Function Over Form: The Importance of Data-Driven Decisions in Design

In order to be effective, design decisions need to be informed by data, not trends.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, conceptually. But it’s also a lot easier said than done.

Oli Gardner, a cofounder of Unbounce, this week spoke at his company’s 2017 Call to Action Conference, an annual marketing event in Vancouver. Speaking to a full audience at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Gardner lamented design for the sake of artistic vision over conversion rates. Good design, he argued, doesn’t just dazzle—it helps a company accomplish a specific goal.

Looking at design as a science rather than an art opens doors. Gardner demonstrated that with basic tests and simple data, minor tweaks to landing pages can have significant impacts on key metrics.

For example, improvements can be as simple as shifting text to the side of a photo to better show off the product hero image; he noted that this doubled the amount of people who immediately understood what the company was selling on their website. Another example he showed was how making text easier to read—with a change as simple as putting a white background behind the font—reduced the average time it took a customer to consume the headline by 15%.

The demonstrations also proved the peril of chasing trends. Trends are always tempting, of course, as they spread like wildfire across marketing and design teams near and far. But it’s important to justify changes with data.

Does your landing page actually need to be improved? And, if so, does the specific trend actually possess the ability to address the identified weakness? Things like explainer videos and conversational forms can boost conversion rates, it’s true—but that is not guaranteed, and there remains the very real risk that implementing such features, regardless of marketing hype, will instead negatively affect your metrics.

Marketers often feel designers play the role of artist too much, Gardner pointed out, while designers often feel like marketers push unproven ideas. They can both be right. The thing to remember is that data-driven decisions will simplify the process for both teams and the end result will be business-changing conversion rates.