Like many of us, I walk in the street with instant access to information: busyness in my favourite coffee spot, availability of bikes for my trip back home, the path to avoid a Dutch shower, and a reminder to pick up some groceries as I pass by the supermarket. The smartphones, bikes and network infrastructure; these ‘things’ around us collect large amounts of ‘data’ about ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘what’ we do, enabling these not so critical services. However, they also enable companies behind these services to nudge us ever-more precisely, whether it is to sell or engage us into more information: a data product.
Pardon my computer engineering background. From my understanding, industrial designers bring together creativity and engineering to offer solutions to complex challenges. So, why would they need data in the first place? It immerses them into the context to help them empathise, grasping the perception of the stakeholders. It triggers inspiration and surprise, opening directions for innovation. It is also a communication material to engage potential users into the design process of their solutions.
The projects highlighted in this ‘Hybrids’ theme emphasise a particular role for designers. Some examples are engaging passengers of an autonomous car, helping people to relax without feeling guilty, reinventing the experience of navigating through a city, promoting prosocial behaviours, or teaching artificial intelligence how to farm. Designers are designing the impact that their products and services will have on us and on our society. Designers face these complex challenges which, I am convinced, cannot be addressed in one go but rather through a series of iterations spreading over time.
Data provides designers with a unique opportunity to take responsibility over the impact of their solutions. They can integrate the ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘what’ of a thing’s data with the ‘why’ unearthed from their design process. It is a major step towards assessing, understanding and improving design solutions so that they deliver their promises. As our society becomes increasingly data-driven, shaping data also means shaping our lives through the design choices behind the behaviour of products and services. I call this orchestration of diverse information throughout an iterative design process a data-centric design approach.