Small is the new big

It’s the time of year for reflections, revelations and predictions. According to UXmag, UX is rapidly evolving into ‘PX’ (personal experience), ‘touch first’ will be the trump card when designing new devices, and there will be an increased focus on seamless experiences across media and devices.

Peel back the surface and you’ll find one word appearing more than any other. Data. Data collection, data analysis and data application, often referred to in a ‘Big Data’ context, with the focus on software generated stats, which are then used to determine and categorise what people are doing, when they’re doing it and on what devices; activity that’s hugely beneficial from a UX perspective of course, in defining user journeys and interactions.

However, is it not the case that the more data we have, the less we actually know? With quintillions of data collected every day and only a miniscule percentage analysed, we’re increasingly drowning by numbers, whilst overlooking the opportunity to gather human insight that can help us to understand the ‘why?’ – i.e. what motivates our customers and why they’re likely to engage with us. As a media psychologist, I’m concerned with exactly that, and I look to exploit structured interviewing and observation techniques and thematic analysis to generate what I call ‘small data’. For me, it’s the small data that counts. It’s satisfying unearthing those little nuggets of customer insight that can make the difference between an adequate and an exceptional brand experience.

And I’m not alone in this quest. In his Vision Critical blog last year, Kelvin Claveira highlighted the plight of global gaming studio brand EA, which readers of consumerist.com had voted ‘worst company in America’ in 2012 and 2013. Essentially the company was far from living up to its brand mantra ‘Think Players First’ – seemingly having forgotten the need to listen to customers. Kelvin’s blog goes on to highlight that part of the problem was their heavy reliance on Big Data to make business decisions, quoting EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson, who said, “The challenge with data is you never seek to do anything profound or inspired. We weren’t thinking about everything we were doing in the context of the player experience.”

Consequently EA shifted its focus to listening to its player community and analysing human rather than Big Data. In an effort to overturn intensely negative perception, the company introduced a pre-release games test, encouraging open communication with its gamer community, which is no doubt generating a wealth of heartfelt, expert feedback. A simple step, that’s proving infinitely valuable. A strategic shift that’s human, and a decision that will be uncovering behavioural and emotional themes of expectation and engagement, previously overlooked. A UX strategy embracing small data.

As this case study highlights, without understanding the ‘why?’ I’d argue we’re overlooking a vital and rich source of insight that can only enhance the UX process. It’s important to dig deep where human insight is concerned. And that’s why I’d urge you to consider that small is the new big as far as the practice of data gathering and analysis is concerned.

About Allie

Allie Johns MSc is a freelance Media Psychologist specialising in scientific small data gathering and analysis techniques to help agencies and companies create exceptional brand experiences. Passionate about interactive media, she blends media psychology practice with a wealth of traditional and digital marketing experience, developed over 20 years working with Blue Chip brands and creative agencies.


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