Design and Data: how do we bring them together?


Warning: Liveblogging – prone to error, inaccuracy, and howling affronts to grammar. This post will be improved over the course of a few days.

Session hosted by Simon Gough, ODI Devon

Global Service Jam is a two day event exploring using service design to build human-centred tools. It’s not something data is mentioned much at. On the other hand, hackathons are often all about data. The two don’t seem to meet.

He’s involved with #dataloop – a tool for exploring data as a designer.

  • Infographics are an interesting one. They’re very much about presenting data in an easily digestible format. What is the design process behind the infographic that explores reader need? Scale of audience? Understanding the data – and what you want it to do.
  • Visualisation tools – there are plenty of them, but how much traction they get? Service design methods tend to be qualitative, rather than quantitative.
  • Personas are a core point of most service design. Can you consider that persona’s need for data? Of course, and so that should be part of the process. If you’re not used to working with data, though, that can be a fairly abstract process.

Are there other parts of this process that we can bring data into?

Developers can be more comfortable with design (because they use it), while designers tend to be uncomfortable with data. That said, you can see resistance to designers in hack days.

Can we make this process easier by working within a very specific challenge that helps create the right focus by reducing the complexity?

Psychology versus process

One software developer suggests we’re dealing with a conflict between a psychological approach (design) and process approach (software). Two different dynamics – so can there be a single solution? Well, this is where the defined challenge comes back into play. In more open situations – like hack days and the service jam – you have this problem. Without a context, how can designers explore data?

Open source is a common point: software for data, frameworks (personas, journey maps, blueprints) for designers. Both professions use forms of frameworks to shape their work, but they’re not really aware of each other’s tools.

This is not a tools or methodology problem, suggest one attendee, but a cultural one. And another suggests that is where a project manager comes into play, and can be vital to bridging this divide. You need to know a reasonable amount about how someone else works to co-operate with them well.

Specialism or democratisation?

We’ve seen journalists emerging as data journalists – but it’s a core group of specialists right now. Will we see data specialist designers? Or is the increasing complexity of data and data formats making it hard for that sort of specialism to emerge?

Design is moving in the opposite direction – democratisation of design through co-creation, for example.

We have exponentially larger amounts of data available, with a geometric rise in connections. That again creates more opportunities, but again makes things harder.

Maybe agile approaches – working on cross-functional teams on constrained problems on sprints – might be one approach. Devops was a cultural change, that lead to a whole bunch of new tools to facilitate that way of working.

Tools can ease the learning curves of taking a designer mindset and applying it to data work, without shackling it to the designer’s initial way of thinking, as early web development software did.

Further notes and links.

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