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Evidence-Based UX Design - what is it?

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Evidence-Based UX Design is a method, an idea, and a way of designing the user experience of digital products based on evidence, data, methodologies, patterns, and scientific research.

The roots of Evidence-Based UX are grounded in Evidence-Based Design and Evidence-Based Practice. In ways, practices, and design methods based on the results – increasingly systematic and extensive – of scientific research since 1980.

Using and basing the design process on hard scientific research evidence and data has contributed to discovering many relationships.

It has made it possible to design more friendly, efficient, safe, and convenient products, spaces, processes, and programs and improve healthcare facility design.

Several norms and standards have been developed thanks to these approaches, which have permanently entered the design canon.

Alright, so much for the introduction. Let's get to the details because the topic is important and exciting.

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Evidence-Based Design in Healthcare Design

Before we delve into what Evidance-Based Design means in user experience, we'll briefly mention its origins.

Evidence-Based Design (EBD) first appeared in medicine as a process of constructing a building based on scientific research and lived to see many theory articles and studies that we can find in, among others, Health Environment Research & Design Journal. It also contributed to improving healthcare outcomes.

The Center For Health Design at first defined EBD as:

"The deliberate attempt to base building decisions on the best available research evidence with the goal of improving outcomes and of continuing to monitor the success or failure for subsequent decision-making."

Later the definition was changed to:

"Evidence-based design is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes."

The article "What is Evidence-based Design (EBD)?" states that Evidence-Based Design research has found that there is much proof indicating that the physical environment (e.g., patient rooms) influences patient stress, the safety of the patients and staff, and the general patient outcomes.

EDB supports healthcare designers in creating impressive healthcare facilities based on reliable evidence and data.

Among other things, environmental research helped discover that windows in staff rooms reduce the number of medical errors and that access to daylight affects not only the staff in positive ways but also patients.

Multiple studies have shown that the healing process of patients can be sped up by, for example, designing patient rooms that offer privacy and reduce noise.

This way of thinking about design slowly trickled down to other domains, including user experience design.

What is Evidence-Based Design in UX all about?

Evidence-Based Practice, Evidence-Based Design, and, Evidence-Based UX are all about streamlining the decision-making process and making choices more effortless so they're less susceptible to subjective preferences.

And instead, make it more resistant to delusions, myths, stereotypes, or habits.

Evidence-Based UX is a way of rationalizing the design process and avoiding situations where decisions are made based on risky intuitions, habits, experiences, or perceptions.

To put it in more pithy terms, it's about ensuring that the design process – and decision-making is a crucial part of it – is driven by objective as well as credible research and data, not out of personal preference or bias.

evidence based UX in e-commerce
Baymard Institute – one of the most important research institutes specializing in usability testing in E-Commerce and M-Commerce.

It's about making decisions based on unbiased, objective, and systematic reasoning that is not influenced, for example, by the strength, power, or authority of a particular stakeholder or stakeholder group.

How to make design and business decisions more effectively?

Practice, and this is a worldwide trend, shows that the bulk of design difficulties have their cause in the "problem of the loudest person in the room."

Evidence-Based Design is an approach to developing web applications, mobile applications, and user interfaces that eliminates risks, threats, and errors resulting from human faults and weaknesses.

Such as the desire to impose one's will, the conviction of infallibility, or assumptions that problems are either artificial, irrelevant or simply don't exist.

Evidence-Based UX becomes more important with the size, complexity, cost of work, and budget of a project.

The higher the stake, the greater the risk of making decisions that can have very negative consequences in the short and long term.

Often, not only the business owner's financial result depends on these decisions, but also the health or even the lives of the users of a given system.

Anticipating possible consequences in each design stage and preventing them by referring to data, UX Research, tests, and patterns help to reduce such risks. That's one thing.

evidence-based ux - a platform for research
Interaction Design Foundation – an e-learning platform that introduces students to the latest UX research.

It also makes it possible to take control of the whole process, manage problems, diagnose, and discover them. And that's another thing.

Evidence-Based UX is an approach, a method that is useful and recommended to all stakeholders. Not just for executives, business owners, or on the other side of the fence, UX/UI designers.

Growing and rapidly changing customer expectations and market conditions make the quality of decisions highly dependent on the data behind them.

The certainty of a decision cannot be grounded in faith, intuition, or hope.

