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The Challenges of Data-Driven Design

A showcase of beautiful mobile interfaces on eConsultancy evolved into a great discussion about the merits of responsive design versus dedicated mobile sites.

I’m pretty clear about why I believe content parity across all devices is so important. James Gurd raised this counterpoint:

Start with understanding and defining customer needs first based on browsing data + usability studies. Work out what they're doing, when, why, how & where there are links with other devices.

False Correlations

I’m not saying data is bad. Usability studies are great!

But relying on current browsing data and looking at how people use your site today can lead to some false correlations.

When I redesigned the PAWS New England website two years ago, they weren’t getting a ton of mobile traffic. Mobile users weren’t spending a lot of time there, and they certainly weren’t looking at adoptable pets or making donations. That data could have led us to the conclusion that mobile support isn’t important, or that mobile users don’t care about those things.

What a mistake that would have been.


Over the last two years, mobile traffic to the PAWS website has grown by 4x, and now represents almost half of all traffic. People are looking at adoptable dogs and learning how to make donations.

Last month, two people on a Ninendo Wii and one on a Nintendo DS browsed our available dogs.

Now, RWD alone can’t take credit for this growth. Mobile traffic is happening whether we like it or not. Given that, why not making it easier for people to do what they want to get done?