How do you set metrics?
Q: What role should metrics play for designers? How should you set metrics, and how should you use them?
I’ve often heard the misconception that metrics are the domain of Product Managers and Data Scientists, cold, hard numbers used to track the business that can’t truly measure the human experience of using a product. As a result, I’ve heard of some designers being wary of metrics as a tool, believing that “data driven” development is akin to short term thinking and mindless micro-optimizations, like changing the size and color of buttons, rather than empowering designers to envision a great product.
I don’t think this is a healthy perspective, and designers who take the time to help define and understand their team’s metrics are far better equipped to drive impact than designers who aren’t thinking about them.
At a high level, metrics are simply quantifiable measures of how you’re doing. This is a good thing for clarity and tangibility — everyone on a team knows where they stand, and what “good” is. When people complain about being too “metrics-driven,” I think the root cause is when too much emphasis is placed on the value of the numbers. Simply “moving the needle on growth or engagement numbers” is pretty inward-facing and not terribly inspirational. It can feel like you’re focused on the value you’re receiving as a company, rather than the value you’re creating for others.
That’s why I’ve found the best way to select metrics isn’t to start with numbers, but rather to start with a plain-language statement about what a successful outcome would look like in human terms. In other words, how will people’s lives be improved if your efforts are successful? This should be an aspirational statement that captures the essence of the change you’re trying to make in the world. Once you’re in agreement on this statement, select a single metric (or small group of metrics) and a timeframe for measuring whether you’re on track towards achieving your goal. This won’t be perfect, but boiling the statement down to something quantifiable lets teams operationalize against it.
At Facebook, we recently used this process when updating our mission statement to focus not just on connecting the world, but also bringing the world closer together. We started with the plain-language statement where, if our efforts are successful, everyone in the world would find and participate in communities that were meaningful to them, both online and in the physical world. We then set the goal to help 1 billion people join “meaningful groups” — groups on Facebook they interact with frequently. By starting with a statement, and then using that to select our success metrics, we have a better picture in mind of the people we’re serving, and a better framework for our teams to think about when it comes to building tools to help people start and grow communities.