – to learn what is and isn't working, and to make changes for the better.

In fact, data is one of the cornerstones of our thinking. It gives us insight, helps us understand whether our ideas are working and if not, why. And when our ideas are performing well, data helps us prove it. Which gives us a license to feel chuffed.

02. Data should be a playpen, not a prison

Have you noticed that websites are all starting to look the same? Me too. Data is great, for all the reasons stated above. But there's a danger in relying on it too much.

Computer screen containing data

Data should inspire, not imprison

Creative teams can find themselves afraid to try something new, just in case it doesn't work. Because there's so much data out there, we should know everything, right? There's a feeling that everything should work first time. And thanks to our ability to see results instantly, we think everything should start working immediately.

It puts a hell of a lot of pressure on an idea.

03. Data analysis won't solve everything

And let's face it, creativity is subjective. The websites we build, the videos we create – they're all open to human interpretation. Which is why some digital advertising fails and some goes viral. There's no magic formula. The beauty of digital marketing is it allows us optimise and improve. Our websites are never finished.

Fullers homepage

True Digital's reworking of the Fullers website balanced the needs of data with those of design

No amount of data analysis can tell us how people feel about our digital content. Creativity is still just as important now as it was before Google Analytics came along.

04. Data shouldn't scare you

We shouldn't let data scare us into copycat responses. We shouldn't let a fear of failure push us down a road of templated design, of 'me too' creative ideas.

"Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new." – Ed Catmull, President of Pixar

05. How to find the sweet spot

Data should validate our creative output, not dictate it. It should guide the creative process, not dominate it. It should focus our thinking, not constrain it.

Data can't predict an emotional response to your brand or your product. Ultimately, it's emotion that drives action. And emotions are unpredictable. Embrace data, sure, but don't let it suffocate you.

Words: Ollie Ware

Ollie Ware is senior designer at True Digital, a dedicated team of creative digital experts with an insatiable appetite for ideas and innovation.

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