Unlocking the power of design and creativity

Marc Dalhuisen - Head of Data-driven design
May 31, 2024
10 min read

What is design?

Let's get aligned on this one before we continue, design is visual & sensory communication, it allows you to condense an idea, concept, or text for your target audience into a form of media that can be consumed more rapidly, easily, and/or enjoyably. Just this blog has had a lot of design applied to it. On a macro level, we structure this article by order, headings, and content. On a Micro level, we look at typography, white space, and legibility.

Design allows you to convey your message faster and with more impact. Designing for pretty aesthetics is fun, but, we believe form should follow function. Dieter Rams has the following list that we take close to heart when designing with our clients: Good design is innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobstructed, honest, long-lasting, detailed, sustainable, and lastly; good design is as little design as possible. Keep it simple.

Design thinking & fundamentals

As a designer, I have spent over 15 years creating various forms of media. It started as a hobby, downloading Photoshop CS2 in 2006 on my fathers' laptop to stitch together my dream car. I had an idea in mind for my dream car, one that no manufacturer ever made. So I stitched together different parts from various cars until I was satisfied. Little did I know this was called design. To this day we still use this technique, to create User Experiences for our clients for example. We take best-performing apps and websites based on data, stitch their best bits together to make a LoFi prototype, apply their branding and values, and out comes an extremely effective experience. This workflow is led by a concept called Design Thinking, the way all designers secretly work, it goes as follows:

Step 01: Empathize

Your gut feeling and common sense are all fine and can be useful, especially if you are the target audience, but if you are not... you'd better start working on your empathic capabilities. Put your personal beliefs aside for a bit and listen to your target audience. Pay attention and don't just hear them out, LISTEN to what they have to say. How do they feel? What and how do they think? And what is their context like? The best way to go about this stage is through both quantitative and qualitative data. Personal interviews + objective user data for example. This allows you to validate your assumptions.

Step 02: Define

Take these newly gained, and most likely unexpected, insights and define the problem. Or as designers fancily call it; The Design Challenge. What are you trying to solve? The first stage was about gathering a lot of insight, this step you are cutting back and finding focus. A good way to write your design challenge is: How can [my brand] help [target audience] achieve [their goal] by [context] without/while [context]? Got that? All clear? Good, never forget it!

Step 03: Ideate

Now it is time to diverge and explode into a fiery ball of ideas. The key to ideation is to never shoot down any idea. Nothing kills a brainstorming session more than canceling someone's idea before exploring it. But isn't that a waste of time? We disagree. We even use methods such as the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. map to generate only 'bad' ideas. So outline exactly what you shouldn't do, leaving you with the best options. Besides, if you stop canceling ideas early, people will learn to provide more value when they do open up, as their ideas will have more consequences.

Step 04: Prototype

Time to converge again. Got some good ideas? Great! Time to bring them to life. Fast, quick, and dirty. Contrary to your first instinct, this step will save you time and money in the long run. Bringing your ideas to life will uncomfortably put you in front of a lot of crossroads. Cheap or Luxury, single-purchase or subscription, webinar or lead magnet? This is where your previous steps will help you. Look back at what your users expressed. How you defined your problem, and what your initial idea was to fix it. A prototype can be a product, mockup, landing page, or video, but not a pitch deck.

Step 05 : Test

Put your prototype in front of people, let them rip it apart, expose flaws, and find leaks. This is the best way to quickly and effectively improve before you've spent all your money, and have no more improvement left. There are various ways to run these tests. Once again, qualitative or quantitative. At Marveltest we focus mainly on the quantitative approach. Let's say you want to scale your business to new markets. We put smokescreen test LPs live in 5 countries, either identical designs, or customized to their cultural context. Send traffic for 3 weeks, or until significance is reached, evaluate the data, and go from there. Instead of just selecting Germany because; 'they are similar and I speak German'.

Step 06: Do it all again, forever.

Wait, there is no Step 06: Done? No, when you look around there’s not a single brand that remains the same. Markets change, times change, and your original target audience changes as well... They get older, lose interest, or are satiated.

Mcdonald's is introducing Vegan and 'healthy' options, Adidas gets into NFTs, and Netflix turns physical stores into an online media empire, just to name a few. But this iterative process is no waste, if you do it right, like many of our clients, you make a healthy profit while testing and iterating. If it’s not to innovate, then to optimize your winners.

To conclude; this process does not need to take months. It can be done in one day, or even 10 minutes by just keeping these steps in mind. This will help you make much better, and more informed decisions.

