Don’t Database Your Product

Within your team, there is an epic struggle for mindshare between the two big players in your Product’s world; engineers and users. And they see the world very differently.

Achieving mutual respect is important. One bellwether for knowing who’s winning the struggle is how data is being displayed. More specifically, whether or not your data display says more about the database or the user.

Here’s the clearest (and, sadly, most common) example:

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No one does this. You shouldn’t either.

If you were to watch someone address an envelope with data labels you’d probably be struck by how silly it is. Everyone knows what an address looks like!

Users don’t need to know that me@domain.com is an “Email Address:” either. Nor does +1(234) 234 2343 need “Phone:”. We humans live with this conventional data and it’s immediately recognizable even when completely out of associated context. Try it, remove the envelope (context) from the above photo, and formatting an address with data labels still looks silly.

If you contextualize your data display in ways that are consistent with real human behavior and relationships you’ll have even more freedom to abandon wordy labels or explanations. (Address goes next to the matching name; Connected people go side-by-side; the price goes near the “buy” button; etc.)

Formatting conventions that pre-date the digital world exists as convenient visual shortcuts that people the world over use every day. If awkward or useless data labeling has made its way into your product it might be time to increase the representation of human users within your team.

Mark Ovaska is a long time product leader with deep experience in technical SaaS products, building passionate product-centric teams and delivering them on time. Recovering journalist.

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