Evidence-Based UX is oriented toward UX design, which, first and foremost, is supposed to:

  • Do no harm (the principle of Primum Non Nocere is as essential here as in the field of medicine, from which the Evidence-Based Design approach originated)
  • Optimally solve problems (of business, users, customers, employees)
  • Make it possible to use adequate, relevant metrics of quality and success
  • Enable fast and accurate autocorrect (eliminating errors as early as possible in the development of a digital product)
  • Permit experimentation, move away from established solutions, creatively search for more relevant solutions
  • Be empathetic, not dogmatic
  • Diagnose and solve problems, not create them.

Actual performance, measurable effectiveness, adequacy to needs, authentic advantage, and positive experience are the goals that evidence-based decisions help achieve.

Evidence-Based UX simply increases the likelihood of their implementation and simultaneously reduces the chances of failure.

At the same time, Evidence-Based Design isn't just a search for specific solutions or discovering particular problems.

It's also, and perhaps above all, a practice of continuous improvement.

And refining methods of obtaining evidence. This is because, as you can easily guess, pieces of evidence have different values and usability. They can have – colloquially speaking – different ranks and different "weights."

To put it simply, they can be more or less convincing.

The role of evidence in design decisions

Decisions, like success, have many fathers. Unfortunately, they aren't always evidence, data, research, or test results.

More often than not, design and business decisions are made based on assumptions, unconfirmed opinions, or unauthorized extrapolations of conclusions.

They tend to be based on speculation and, even more often, on indiscriminate imitation.

All too often, decisions are made under the influence of emotions after listening to advice from close people. They have their origin in mere guesses and errors of inference (e.g., the Bandwagon Effect).

They're sometimes motivated by deep beliefs of being right, a desire to prove or manifest agency and importance.

ux design a evidence based ux
UX Design Institute educates students and provides training services for companies, including Google, Amazon, Uber, and Accenture.

In contrast to such arguments and motivations, evidence-based decisions are founded on a systematic study of users, usability, needs, motivations, objections, expectations, emotions, and goals. And many other aspects.

Pieces of evidence, in the most general sense, are used to support claims and falsify hypotheses. They form a basis for conclusions and analyses.

Compared to the usual way of studying and analyzing reality, their Validity, and Reliability is much higher.

They're much more convincing. But their strength, their weight, as we've said, sometimes varies, hence the need to rank evidence.

Decision-making is the practice of not only extinguishing disputes, resolving conflicts, and mitigating discrepancies but also avoiding situations in which pressure (e.g., of time) plays a more critical role than concrete arguments (e.g., research results).

Decision-making is also the art of:

  • Timing – that is, planning when to make decisions
  • Structuring – determining the order, dependence, relevance, and necessity
  • Prioritizing, ranking evidence
  • Determining the scope and number of the necessary evidence to make a decision.

The quality of the evidence is very significant. The arbitrariness of the evidence, its randomness, is as unhelpful and potentially harmful as the lack of it and reliance on subjective perceptions.

For evidence to be helpful, it must be:

  • Up-to-date
  • Credible
  • Reliable and accurate
  • Possible to re-collect (due to the replication of research and data)
  • Adequate to the problem
  • Objective and statistically significant
  • Exhaustive
  • Not accidental
  • Based on adequate measurement methods
  • Consistent
  • Free from methodological errors, including those relating to analysis and inference.

Thanks to such rigorous methodological criteria, making project decisions with low risk and a higher probability of validity and relevance is possible.

The division of evidence used in Evidence-Based UX

While having pieces of evidence is always better than having random whims and caprices, they, too, have varying degrees of credibility. They're simply not equally convincing.

Therefore, it's good to know to what category a given piece of evidence belongs, its power, and what level of trust, skepticism, criticism, or caution it should evoke.

In doing so, it's worth noting that Evidence-Based UX isn't a method of replacing one belief with another. It's a way of controlling risk and managing uncertainty.

It makes it possible to develop the necessary degree of distance and distrust, balanced by methods, research techniques, and their reliability.

ux design studia - evidence based ux
Studying UX Design at SWPS University allows you to gain broad, cross-cutting theoretical and practical knowledge.

In other words, no UX/UI designer will trust the evidence 100% but will maintain a healthy distance from it. But also, the level of distrust they will display won't cause decision-making paralysis or create permanent uncertainty and inability to make decisions.

In general, the idea is to achieve a situation in which all stakeholders move from their own assumptions and presumptions (Assume) to a state of relative certainty (Assure).

And such an effect makes it possible to run projects much more efficiently and achieve goals faster. It also has a significant psychological impact. Thanks to this, it's possible to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings more quickly and effectively.

So, what types of evidence can we distinguish?