Empathize > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test. Don't start with the idea, start with the user and their context. And if you enrich each step with data, you are golden.

High yield and impact

As a designer, I might have a bit of a bias, but as design often happens at the tail end of your business chain, it shows direct results. We see this a lot in our testing strategies. As Marveltest, we rarely put campaigns live without a test. A slight change in design can often already result in f.e. 20% more leads or conversions! This while changing zero in regards to the content or the media. Think of adding/removing interaction, restructuring the order of information, sending the visual flow toward the intended action, etc.

UX vs CX

This is a big one, for those new to this subject. UX stands for User Experience, a massive topic in the last 10 years, as we have shifted much more to interactive media. And CX, Customer Experience, which eludes predominantly to the commercial interests of the user. Both remain user-centered, it's not about your brand, but about the users' experience.

We believe that UX is part of CX, not the other way around. As for cats are animals, but not all animals are cats. UX speaks to usability. Reducing friction 360 degrees to allow users free will and actions. This happens in the physical real world as well as online. A free will also allows users more opportunities NOT to interact with your brand, or to decide not to buy.

User Experience Examples:

  • Inclusivity to all use cases, language, impairments, cultural contexts, education, etc.
  • Path of desire. Make the most frequented actions the most accessible.
  • Older target audience, bigger fonts. A younger audience, less text.
  • Can a user's thumb reach important places on their phone?
  • Do my buttons look like they can be clicked?
  • Do my pages load fast enough?

Customer Experience covers the entire funnel and all touchpoints a (potential) customer has with your brand. These can be sliced into steps we all know; awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. Here we focus more on a guided journey, you tell the story and provide the context.  Most likely, your product is not a primary need or government incentive that 100% of the population needs from us, which gives you liberty. Therefore it is optional for people to interact with you in this open market. For example, the place where you do taxes should have a great User Experience. A fashion e-commerce store should have a great Customer experience, which also happens to have a good supporting User Experience.

Customer Experience Examples:

  • Cialdini's principles: Reciprocity, Commitment & Consistency, Social proof, Authority, Liking, and Scarcity.
  • Don't like 'persuasion', think seduction. How can you seduce a customer to make the decision to commit?
  • Focus intently on business model goals, is your experience optimized for newcomers or repeatable customers? For casual browsers, or active searchers?
  • Well-timed up/cross/deep-sells.
  • On-brand and effective usage of Tone of Voice and Copywriting.
  • Removing doubt or burning questions.
  • Visual dominance on desired actions creates a bread-crumb trail to the desired user journey.

Data-driven Design

Lastly, we like to give you some insight into the future of design and where we as Marveltest specialize in. We are not talking about 'just' outsourcing or automating your creatives and copywriting to poorly working AI tools or overseas parties to 'save' money. Data-driven design, in our eyes, is to create effective media-based communication on high-quality and valid data.

Our design team not only works seamlessly with our Data and Growth teams but also monitors their own performance on a daily basis. No campaign or website leaves their hands without a live test. Of course, we use industry-standard design principles and design patterns worldwide that users are accustomed to, but we start and end with data. We don't just hand over creatives and wish you the best. Often we tweak things days after going live to maximize the performance of the campaign.

There are 4 ways of working and designing with data, and we do it in its purest form.

The 4 ways are:

  • Data-illiterate – You don't use data, only gut feeling, common sense, and personal taste.
  • Data-aware – Once in a while you check on data and kind of use it.
  • Data-informed – You use data here and there to validate ideas.
  • And lastly, Data-driven – You capitalize on data insights as a foundation in your process.

Some concrete examples of where we applied data-driven design for our clients:

  • Tech product seller Productpine took the next step in their rebranding process with our help. By testing different variations of their branding on their desired target audiences we ran traffic for 88 Ads to 8 Landing page variants. This allowed them to confidently take validated decisions and reduce risk.
  • Erfrechtplan doubled its lead generation funnel over 4 months with our guidance. By continuously optimizing its ads and Landing pages, based on data insights and user testing they were able to book these results.
  • Zoen voor Gust got our help with optimizing their Shopify website and funnels. By reconstructing the primary customer journey and installing three CRO-focused plugins. This resulted in a 127% increase in their conversion rate!

If you are currently running any campaign, website, mail, or experience, ask your people if they are tracking anything. Their answer is hopefully yes. Then ask them if they are actively taking action based on this data to increase performance. Sense some doubt? Then it might be time to stop guessing, and start making data-driven decisions.

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