Product & Growth Tips

How data informs design intuition

Rakhi Parekh

I’m Rakhi Parekh, a Senior Product Designer at Mixpanel, and I’m responsible for our product’s end-to-end user experience. Fundamentally, Mixpanel is a tool for answering questions about user behavior, and I help people find these answers as quickly as possible. Below, I’ll share how I do this by using data to understand customer motivation.

Sharpening design intuition with data

The perception is that there is an inherent conflict between creative intuition and data. I would say that data strengthens the intuition muscles.

Intuition is defined  as “immediate understanding, knowledge, or awareness, derived neither from perception nor from reasoning.” It’s an automatic and effortless feeling. Creative intuition is a designer’s friend and enemy.

When I was working as a stylist in the fashion industry, I started to develop an intuition for fashion trends. Reflecting back, I can see that a lot of it was shaped from uninterrupted exposure to style books from various fashion houses. Over time, you start to see patterns.

Today, as a Senior Product Designer at Mixpanel, I use Mixpanel to understand the emerging patterns of customer behaviors to hone my design intuition.

Defining “product culture”

Each interaction a user has with the product shapes their behaviors within the product. These emerging behavior patterns start to reveal the product’s culture.

According to sociologists, culture consists of the values, beliefs, systems of language and communication, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a collective.

Likewise, a product’s culture is defined by three characteristics based on the product’s users: behaviors, motivations, and values.

Using Mixpanel to understand your product’s culture

I use the Insights and Flows reports in Mixpanel to understand the top behaviors and pathways of a customer’s journey.

For example, when designing a feature for creating cohorts from funnels, I was curious about the behaviors of funnels users and how they might use cohorts. 

In the image above, I can see how the behavior is distributed across the total population of active funnel users. Now I don’t have to take my best guesses based on a couple of interviews because I have facts to rationalize my design decisions.

Identifying overt behaviors within the product culture, such as usage patterns help narrow down the problem space. This insight can help me make informed design trade-offs.

Using Mixpanel to understand user motivation

Understanding the deeper aspects of a product’s culture such as motivation helps me design intuitive customer journeys that are fit in with the culture of the product.

In the past, I have investigated customer motivation through a series of 1:1 interviews with customers. However, the sample size of such a study is small and not quantifiable. As the reach of my design decisions grew from thousands of users to hundreds of thousands of users, I needed a stronger signal to hone my intuition so I can ensure success.

That’s when I discovered the power of using Signal, our correlation report. I can identify a goal action and it calculates which other actions are most often performed by the people who complete the goal.

In the report above, you can see the most common actions taken by users who have created a cohort. One of the key findings was that someone who edited a funnel just once was highly likely to create a cohort.

This blew my mind. Usually when I take on a project, I have a hypothesis based on my understanding of the user needs. However, to be able to see them quantitatively ranked side by side was amazing.

Having this insight helped me gain a broader context on my qualitative research and strengthen my design intuition.

Using Mixpanel to unpack value

Having a better understanding of the patterns in user behavior and motivations at a qualitative and quantitative level makes it easy to unlock value for the users and the business.

If the user journey that you are building aligns with natural behaviors exhibited by your customers on your product, it is easily adopted by users, thereby improving adoption rate.

It’s a win-win situation for the users as well as the stakeholders.

For example, we observed that users in Mixpanel were defining cohorts of people doing a sequence of actions. Next, they would send messages to those cohorts to further engage them.

This insight informed our recent release so users can create a cohort directly from a funnel, which is a sequence of steps they are already tracking.

This feature unlocks value for the customer by saving them time and reducing redundancies in their workflow.

Closing thoughts

Over time you will start to see the evolution of your product culture through these micro observations. These observations of behaviors and motivations further sharpen a designer’s intuition. For me, design is a practice of listening to the whispers of my creative intuition and design processes as a way for me to challenge that intuition.

Using data to inform the design process has not only helped my team gain confidence in the solutions, it has also helped me strengthen my creative intuition.

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