Hold on to your secret agents

(Reading time: 3m, 16s)

Technology and design research have a way of exposing fractures within an organization.

Take Google Analytics as an example. For it to really provide any value to an organization, you have to create goals. Goals are what let you identify positive and negative patterns around more meaningful KPIs — things like:

  • People who visit this page are far more likely to become a member
  • After we updated the donation page, donations dropped
  • People who visit on an Android phone are far less likely to purchase
  • People who encountered this ad are more likely to buy a ticket than those who come from this other ad
  • Newsletter subscribers are twice as likely to buy than Facebook followers
  • And so on and on

If you don’t have goals in place, you can look at things like bounce rate or pageviews or visits … and every time you look at any of those data points you’ll wind up asking, “So what?”

So what if a page has an 80% bounce rate? If that page has your phone number on it and you want people calling you, then that bounce rate could signal that 80% of the people who visit that page are actually doing exactly what you want them to do. You can’t know unless you have events in place that trigger goals.

So what if people on average spend 20 minutes on your website? Are they amazed at the wonderful work you’re doing? Or are they enjoying a bag of popcorn while looking on in horror at your train wreck of a website? Are people who spend more time on the site more or less likely to purchase? It's hard to know unless you have goals in place.

We get it, Kyle. Goals are important.

Great — now, to create goals, you need to hook Google Analytics up to your CRM or form solution or doohickey you’re using to facilitate those website transactions.

Uh oh.

Here’s when you hit a wall.

The CRM form doohickey is controlled by your organization’s Director of Gatekeeping, and he will murder everyone you’ve ever loved before he shares his toys with you.


The other day I wrote about undervalued criteria for evaluating software — I said that one criteria people often overlook is whether the software solution can integrate with other systems either natively or using some third-party service like Zapier.

But all the APIs in the world won’t help you if you’re in an environment where you have to put on body armor before requesting access to the CRM.

I’ve been thinking about all this since I spoke with a woman over the phone recently who used to work as a marketing specialist at a museum. She had great things to say about the museum, but she was frustrated that she was unable to persuade leaders to share information across departments.

And that’s the thing — integration isn’t optional.

Disintegration will drain an organization of talent and makes it brittle.

The point of systems integration is to gain a more holistic view of the organization and its relationship to its audience.

You cannot know if something is broken without feedback. You cannot know where to devote your time and attention in ways that will be truly valuable and have the greatest impact without lots of different kinds of feedback from constituents.

Technology is one important way to get that feedback, but you’ll only get so far if people within the organization feel threatened by feedback or resist sharing information because they’re afraid of losing status.

A well-integrated organization where collaboration is incentivized is becoming a requirement. Organizations that prioritize user needs over established hierarchies operate a distinct advantage over those that are defined by distinct and rigid functions.

So what, Kyle? Why does this matter? And what’s the takeaway?

This matters to me because design research can’t thrive without an integrated and open culture.

And one nice thing about having this mailing list is that I have a direct line to a growing number of decision-makers at museums, which means I get to shout from my little rooftop:

Feedback belongs to everyone and no one.

And maybe some people will read this, and they’ll think of that one employee who is going around knocking on unexpected doors, asking unusual questions, and trying to use technology in new ways. And maybe they’ll go check in with her and help her overcome whatever obstacles she’s facing.

It’s likely she has a flattened worldview, which is your audience’s worldview. She’s an outsider on the inside — a secret agent working on behalf of your constituents. Try to help her.

At the very least, let her set up your Google Analytics account properly.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen