Prior to my time at Automattic, I worked at a direct marketing firm. We were taught to mind the data. You make a change, you test it, you check the data and make a decision from it. At the time, this seemed fool proof. Numbers and statistics are absolute after all, right? However, continually we’d encounter situations where we’d be unable to move the needle despite our data telling us we were right. What was happening?
Data can be precise, specific, absolute and is meant to represent the actions and behaviors of people and things. Yet, people themselves can be imprecise, abstract, non-linear, and unpredictable. I call this the people margin – data’s margin of error when applied to everyday life. Context matters. We intuitively modify our behaviors based on numerous inputs. These modifications often can’t be explained with data alone. Only when we apply context to our product based on actual people’s stories, can we create real experiences.
Earlier this year, the WordPress.com Design team completed an extensive Small Business research project. We spoke to 34 small business owners from a spectrum of backgrounds and business stages. We heard 34 unique stories, 34 different contexts. Now, when approaching the work of designing experiences for customers, we’re not designing for abstract data. We’re designing for people like the 34 we met. We can put ourselves in their context, imagine how they might feel, think, and behave.
We search for and tell stories about people, not just data. This is one of the Automattic design principles we live by. It connects us to our customers and enables us to create a customer experience, not just a product.