Harnessing user-centred design to understand how to to make data more accessible and valuable across the arts, culture and heritage community.

Before Golant Media Ventures (GMV) became part of the family in the summer of 2018, The Audience Agency commissioned their expertise in user-centred design to help us take a step back and consider the data needs of the arts, culture and heritage sector as a whole, from Excel to Audience Finder and beyond. We wanted to understand how the sector uses data across any and all systems. Broadening the scope far beyond our own platforms and stripping back to the fundamentals of people's attitude towards and relationship with data was crucial. Through an extensive process of observing, interviewing, user-testing and prototyping, the Services for Data Haters project came to discover that the fundamental barrier to people getting the most out of their data is simply not knowing what questions they could and should be asking it. This open approach has allowed us to look at our existing and future Audience Finder users' data needs from a fresh perspective and begin really thinking outside the box about new ways to help them feel ever more data-confident.

The Client

The Services for Data Haters project has allowed us to take our next leap in terms of service and UX (user-experience) design for our data tools ... to lead the user to the information they need, and not expect them to be able to find it themselves.

Cimeon Ellerton, Chief Product Officer, The Audience Agency

Taking a service design approach has made us re-evaluate what we are doing, who for, and what the needs are compared to what we thought they were. It will help us to develop and position our products much more responsively to the requirements of the sector

Leo Sharrock, Product Director, The Audience Agency

The Task

Increasingly, sector leaders and funders expect arts, culture and heritage organisations to become ever more data-driven, making decisions based on evidence of potential for revenue and public value. As Audience Finder users, our community is privy to the largest cultural dataset in the world and the unparalleled audience-led insights that this can yield. But we know that this potential can be difficult to fulfill while users feel that they lack the skills and confidence to get the most out of data, be it in Excel spreadhseets or Audience Finder dashboards. GMV joined forces with The Audience Agency in 2018 to develop a grassroots understanding of how to make data more accessible, actionable and therefore valuable to users across the arts, culture and heritage sector. GMV helped The Audience Agency to win funding from Innovate UK through its “Design Foundations” programme, a funding stream explicitly intended to support human-centred design projects in order “to understand customer motivations and behaviour, inspire new ideas, support decision-making and inform innovation strategy.” The project that ensued was Services for Data Haters

The Project


Design thinking, customer-centricity and experience-led design methods underpinned the Services for Data Haters project. Rather than being driven by the potential of the product, GMV and The Audience Agency built its research around the needs of users. Over six months we engaged with members of the arts community through a variety of different channels to gain rich, multifaceted insights into how they engage – or don’t – with data as part of their work in the cultural sector. We:

  • Conducted ethnographic context studies of users on-site within their organisations, observing the range of their work with data across multiple systems.
  • Collated a survey of over 600 respondents across the sector to broadly understand their use of data, systems and the challenges they faced.
  • Developed user personas and user journey mapping based on survey data, client knowledge and a workshop session with representative users.
  • Ran six user testing sessions with 30 attendees, presenting them with a series of challenges and scenarios inspired by lean canvas hypotheses.
  • Conducted interviews with funders and senior stakeholders to understand and develop the value proposition of the solution.

The Outcomes

What became strikingly apparent through the course of the project was that, whilst the research verified a general low level of skills and confidence around using data, enthusiasm was actually encouragingly high. Rather than being averse to using data or needing more of it (or more analytics, or more sophisticated tools), what users really needed to understand was what questions they even could or should be asking of their data. The project goal then shifted from designing tools to serve up data in a more user-friendly way, to helping users to work out how they might want to pose questions for themselves. We were not, after all, working with data haters, but data embracers in waiting.

Research insights were immediately applied to the help and support features of existing Audience Finder tools, offering more targeted explanations, identifying assumptions and clarifying instructions. Sharing our findings with colleagues and potential partners in the sector met with overwhelming support and we have been able to begin developing Audience Finder 2.0 as a direct result, as well as extending the existing platform into Scotland and Wales as of 2019. The Audience Agency relationship with GMV has really grown in strength as a result of conducting Services for Data Haters together, so much so that in August 2018 GMV joined the Audience Agency family and Patrick Towell, GMV’s CEO, is now Director of Innovation at The Audience Agency.