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Simplify your data: stop capturing data you don’t need

One of the most common issues I see when trying to simplify all kinds web pages, and even offline paper forms, is asking for information that isn’t being used anywhere. This applies to sign-up processes, sales funnels, insurance applications: pretty much everywhere you are capturing data from a user.

It seems almost trivial to say this, but for each piece of data you capture, it’s worth asking how that data will then be used. How will it be processed? What decisions will be made based on this piece of data?

If it turns out the data is not being used at all, or is not being used meaningfully, then consider removing that field and not capturing that data any more.

Why simplify your data capture?

There are three main reasons to consider making your data more simple:

1. Simplifying data will save time for the user filling in the information, and especially in cases where you can remove more than one field this might make the difference between a user filling in a form, or giving up and going elsewhere. Often (but not always), the less information you ask for, the more people will fill in the form (so the higher your conversion rate, if you’re building a sales funnel.)

2. Simplifying your data will make processing the data easier too. Every line of code in software theoretically needs testing, and might also fail regression tests and break during later changes to the software, so there is a maintenance overhead and a cost for every piece of information that you capture.

3. In the UK, the Data Protection Act 1998, Schedule 1, states that, “Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.” So by simplifying the data you capture, and removing fields that are no longer used, you’ll help with legal compliance too.

Action Points

Review the places where you ask for data from users. For each piece of data you capture, decide whether it is being meaningfully processed or used to help with decision making. If not, consider not capturing that data any more.

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