On the pursuit and misuse of useless data

Google this term and you’ll find a 4 million results based on a 1998 scientific paper by Anthony Bastardi (Stanford University) and Eldar Shafir (Princeton University).

Their premise is people often delay making decisions to pursue extra information that may appear relevant but really is unlikely to affect the decision or, worse, may lead to the wrong decision.

Designers like detail and we like context

This research found extraneous detail, regardless of the context, delays decisive decision-making. That’s relevant to designers because indecisive clients are one of our greatest challenges.

Here’s three ways designers help clients be indecisive.

  1. Presenting three options. Well researched, strategy-based design usually results in one great solution. The other two options presented are often variations to a theme. The result can be a delayed decision because the client asks for a fourth, hybrid solution.
  2. Too much research. One way to combat the encroach of AI is to ensure design is ‘humanised’, like using research with ‘real humans’ to base design solutions. Problem is, as designers reach into their HCD toolbox they’re not choosing one tool, they’ll choose two or three, leading to conflicting insights which leads to more research…
  3. Pushing clients outside their field of expertise. The problem is, when given extra information, clients are forced to choose, often without the experience or knowledge to make that decision.

And it’s not just designers who like to procrastinate.

Clients like to base their decision on compelling reasons, and rather decide based on what they have, given the chance, many are happy to delay their decision by asking for more, often irrelevant and useless research outside the scope. The cost is not only the delayed decision-making but time addressing the impact of the irrelevant research on the final choice.


Research and gathering information to support design solutions is not only important, it’s vital.
Too much information is not only useless, it can waste time, and lead to an incorrect decision.

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Carol Mackay

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Want more?

More information about decision-making:

      1. How to help clients make decisions
      2. One what basis are you making this decision?
      3. How to make confident business decisions

About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a need for more information about the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing so they wanted more info about how to work more efficiently and effectively.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.

For a short while, an archive of my design work at mbdesign.com.au.
My current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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