How to make the most of Data in your designs

As designers, it’s natural for us to want our work to look its best. Nobody wants to make something that looks unbalanced, unfinished, or just plain ugly. That’s why it can be easy to ignore product and interaction details, and instead focus on solving visual problems. But when it comes to creating interfaces, using ‘perfect’ data to make your designs look great only sets you up to fail when it comes to user testing. In real-life, nobody’s perfect.

You might assume everyone will choose a neat, eight-letter username. Maybe you’re just using lorem ipsum to fill in the text gaps throughout your design. However you work, making assumptions and filling gaps with random text may not help you when your product gets into the hands of real people. If you don’t cater for the edge cases, you risk alienating your users.

The solution is to use real data in your designs. That’s why we introduced the Data feature back in version 52 of the Mac app. It lets you install custom datasets, then populate your designs with text or images in seconds. We already provide a few datasets that you can apply to individual elements, Symbols or groups — including names, cities and avatars — and it’s simple to add your own or use Data plugins like Pexels to bring in free photography in a matter of clicks.

Designing with real data can help you test whether your project supports the edge cases

Whether you’re new to Data or a die-hard fan, we’ve put together some tips to help you really make the most of it in your designs.

Get real

“When Sketch first added the Data feature, I think we all wanted to use it as much as possible — but what we really wanted was for someone else to create the data. It can be a time-consuming process,” says Mark McEwan. He created and populated with hundreds of datasets — over 29,400 unique data points — that are completely free to download.

“I started creating my own data collection and decided that I’d like to share it with others in the hope that I could start a community willing to create and share data in a central location that all Sketch designers could access,” he explains. So whether you’re looking for movie titles, currency or dog hashtags (aren’t we all?), has what you need.

“It’s important to work with real data to avoid the ‘cherry picking’ that we do as designers,” says Mark. “While it’s great for sales and marketing teams, it doesn’t reflect the final product. So we should test less-than-perfect imagery and obscure content lengths to anticipate how people will use the real product.”

“Sketch’s native Data interface makes working with TXT data simple and instantly available at all times. And when combining data with symbols, Sketch becomes incredibly powerful to quickly populate complex designs.”

Beyond stress-testing, using Data can seriously speed up the design and development process. “By having this data available and ready to populate your layers, you can make quick work of something that could otherwise take hours, or even days,” explains Mark.

Random is good

The challenge, of course, is creating useable data — data that feels random enough to be real, and not accidentally making it ‘pretty’.

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