Future of Work Insights

Data insights: Design for the user

7 minute read time

Glenn Exton, head of data and analytics at RBS International, discusses the importance of a user-centric design approach.

Data-driven, data-informed, data-inspired – what is this bingo buzzword and what has it got to do with designing for the user? Search on any of these topics and you will find a myriad of material on what organisations should be doing, all centred on the specific user. So let’s take a look at what they actually mean:

  • data-driven: you let data guide your decision-making; you have data placed in front of you to make the decision
  • data-informed: you let data act as a check on your intuition; data is placed alongside your knowledge, experience and context to support the decision you are seeking to take
  • data-inspired: you let data support your exploration, helping you to uncover new ideas, trends or insights from unrelated data sources that you didn’t expect when you started your journey.

In another recent article "Data insights: defining the questions that matter the most", we explored the importance of defining questions upfront before sourcing data and designing new analytical approaches. What was omitted in that article was linking a person or user to the questions that matter the most. To help us do that, we are going to leverage techniques from agile digital methodologies – specifically user personas and user stories.

What is a user persona?

A user persona originated out of customer- and service-centric design methods used globally and across all industries to help a digital design team understand the behaviour, characteristics, needs, wants and beliefs of the person they are seeking to provide services to.

Within a business context, a persona might be the customer, product owner, relationship manager, senior risk manager, team leader or CEO. Outside of work, a persona could be a father, mother or teenager, each having specific behavioural traits, needs, wants and beliefs.

Everything starts with understanding your users and how they are involved in the decision process, be that data-driven, data-informed or data-inspired.

What are the steps to create a user persona?

The very first step is ensuring that all of our designs focus on the needs of the customer (user), to ensure that the resulting product is applicable and beneficial. Having a mixed, disciplined team is the best way to do this, where they follow these steps:

  • review and recap the proposition and problem to solve
  • identify and define the users – for example, customer or product owner – who will be involved within the operating model of focus
  • conduct research about the persona and interview them
  • produce a one-page overview of the persona’s ambition, what matters the most to them, problems to solve, their challenges, attitudes, needs and goals
  • produce a supplementary page on the persona’s data pain points, needs and typical data sources they use

User personas should not be generic; they need to be specific to help bring to life the jobs to be done and the supporting key activities across the decision lifecycle.

"Everything starts with understanding your users and how they are involved in the decision-making process, be that data-driven, data-informed or data-inspired"

Creating user stories

Next, you need to find a way to describe what the user does within the decision process – and this is where user stories come on to the scene.

A user story is an informal natural language description written from the perspective of a user or system, constructed as follows:

  • As a user/system I want to do something so that I take some form of action/deliver value.

Let’s put this into practice by focusing on a scenario in institutional banking where a product owner is seeking to improve the customer experience by gaining these new insights:

  • What points within the customer journey are customers leaving?
  • Why are customers leaving at certain points along the customer journey?

Let’s continue to use the product owner for context and see how we can express the type of insight they are seeking and, importantly, what action they would like to take if they are able to get answers to the questions that matter the most to them.

Product owner: example 1

  • As a: product owner
  • I want: to know which of our institutional banking customers are not using my channel and why
  • so that: I can increase adoption of the channel by developing it to meet the needs of a wider customer base

Product owner: example 2

  • As a: product owner
  • I want: to have a detailed understanding of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction with my channel
  • so that: I can stop second guessing what I think customers need and focus on what they tell me

Alternatively, let’s look at user stories from other persona perspectives.

Customer example

  • As a: customer
  • I want: to be able to receive personalised email communications relating to my recent website visit
  • so that: I can be clear on the next steps available to me

Website platform owner example

  • As a: website platform owner
  • I want: to deliver an improved method of collecting visitor data
  • so that: I can make better informed choices about where to focus attention on experience improvements

Introducing the decision lifecycle

We now have a way to link a user story to a persona, the questions that matter the most, and an area in which we are seeking to make a transformational difference.

The last step is bringing this together by focusing on the decision lifecycle journey. We break this down into three parts: what information do people need to make a decision; what decisions will they take when they have that information; and what action will result?

Let’s put this into practice with examples focused on banking with relationship managers, where the team are exploring business resilience for their customer base.

What information does the user need to make a decision?

  • As a: relationship manager
  • I want: to identify the debt leverage ratio for all the companies in my portfolio
  • so that: I can quickly identify if any of them are at higher risk of entering distress due to their funding structure

After getting the required information, what decision will be taken by the user

  • As a: relationship manager
  • I want: to understand the current financial status of all the companies in my portfolio
  • so that: I can decide which companies I should prioritise working with

What action will be taken as part of the decision-making process?

  • As a: relationship manager
  • I want: to be able to fully identify the top at-risk companies in my portfolio
  • so that: I can implement the best intervention approach that reduces the risk exposure for the customer

(Note: in a future article, we will share views on the explainability of analytical decisions, fairness and transparency, as this is intrinsically linked to the ethical use of data and regulatory compliance.)

Putting this together in a storyboard

We use decision lifecycle storyboards to bring the full ‘designing for the user’ context together and it’s an invaluable step within the design process.

They are very straightforward to produce, with one exception that will be covered shortly.

  • A one-page visual narrative is produced that consists of:
  • the user persona of focus
  • the data and analytics area of focus
  • questions that matter the most
  • a road map of the journey that visually depicts the lifecycle of ‘inform, decide and act’
  • benefits to be realised

The last point regarding benefits is where things become a little bit tricky. When designing data and analytical capabilities for the user, the benefits to be realised are to be surfaced. This could be in the form of expressing improvements to data quality, speeding up decision lifecycles, making tangible impacts to the top and bottom line or improving the customer experience. Key to this is making it tangible, believable and measurable.

Reinforcing the importance of the user

We need to ensure that everything starts with understanding the users, placing customers at the heart of the design and understanding how they are involved in the decision-making process, be that data-driven, data-informed or data-inspired.

Complexities may arise and reworking need to be undertaken at a later stage if we don’t take a customer- or user-centric design approach as part of bringing data insights alive and part of the decision-making process.

By Glenn Exton

Head of Data and Analytics