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Why Big Data is like a Brussels Sprout...

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...and may well be the future of UX design

At Ostmodern, we recognise that Big Data is becoming an increasingly important part of UX design. The recent Big Data Exhibition in London gathered together some of the best and brightest from the Big Data community. Ostmodern’s Digital Anthropologist and UX researcher Matt Goodacre reports.

Before I begin this post, I must start with a confession: I was a Big Data skeptic. Being brought up on a strict diet of anthropological theory and qualitative ethnographic research, I approach Big Data with the same apathy I used to approach brussels sprouts as a child - allowing my prejudices against vegetablekind to obstruct any appreciation I might have of the nutritional value within. As a researcher, I love to understand the deep lying reasons which shape people’s behaviours - the emotions, the culture, the history - the Why.

Brussels Sprouts

However, since joining Ostmodern, I have begun to see how quantitative data can be used to inform UX design in a practical way. And, after visiting the Big Data Exhibition in London last week, I find that I am developing a taste for statistics.

I went along to see what the future holds for UX design in relation to data strategy, and listened to the biggest innovators in the UK Data community share their thoughts on how Big Data can inform and shape enterprise.

Amongst the speakers was Steve Forde, Head of Viewer Relationship Management at Channel 4. Steve believes that by the year 2020, over two-thirds of television will be viewed on digital devices such as smart phones and tablets, and that the next decade will be all about connectivity and data. In response to this, Channel 4 have developed a data strategy, with Big Data at the heart of user experience.

Exciting Implications

This has exciting implications for Ostmodern’s UX team, where our design process places the user firmly at the centre of the experiences we create. Harnessing Big Data gives us a deeper insight into the behaviours of a vast user base, allowing us to develop incredibly detailed and accurate personas and scenarios, central tools in our user-centred design. As a result we can design fantastic user experiences with even greater acuity.

analytics Graph (2)

Another interesting speaker was Chris Gobby, Head of mData at EE, who outlined how his strategy for Big Data use can benefit business and commercial development. Some of the key learnings from his talk were the ways that Big Data can be used to show how location and situation correlate with certain behaviours.

Huge Potential

For UX professionals such as ourselves, Big Data of this sort has huge potential. At Ostmodern, we know that understanding the contexts for behaviours is essential for understanding the goals of our users. The kinds of contextual information afforded by Big Data opens up new possibilities for our user-centred design, allowing us to design and tailor our products to complement the user’s day-to-day experiences with previously impossible insight.

However, despite my new found appreciation of Big Data, it still does not tell the full story. Yes, it has the potential to reveal trends in behaviours according to different situations, and allows us to speculate on the motivations behind these behaviours, but at the end of the day it is just that - speculation. In order to get a deeper understanding of the reasons behind specific behaviour, Big Data and other statistical analysis needs to be combined with solid qualitative research. This will reveal with greater clarity - and certainty -  the emotional and motivational contexts behind people’s behaviours, telling us not just the where and the when, but the why.

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