J. Boye Conference Philly 2009:Web Analytics and User Experience: A Match Made in Heaven?At the 2009 J. Boye Philadelphia conference, Lou Rosenfeld, co-author of 'the polar bear book' on information architecture and principal of Rosenfeld Media, called for web analysts and user experience people to work more closely together. The result? A solid basis for identifying the right design questions, and the power of surprise and vision brought to data.

Web analysts and user experience practitioners are typically seen as two halves of the same coin -- and not always in a good way. Analysts are often considered to be left-brained and data-driven, unconcerned with the 'big picture', or with the possible benefits of the unexpected.

Right-brained UX'ers seem unconcerned with anything outside the scope of their designs, and are always relying on 'fuzzy' data like stories instead of good solid numbers.

Lou Rosenfeld argues that this ought to change, and he's someone who is in a good position to know.

What vs Why

Analytics data gives us plenty of What -- how many people visited a site, how many white papers got downloaded, how many service requests got sent in. User experience data gives us the Why -- why people failed to buy a product at the order step, why service requests spike on Tuesdays, why some white papers are downloaded so much more than the others.

Obviously, What is useless without Why, and vice versa. To put it another way, looking carefully at data should suggest the in-depth questions that need to be solved so that any organization can meet its goals.

Working Together

Combining What with Why is not easy, and it's not often done. But players like Amazon, eBay and other organizations that live or die by the Web have established that it works. For the rest of us, how can we work more closely together? Lou offered a few suggestions:

  • UX people should get a little more comfortable with numbers. You don't need to know what a chi-square test is.. Leave that to people who really love doing them. But understanding basic numbers like conversion rates, unique visitors versus traffic and purchase funnels is easier than it looks and is really, really helpful.
  • Analytics people should get a little more comfortable with creativity. It's not just that research shows accidents, mistakes and playfulness often lead to breakthroughs. It's that creative techniques such as storytelling are really persuasive. If there's a compelling point in the data, turn it into a story and tell it -- that Sally seems to love shopping Thursdays at lunch, for instance. That will make non-experts and creative types understand the significance of the numbers and work to find out why.

As Lou pointed out, it may well be that most people are either left-brained or right-brained. But teams need both halves in order to succeed.

Lou Rosenfeld and Marko Hurst are planning to publish a book on analytics and user experience through Rosenfeld Media. Look for it later in 2009 at www.rosenfeldmedia.com.