Design thinking <3 data: An emerging relationship

I remember the first time a colleague of mine showed me D3.

“I love these data visualizations,” she said, “because they represent complex datasets in a beautiful way.”

I found this interesting, as it seems to represent the general perception of complex data and good design – the two just don’t coexist. In the digital product landscape both data analytics and design thinking have come under the mainstream media spotlight. Data analytics offers the promise of smarter, truer insights into the behavior of the world at scale. Design thinking is the converse; it offers a framework for understanding human behavior at a very granular level to design better experiences.

Data&Design
Image by Austin Pietrobono

Both ideas aim to make people’s lives more enjoyable and more efficient, but they approach that end goal from two very different perspectives. Data analytics derives insight by seeing trends in massive amounts of data, allowing one to make decisions that are more informed. Design thinking derives its insight through empathy for a specific group of people, and uses that unique knowledge to make design decisions.

How do we design digital experiences that are more delightful, healthier and more useful for people? And how can data and design form a cohesive partnership to create these experiences? “How Big Data is Revolutionizing Design” is a nice introduction to this burgeoning relationship.

The evolution of technology in the Information Age has connected everyday people to vast amounts of information drawn from real world insights. But how do we use design to expand this capability? How do we turn information access into new knowledge?

In “The Next Era of Designers Will Use Data as Their Medium,” Mark Rolston explores what the future could look like. He describes how the transition from UI-centric products to applications that run silently in the background will greatly increase demand for data designers. As our app experiences become less UI-centric, we’ll need fewer designers that can create interfaces and more that are able to design experiences that utilize data from various platforms to deliver this silent, seamless experience. To add to this hypothesis, I think this will be true not just for the role of the designer but also for digital design’s relationship with data in general; Developers, strategists and product stakeholders will all need to become data-centric to create the future generation of digital product experiences.

With emerging platforms such as Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift, and the expected marketplace growth to $24.5 billion, product developers will have to understand not only how to logically display data, but also how to work with it to develop a deeper knowledge of the users consuming the information. It’s an exciting time to be working in this space. As this relationship between data and design continues to evolve, so will our common perception of what a digital product is, and how we can best interact with it.

By recognizing the importance of design’s relationship with data now, we can create a new generation of products that are beautifully minimal yet insight-rich.

 

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