Big Data's Impact On Web Design
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by Tuan Nguyen
March 23, 2016
Big data is a hot buzzword these days! But many laymen and framework designers often have a difficult time conceptualizing what it means. To get the definition and concept out of the way, big data is an amount of data and information which is so massive in scope that it cannot be processed by traditional means. Most 'big data' will take up a minimum of 1 exabyte, which is well over 1 million terabytes of information.
You could compare it to a literal skyscraper or cruiseliner built out of information.
In the past, new elements of web design were created by pioneering developers who experimented with new techniques and capabilities. Inevitably good or interesting designs would catch on and become popular mainstays of web design. Good examples of this include sidebars, slider headers, and linked buttons rather than plain linked text. Someone made it first!
What analyzing big data can't do is simulate that jolt of creativity in web design. Instead, what it can do is confirm what types of existing web design are optimal for different tasks, users, and outcomes. For example, by studying big data, designers can learn what elements of web design can come together to create the maximum possible amount of newsletter subscriptions in a population of users, or which design elements are best at selling items in a shop… and so on. Its most evident use is to
But there's a grey area in between. Designers who spend time studying big data might be inspired to innovate by the trends that they see in the data, and inspire new web design trends. For example, studying heatmaps and user tendencies, designers could anticipate the perfect place or moment to create something new, like adding a scroll-down advertisement.
The most readily-available pool of big data for web design exists in the form of current user analytics. Most websites collect their own analytics internally using tools like Google Analytics, but there are also plenty of opportunities to study data gathered elsewhere. But most designers, unless they manage multiple large projects, will be limited to internal data.
How Big Data Is Shifting the Scene
Often in the past, it was a certain perfect-storm situation which would inspire large or popular websites to shift their design. Industry buzz about top-performing UX elements, piecemeal user data and UX reviews, and external pressures to inspire the change would make firms investigate design options. At length, they would settle on new elements and implement them.
That is less and less the case. Instead, hard data on a massive scale, often collected from anywhere from thousands to millions of users, is analyzed and studied. Split testing is used on different websites and pages to collect a variety of possible scenarios, and side-by-side comparisons are made. These large datasets then inspire adjustments, which can be made with confidence because their results has already been forecasted.
Though this might sound like a lengthy process, in just the past year, it has grown increasingly intuitive. More and more systems are being developed which automatically adjust web design based on user habits, and it may only be a short while in the future before we see self-designing websites on a large scope and scale produced from major brands. Website frameworks which offer things like website builder templates for free might adjust algorithms to include user data in their template suggestions, for example.
Big data has powerfully transformed business intelligence as a field, and a solid grasp of big data is essential to anyone who manages, designs, or promotes websites reliant on large visitor numbers. And there are dozens of applications for even in-house data! Is there any significant way your firm could leverage its own analytics and data to adjust its web design? Could you use this data to begin generating leads in a new way?