We took a moment to catch our senior designer, Kevin Ingalls, in the hallway and ask a couple of questions before he immersed himself into data for the day. Kevin loves to solve problems with design, especially as it applies to data. He is always innovating, questioning, and creating while working with organizations that value the creative process, design, and data integrity.

We hope you enjoy.

What inspires you?

The users. Organizations come to Boost Labs because they want to try something new. For me, the inspiration for innovation starts with people. There’s an addicting rush that I feel when I create something new; something nobody else has done, and the excitement on their faces makes us at Boost Labs happy. I also get inspiration from some tangible things people love and spend time with…things like mobile devices, video games, and cars. At the heart of what I and the Boost Labs team do is try to connect products with people in a way they love.

How does a typical project start?

Anyone in the industry will talk to you about teamwork, iteration, user testing, etc. Where our company stands out most is in the initial steps, before the iterations and design drafts. We focus on the people who will be using the product, and we define the vision based on their desires. So one thing I like to ask leads is, “Are you framing the vision in the right way? How do you know?” —This is where data comes in. Data is useless if people can’t gain insights and take action. Data has to be taken into consideration to inform the vision for the product.

“Here’s my data, what do we do next?” —That’s a question I frequently hear. What we at Boost Labs do, is view data, through the context of users. What is the story this data is telling us? What stories do we wish we could extract from the data? –And most importantly, what actions do we want users to take with these insights?

Can you expand on the topic of data?–or types of data?

There’s all different types, and functions of data. It’s not all of equal importance. Most data is quantitative and informative in nature. There’s usually an abundance of data that isn’t actionable. So what I recommend is for product managers to:

  1. Take inventory of the types and quantity of your data
  2. What, within this data is actionable?
  3. What new data can be derived from this that can become actionable?

Often, the most valuable data is the data you don’t have.

We help clients by unlocking the potential of their data, adding depth and breadth to their data, and readying their data to guide users to take actions.

How do you make data actionable?

Making data actionable can be a bit like panning for gold. We may have to sift through a lot of sand to find the gold nuggets. Then, even after finding the gold, you may have some work to do to get it “cleaned.” The trick is to brainstorm, and experiment. We let our inner children come out and come up with wild and crazy ideas and then test if the ideas were plausible. That’s how innovation happens.

I’ll give a short example: Let’s say you own a retail company and you sell, umbrellas. Your product has been very popular during spring months, but year over year sales are down. You probably know basic demographic data, like you know the umbrellas are especially popular among young married women. The data probably also shows correlation between marketing spend and spikes in web and foot traffic to your stores.

But there might be some insights you are overlooking within your data. You might take a closer look and realize you’ve been selling out of umbrellas of a particular color faster than other colors this spring. Maybe yellow is a fashionable color this year…

There’s also insights that may be possible but not with your data. If you combined alternative data sources like stock prices for poncho companies, or transportation data, you might find better insights. For example, what if we could combine your sales data with National Weather Service data to find correlations between regional weather and sales. It’s easy to imagine how this could become actionable. If you knew a tropical storm was predicted to hit the SouthEast next week, while a heat spell is hitting the NorthEast, you might consider diverting some advertising dollars from the NorthEast to point-of-sale or web marketing in the SouthEast.

That example seemed pretty obvious but what about something less obvious… For instance, we know that food delivery services like Uber Eats or Grubhub have been growing. This might affect umbrella sales because people are less likely to go out to eat, and there’s less foot traffic outside your business during lunch hours. But also, this may be a great opportunity for partnership. All those delivery drivers may need umbrellas. In this example, having good data might not only inform you how to market your product but also help convince a global brand to partner with you.

What is the connection between data and design?

In 2009 when we recognized that data is growing at an exponential pace. This means that data has a greater and greater role in the products we use everyday. Back then there was a large void in the design community. This was before the popularity of buzzwords like, “data scientist”. Data professionals were reserved for research, engineering, and the sciences. We recognized the importance of designers being able to ask the right data questions, and be informed to make the right design decisions in order to craft the right experiences for people. There have been some radical shifts in the last decade in how products are designed as well. There’s less focus on the “look and feel” of apps and products now. The real challenges facing designers involve using data to fill the void of having an up-to-minute dynamic feedback loop, which users desire. The job of designers is to harness the power of data, and only provide the minimum amount of visual clues into this data so users can perform the functions they want without being bombarded with clutter.

We now have the tools to collect, organize, store, and access a seemingly endless amount of data. With that, we can customize a user’s experience in endless imaginative ways. That’s a lot of responsibility for designers. Fluency in data is absolutely required now for designers. Digital media is becoming more about personalizing user’s experiences with regard to content and data, rather than personalizing the interfaces themselves. Design studios who don’t get that are being left behind, and we consider ourselves frontrunners in this.

About Kevin Ingalls

Keven has been with Boost Labs since 2009. When he is not immersed in data, you will find him involved with motorsports, fixing things and investing.