Within the scope of Evidence-Based UX, we can distinguish:

  • Strong UX Evidence, for example, Contextual Interviewing, usability tests, A/B tests, and controlled experiments
  • Moderately Strong UX Evidence like heuristic evaluations (Shneiderman's Eight Golden Rules, Nielsen's 10 Usability Heuristics), Cognitive Walkthroughs, Card Sorting
  • Weak UX Evidence, for example, randomly collected opinions, evaluations in particular of people closely related to the project or who have a close relationship with its creators (e.g., family members).

Understandably, correlated with the strength of the evidence is the risk a business owner faces when deciding based on a given category of evidence.

Weak evidence shouldn't be considered at all, because there is no use for it.

On the contrary, it's very harmful – it's often a source of pressure and emotional dependence. Introducing the element of relationships, emotions, and conditioning distorts the view and deforms the decision-making process, which should be free of such entanglements. It should be as unbiased as possible, rational, and based on data, not feelings.

evidence based ux - ux research report
Reports from UX research leaders, such as NN Group, are an invaluable source of knowledge, analysis, conclusions, and design recommendations.

The interface, navigation, and functionalities – or, generally speaking, the usability of a digital product – should correspond to its users' actual needs and expectations. They cannot depend on the preferences of random, casual "testers."

Only independent, autonomous, unbiased research and testing ensure the appropriate desired level of objectivity.

Prophesying and design of digital products

A common myth about the design of digital products, which is also meant to be visually and aesthetically pleasing, is the belief that this is an activity closer to the domain of art than technology.

Therefore, it's easy to succumb to the belief that customers and users should accept a design (in the aesthetic, visual, and functional sense) because its creators, owners were guided by a vision that should be understood, appreciated, and respected.

research-based ux - nielsen
Nielsen Norman Group is one of the most well-known, respected research and consulting companies in the world. NN Group is synonymous with Research-Based UX.

By following this approach, it's easy to believe that one knows better what users need, their expectations, and what will appeal to them. Unfortunately, this kind of disregard for real needs quickly makes itself known.

Evidence-Based UX teaches humility and effectively cures arrogance, which in many cases, in fact, almost always, is very costly.

Overconfidence characterizes not only UX/UI designers but just as often affects business owners and stakeholders who, while not directly participating in the design process, nevertheless have an opinion on many issues, for example, regarding the ergonomics of an interface.

On a side note, we should add that an overly personal, emotional, ambition-driven approach to a project is also sometimes a source of harmful decisions.

The probability of deciding with unpleasant market consequences is very high if we treat a project as an expression of our ambitions and dreams.

It's also worth remembering that Evidence-Based Design involves systematically collecting and analyzing data that make inference, prediction, and decision-making possible.

Evidence-Based UX uses an iterative method instead of visions, speculations, and presumptions, which means refining the evidence, decisions, and, ultimately, the digital product itself.

Methodologies are the core of this scientific approach: rigorous standards and techniques that describe how to collect, analyze, and validate data.

Evidence-Based UX uses research methodologies that have been known and developed in the social sciences for many decades.

Research results, a whole corpus of knowledge (for example, from cognitive psychology, social psychology, linguistics, HCI – Human-Computer Interaction) are also used and help to understand better:

  • Emotions and reactions of users
  • Methods of information processing
  • Ways of perceiving reality
  • Cognitive capabilities and limitations
  • Ways of communication
  • Typical behavior for given situations
  • Cognitive patterns, ways of conceptualizing phenomena, and understanding experiences.

Using reliable and highly diverse methods and standardized research tools (e.g., surveys) makes a multidimensional diagnosis of problems and expectations possible.

For example, with the ability to learn about the use of mobile applications at an early stage of their development and by observing the behavior of future users, we can understand more about key problems regarding their usability.

Research, reports, tests, and publications – the scientific background of Evidence-Based UX

Let's put it bluntly: the subject of User Experience is already very popular. And it'll become even more so because research development, the popularization of knowledge, and the promotion of patterns bring many business benefits. Not just financial! Alright... primarily financial ;-)

Investing in UX is simply profitable. It brings a significant return on investment. Several myths have grown around this issue, so we recommend reading the NN Group researchers' article "Three Myths About Calculating the ROI of UX."

Investing in UX pays off, hence the great interest in these services. Profitability, in a broad sense, creates and drives business prosperity. But it also creates ideal conditions for the development of UX in terms of research, education, and popularization.

