ryan evan davis
san francisco
product designer
Project 03

Benchmarks

How can a data analytics company better inform its customers?

At Mixpanel, our customers are often product managers who are tasked with the well-being of a specific product or range of products at a company. Product is a cutthroat industry where falling behind means failure. So we wanted to help them have a sense of whether or not they were matching up to competition. With that goal in mind, the 2017 Mixpanel Product Benchmarks Report, which would show companies how their KPIs look compared to the competition, would be our biggest piece of marketing content of the year.

Making complex data easier to understand

As one of two designers on the project, I built a teaser site and a microsite, as part of the broader marketing campaign for the PDF report, which I also designed. I maintained a common visual style that worked across all these formats with the goal of helping readers clearly understand what our data, aggregated from 1.3 billion users, implied about their product’s effectiveness.

This was the first time Mixpanel deep dove into anonymized data in this way. Big data holds the keys to unlocking major insights, and at Mixpanel, we are uniquely positioned to share some of those insights with the general public. Our brand is data, and so we need to show that we are able to take enormous datasets consisting of billions of individual data points and turn them into clean, clear visualizations.
To give the report a clear structure that would appeal to our target audience, we decided to organize around four key metric categories, in the way product managers tend to think of them: usage, retention, engagement, and conversion.

Our first task was to explore new language for a microsite

At the outset, each designer drafted and presented an idea for the microsite, with an eye toward the broader theme of the report. I pushed for movement on the page, and wanted to tie colors to the key metric categories. I also pushed for a simple and scalable graphing solution, moving away from more convoluted isometric illustrations.

A week before launching the project, we ran into an issue with our legal team that required us to re-work the data in such a way that the content team needed to all but start over with the microsite. I’ve found that one of the best abilities in design is flexibility. Because we had already established a strong visual language for the microsite and a solid structure, we were able to work with the content team to take it over the finish line in the nick of time. This limited our ability to make tweaks down the home stretch, but a big part of this work is understanding what changes are essential (“are the graphs accurate?”) and what changes are nice-to-have (“are the titles on the page the length that I would prefer, stylistically?”).

Building for speed and consistency

A microsite whose end goal is to get users to fill a form to download a PDF needs to be flexible on all platforms. The actual accompanying PDF however, as you can imagine was quite inflexible. With the delays from content on the microsite, we needed to move quickly. Lucky for me, I teamed up with a content marketer who was especially good at moving fast.

In a room, on the clock

We’d set a launch date and built out the microsite, but still had to re-write and re-design the whole PDF within a week. For me, this meant working one-on-one with the content writer on the project for seven straight days as he and I made sure the content told the story we wanted within the overall design schema I had put forward. We agreed that while the writing and analysis components of this report were important, the thing that people were coming to it for were the original data, and so our design should accentuate that above all else.

The collaborative nature of our workflow—the two of us in a room, with nothing to distract us—helped us establish a rapport that is crucial to any creative, collaborative process. Given the time constraints, building that trust was crucial to hitting our deadlines. So what started as a quick series of sketches evolved into a structure and governing rules. Having that basic framework allowed for us to quickly iterate off of a simple pattern, and quickly turn the PDF report into an actual physical book—an idea I had that has become a hit for our traveling events team, and for the people in the office who delighted in holding a physical copy of something they’d worked hard on.