Start with a story, and end with the metrics.
If you are at the starting line, and all you have to start with is a metric — then stop. Go find the stories behind that metric. Go find the stories that can inspire design. Go find the stories that make the metric meaningful.
Don’t start a design brainstorm with a metric. Don’t do it.
If you hear yourself saying “Only x% of people sign up after visiting the homepage — let’s brainstorm ways to increase it” — then stop. That’s starting from a metric.
Here’s what might happen if you start from that metric:
- You are a savvy PM, you read a lot of case studies, you read about internet trends.
- You realize that users around the world have learned to click on “red” notification dots because it signifies important events
- Fortified with your new epiphany — you “growth-hack” a signup CTA on a red notification dot
- You A/B test it — it increases signups — you declare victory and launch
- You get a giant bonus :)
Things you may not realize
- 6–12 months down the road, every web product will be using this “trick”
- Users learn to avoid this trick
- You hurt your brand
- If you did the same A/B test now that the “newness” of this interaction has worn off — you may not see the same results.
- The “growth” you had seen was temporary — it never translated into sustained business $$ growth.
You make a series of such mistakes. You miss out on launching meaningful products that solve problems. You ship things you are not truly proud of — all because you started from that metric.
If you hear yourself saying: “We need to get 10x users / week to sign up— how do we do that” —then stop. That’s starting from a metric.
If you only have a metric — go out and find a story.
If you don’t have a story yet —it’s a wonderful opportunity to go out in the world and find stories. Stories are everywhere. Stories explain metrics.
If you hear yourself saying: “We need to get 10x users / week to sign up” — then stop and ask some questions. Why aren’t people signing up? Are the right people seeing my website? Do these “right people” even exist? Who are they? Do they need this product? How are they fulfilling this need today?
If you are starting from a metric — stop. Go out and find some stories. Go out and watch your customers. Go out and understand their worlds.
Go out and realize that your product is the little blue dot. It’s your entire world, but barely visible to the universe. Go out and be humbled.
Here’s what might happen when you look for a story:
- You may find that Anna loves your site but only uses it to price-compare — and she doesn’t need to sign up to do this
- You may find that Dmitry didn’t sign up because he doesn’t like giving out his phone number on random websites
- You may find that Jose doesn’t need the things you are marketing to him
- You may find that Maria doesn’t even recall what your service is called
- You may find that the humans behind your abandonment statistics are younger or poorer than you imagined
Armed with these stories, you can host a better design brainstorm.
- How might we assure users we won’t misuse their information
- How might we reach more appropriate customers
- How might we extract value from users equal to the value our service provides them
NOT — How might we get 10x people to opt-in?
A good story might even lead you to the right metrics.
You are too smart to sit around A/B testing CTA locations. Focus on solving for a real person, a real story. Solve for a story that’s believable. Look for stories that might happen to a friend or a neighbor. Look for stories that feel authentic and real.
Look for metrics that show whether or not your feature / design / product is meaningful. Is it really meeting a need? Will the number of signups really tell you whether a product is meaningful? You may realize that you need to look at different metrics.
- Do people use it a second time?
- Do they say they like it?
- Do they tweet about it? Do they tell their friends about it?
- Do they pay for it? Do the jump through hurdles to get at it?
Truly meaningful products will lead to better overall business metrics in the long run. Focus on creating meaning. Start with a story, and end with the metrics.