In practice, this means that we have increasingly more:

  • Field studies at universities
  • Departments whose academics are devoted exclusively to the study of UX problems
  • Scientists, lecturers, researchers
  • Knowledge – scientific papers, books, and articles written by academics
  • Fields of knowledge in which issues related to, among other things, UX are systematically studied
  • Specialized journals publishing and discussing the results of the latest research
  • Independent institutes bringing together researchers, problematizing and analyzing practical issues
  • Research and consulting companies
  • Specialized UX agencies.

Undoubtedly, the current situation doesn't put UX/UI designers against the wall. They no longer have to guess what works and what should be avoided.

The constantly developing research fields, the undertaken research, the reports collecting, and discussing the results of these studies, make it difficult today to talk about areas, and design problems in which our knowledge is negligible.

By following the results of these studies, analyzing reports, reading industry publications, creating solutions, and describing them, as well as applying the best design patterns, we become a part of a phenomenon, a movement, a trend called Evidence-Based UX.

The strictly scientific, academic background is really solid today. The topic of User Experience, or more broadly, human-computer interaction (HCI), has permanently entered the canon of subjects and academic problems. And it's a reservoir that is worth using, or rather, it should be used.

UX issues are also reflected in standards created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

The ISO 9241 standard, in its subsequent editions, has systematically developed the ergonomics of human-computer interaction. As part of successive releases, design patterns are being established for such things as:

  • Usability
  • User experience
  • User insights.

However, being aware of all these issues is not enough. It's necessary to update acquired knowledge and educate the project team constantly.

Investing in knowledge is also a responsibility of UX agencies. It's a must for those agencies that want to provide services based on hard data.

The benefits of Evidence-Based UX

We've already highlighted the basic benefits in terms of minimizing risks, rationalizing the design process, and increasing the relevance of the product with regard to needs and expectations.

Of course, the benefits of using knowledge, standards, norms, patterns, and recommendations don't end there. There is much more.

Evidence-Based UI/UX Design also makes it possible to:

  • Create products that provide a better user experience
  • Increase the sense of satisfaction
  • Increase user loyalty
  • Reduce rejection rate
  • Increase conversion
  • Create products of higher quality
  • Reduce the number of errors, shortcomings
  • Increase the competitiveness of the digital product, and make it more profitable
  • Increase the productivity of project teams
  • Reduce the cost of production, implementation, development, and maintenance of a digital product
  • Learn the design know-how that can be used in the future
  • Increase credibility and customer trust in a digital product
  • Improve the decision-making and project process – Evidence-Based UX makes it possible to develop procedures, standards, models, and indicators for the course of a project, its organization, evaluation of progress, and achievement of goals.

It's also worth remembering that the evidence, in terms of quantity and quality, should be selected according to the rank of a problem.

Numerous strong pieces of evidence should justify decisions regarding functionality, interactions, and design solutions of special rank.

Evidence-Based UX Design. Summary

  1. Evidence-Based UX is a method of designing digital products based on evidence, data, methodologies, patterns, and scientific research.
  2. The goal of using Evidence-Based UX is to avoid making decisions based on risky intuitions, habits, experiences, or perceptions.
  3. The larger the project's budget, the greater its complexity and difficulty, and the more people involved in creating a digital product, the greater the importance and role of decisions based on evidence, data, research, and testing results.
  4. All stakeholders should become familiar with the benefits of Evidence-Based UX. In particular, business owners should learn about the benefits of this method.
  5. A basic principle, a design recommendation, is to recognize that the certainty of a decision cannot be grounded in faith, intuition, or hope.
  6. Actual performance, measurable effectiveness, adequacy to needs, authentic advantage, and positive experience are the goals that evidence-based decisions help achieve.
  7. Pieces of evidence form a basis for conclusions and analyses. They're used for supporting claims and falsifying hypotheses.
  8. Only up-to-date, credible, reliable, and relevant evidence is helpful.
  9. Evidence-Based UX is a way of controlling risk and managing uncertainty.
  10. Evidence-Based UX distinguishes between three categories of evidence: strong, moderately strong, and weak.
  11. Evidence-Based Design in practice involves a systematic collection and analysis of data that make inference, prediction, and decision-making possible.
  12. The development of scientific knowledge about User Experience provides a solid foundation for making a variety of even very complex design decisions.
  13. Among other things, Evidence-Based Design makes it possible to create products that provide a better user experience, increase the sense of satisfaction, improve user loyalty, lower the rejection rate, increase conversions, and create products of higher quality.
How you like that:
Journal / Redaktor
Author: Radek
UX Writer and researcher by education + experience. Collects The Story's knowledge and shares it on the Journal.
Reviewer: Dymitr Romanowski

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