Analytics Without the Numbers? Explaining Our Early Product Design Decisions

by Etienne Garbugli no comments.

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Early

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Design

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Decisions

I spent 2 years teaching usability and user-centered design to professionals.

My favorite story from this time was the story of how Microsoft redesigned the Office Suite by Jensen Harris (See: The Story of the Ribbon).

When the redesign started in 2003, Jensen and his team were doing a lot of research to try to figure out what features they should add to the next version of Word, Word 2007.

After speaking to dozens of Word users, the team began to realize that a lot of the features users were asking for were already in the software. Word had become so complex that users were unable to find the features they needed.

Product Design Decisions – Number of Menu Items Microsoft Word
Evolution of the number of menu items in Word – Note the slide design from the 90s. 😁

Through design by addition – and probably a lack of clear product vision – a lot of very valuable features had become difficult to find and were no longer being used.

After a lot of experimentation, Jensen’s team introduced the Ribbon, which we still use in the latest versions of Office. It helped improve feature discovery and findability, two issues created by the growth of the products.

Product Design Decisions – The Ribbon in Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word – The ‘Ribbon’ navigation

Complete solutions tend to eventually become too complicated to use.

Complexity in Analytics

When I started working at LANDR, I was in charge of the analytics. Over the course of a couple years, we went from using Mixpanel and Google Analytics to Amplitude and, then eventually having our own data warehouse.

All of these tools and solutions have their uses and merits, but from one analytics platform to another, the thing that remained constant was the internal user base.

Note: We’ll evaluate these platforms in a future post. Sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it.

Even though the company nearly doubled its headcount over that period, the number of people actively using analytics tools stayed almost the same.

It’s not because people didn’t have questions (they had many), or that they wouldn’t know what to do with the insights (they did). Their approach to analytics tools was what was preventing them from using them.

Logging into an analytics tool (especially a new one) felt like a chore.

Most analytics platforms are designed for data analysts. These analysts ask for customization, advanced features and deeper reporting functionalities. As the vendors add these features to their products, they gain in flexibility, but lose in simplicity. It’s hard to reverse that trend.

We see it in Google Analytics:

Product Design Decisions – Google Analytics Complicated User Interface
Google Analytics Interface – “Was it under ‘Behavior’ or ‘Conversions’?”

And we also see it in MailChimp in spite of their best intentions (and awesome microcopy!):

Product Design Decisions – MailChimp Complicated User Interface
MailChimp Interface – “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that with MailChimp!” 😬

It makes it hard for users to get maximum value from these platforms.

Design Decisions – #1 Build for Inclusivity

For any feature to be used, the perceived benefit has to be greater than the perceived effort. Des Traynor, Intercom Co-Founder

At Highlights, we think that everyone can benefit from using data.

We’ve seen it first-hand. When a support agent or a developer finds the data he/she needs, he/she feels more engaged, makes better decisions, and finds more satisfaction in his/her contribution to the team.

We designed the main interface of Highlights to help anyone get email and landing page insights. We would hate for our software to create the same gut reaction some analytics platforms give their users: “Oh no, I need to log into X… 🙁”

Product Design Decisions – The main interface of Highlights
Product Design Decisions – The main interface of Highlights.

Design Decision – #2 Build for Action

Diagnoses should produce outcomes. If they don’t, they’re useless. Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Founder

At the heart of it, Highlights is a decision-making system. Its goal is not to display data, aggregate information or show fancy graphs. Our users can use other systems for that.

Data needs to drive action. The question we help our users answer is: Is this worth my time?

Every single piece of information we display should help support or answer that question. That’s why our actionable advices have time estimates and link to how-to guides. They help drive action.

Product Design Decisions – Actionable Advices in Highlights
Product Design Decisions – Actionable Advices in Highlights.

Product Design Decisions – #3 Build for Focus

Businesses use more and more software. As they do, their data gets scattered across different systems, all needing their attention from time to time. This, in turn, creates information overload.

We don’t feel software should get in the way of doing the work. The less time our users spend in Highlights, the better it is for us/them (We’re fine with a high bounce rate if it drives action! 🙃).

To drive action and facilitate decision-making, we designed Highlights to quickly (visually!) highlight the priorities. With Highlights, users get a short list of improvements to make (prioritized) and action items. They should always be able to tell what the next thing is.

Product Design Decisions – Highlights's Prioritization
Product Design Decisions – Highlights’s Prioritization.

Design Decision – #4 Build for Simplicity

Your entire success will be based on 1 or 2 features, no more. Fred Lalonde, Hopper Co-Founder

The beauty of having a growing user base is that you start getting a lot of feedback and feature requests. The challenge with feature requests is that they can completely change your product strategy if you let them (see Microsoft example!).

Product management at Highlights means constantly balancing the needs of our customers, our product vision and our desire to keep the product simple.

As we grow and add features to Highlights, it’s easy to lose track of the importance of simplicity. To properly embed new features (for example: Google Analytics Goals below) in the product means weighing hundreds of alternatives and constraints. It’s a definite challenge, but it’s well worth it.

Product Design Decisions – Google Analytics Goals
Product Design Decisions – Upcoming Feature: Google Analytics Goal Tracking.

Product Design Decisions – #5 Throw Magic Into the Mix

Design for « Wow » moments. Aaron Forth, Ex-VP of Product, Mint

One lesson I got from LANDR (Maybe Ludo got it as well!) is the importance of Time-to-Value for startups. In other words, the less time it takes for users to get value from the software (LANDR = Instant Music Mastering), the more likely they are to be wow-ed by it.

One of our core premises when we were building Highlights was: How can we provide value to our users within the first 30 seconds?

Right now, our average user goes from signup through onboarding and to our main interface with prioritized action items in under 30 seconds. It means that the average user experiences the value of the product in less than 30 seconds.

Product Design Decisions – Email Subject Line Tracking
Product Design Decisions – Email Subject Line Tracking.

Building a great product often means lining up the Aha moments – moments of realization of value (first use, ongoing use, retained use, etc). Through rapid iterations, close customer interactions and experimentation we get to improve the product and our retention rate weekly.

Powerful Simplicity

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

Highlights started off as an analytics platform for international expansion. Although the product concept evolved, the belief in simple software with powerful functionalities remains.

Complex products are difficult to adopt, they require training and they don’t help drive focus.

Our vision for Highlights is to create smart, simple, and highly-contextual software. Our early product design decisions show that. The goal moving forward is to add power while maintaining the simplicity.

Here’s to that! 🍾

Etienne Garbugli
Étienne is a three-time startup founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), and the author of Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. At Highlights, Étienne is responsible for customer success.

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