Creating a Design Driven Data Product

Interana Blog StaffMarch 16, 2015

One year ago, I met with our founders to discuss design. As they were developing their technology and product, it was becoming clear that Interana needed design to complete the product. Because Interana is the first full stack self serve analytics solution for exploring billions of events in seconds, its UI, ease of use and data visualizations are just as important as its compression technology, distributed backend systems or columnar store. Our founders had experienced the value of being design driven at Facebook, but as Caltech engineering geeks, admitted they didn’t know how to build design into the DNA of the company. Having taught at Stanford University’s Design Program and years of experience working with companies like Audi, Samsung, or Yahoo on how to be design driven and define new products and services, they wanted to pick my brain about how to do this for Interana.

At Facebook they built a big data analytics tool, because they had to. Nothing on the market could support Facebook sized data. It scaled and it was fast. It also didn’t require code and was highly visual in its UI and data presentation. The combination of speed, scale, easy of use and visualizing data caused Scuba to be adopted by over half of Facebook. It showed that there’s a lot of pent up demand for data products that are both well engineered and well designed. It also suggested that Facebook isn’t the only company that could benefit from this type of data product, but a bigger idea that we could make data a natural part of everyone’s workflow.

Of course, these ideas didn’t neatly present themselves as I am here, but they emerged over many conversations, my joining the company and many months of hard work. We talked a lot about how to use design to define our product strategy and product and how to be human centered by developing empathy for our users and make this a core value for our company. We talked about other companies that are equally excellent at technology and design. Of course, Apple came up, but we talked more about Nike, Tesla and Nest. Nike has group called the kitchen that focuses solely on technical innovation in materials and recently produced Nike’s Flyknit technology. Nike also has a ratio of a 1 designer to 5 engineers. Tesla has notably innovated in lithium-ion batteries, but also designed the Model S with beautiful styling, an innovative touchscreen interface and neat features like automatic door handles. Tesla’s commitment to design is reflected by the amount of engineering that’s gone into these features. Nest is perhaps most aspirational to us, since it took a category that’s seen little to no innovation in 50 years and reinvented the thermostat with both technology and design.

Through the course of these conversations, I became interested in Interana’s potential, because it’s big. Companies are collecting more data and using it to better understand their products, services and users. Growth hacking a new practice that’s a collection of cutting edge techniques used at companies like Facebook and LinkedIn for driving growth, adoption, engagement and developing compelling products will become industry standard as more companies collect data. For these practices to become mainstream, Interana needs to create technology to support these best practices and design a product that makes them widely appealing and usable. This requires innovating new use cases, data visualizations, and interactions that make working with data easier. It’s the combination of creating a product strategy to capture this opportunity, solving these product design challenges and a vision to make Interana equally engineering and design driven that ultimately compelled me to join the company.

Nike, Tesla and Nest are some of the most design driven companies in the world and they use a very tried and true format: combining performance and beauty, technology and design, engineering and ease of use. We aim to do the same in the analytics and that’s why Interana is equally engineering and design driven. At Interana, these go hand in hand. Our technology enables a fundamentally new kind of interactive experience for working with data. Our continuous technical innovation informs ours design principles and vice versa. It’s a work in progress, but here are a few principles that inform the design of Interana’s first product.

Make It Human Centered
Data doesn’t live in a vacuum. It should be a part of people’s workflow, but it needs context about what it is, where it comes from and how it is being analyzed. We work closely with our users to understand how we can give data to them and their teams in the most meaningful ways.

Make it Fast
We designed Interana from the ground up so it’s fast. Queries shouldn’t take minutes or hours, rather they should be quick, so you can easily ask questions of data. We think a lot about how to get people to insight as fast as possible.

Make it Simple
Our system is powerful, yet we strive to surface the right controls, functions and information at just the right time. Striking a balance between power and simplicity isn’t easy, but it’s one that’s critical to our vision.

Make It Visual
We strive to present data as clearly as possible, so people understand what they’re looking at. Visualizing data well gives our users insights about patterns, trends and anomalies. We celebrate data by making it delightful to view and use.

Make it Interactive
Working with data should be dynamic and iterative, not static. People should be able to easily explore data across multiple dimensions, instantly dig into it to ask more questions, see patterns, and discover trends. We’re pioneering new interactions paradigms and user experience flows for working with data.

While being both deeply engineering and design driven is part of our vision, it’s also good business strategy for designing and building contemporary enterprise apps. User expectations for enterprise apps are changing. Business users can easily cherry pick from a wide variety of freemium Saas to solve their business needs. Because these apps use a freemium business model, they’re designed to be delightful, easy to use, viral and sticky to turn free customers into paying customers. The best Saas apps have a very consumer feel that raises the bar for enterprise apps. They look and feel more like Airbnb than Microsoft. Services like Slack, Zendesk and even Dropbox are proving this to be a winning design strategy. We see creating an enterprise app with a consumer grade experience as a strategic imperative for reinventing today’s data products, fortunately it just so happens to align with our vision.

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