Introducing Data Design: where it came from and what it can do.
Data is at the heart of our global economy. In some senses, it practically is our economy. And it’s equally inescapable throughout society — an essential part of how we all live.
Take truth. Or privacy. Equality. Or progress. Data plays a pivotal role in the most vital of issues. And in the wrong hands, it can cause great harm. It has the power to mislead voters, suppress citizens and turn people into products.
But it also has the power to create enormous value — to increase productivity, to accelerate innovation and to help find solutions to the big challenges of our times.
We don’t yet know where data will take us next. But we don’t have to passively wait to find out. We can help decide how it is going to work for us. We can design the future it creates.
A natural evolution
Signal Noise has been working at the intersection of data, design and technology for over a decade, helping people make sense of their complex world. And we still do.
Yet needs have changed. Hopefully in part because of work like ours, people are now far more comfortable with data, and see why it’s vitally important. Today, they need more. They want to see how it can inspire, shape behaviour and change the world around them.
And crucially, that change must be a positive one. Data needs to shake off its reputation as a dangerous force. It doesn’t have to be something stolen from people and used against them. Instead it can deepen our understanding of the world and unlock exciting potential.
Which is why we’re proud to be part of The Economist Group. By joining forces, we can play a role in the mission they set themselves back in 1843 — to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” That contest continues today, and we believe it’s clear which side data needs to be on.
Data and the future of design
Design as a discipline does not stand still. It shapes — and is shaped by — the world around it.
In the early twentieth century, mass production gave rise to industrial design. Creative thinking allowed businesses to explore ways of growing the demand and supply of products.
Flash-forward a hundred years, and it was no longer just about better products. As the internet boom met the experience economy, service design gave industry ways to improve the interactions between providers and their increasingly demanding customers.
And today, the landscape has shifted once again. In a world that is increasingly driven by data and mediated by machines, another revolutionary opportunity has opened up. First there was value in efficiency. Then in experience. Now data adds more through understanding.
Which is why we believe a new design discipline is needed. One consciously developed to map the connections between data and value. One that ultimately empowers people with insights and experiences that engage, enlighten and excite. We call this new discipline Data Design.
Reinventing how people see and use data
Data-Design of course puts data unmistakably at the centre of everything. It’s not about simply taking the data we’re given and making it beautiful. Instead we decide what we need, find it, then explore its potential from every angle. Building on our solid foundation of data visualisation, then pushing things further. Creating products and telling stories that change perspectives. Imagining new futures and mapping the way there.
Because this is where the true value of Data-Design lies — engaging, memorable, personalised experiences people can act on.
How does it work? Data Design in practice:
When we collaborate with clients, we promise to trace a clear path from data to value.
Always starting with two essential questions:
What value is the business striving for?
And how can data get them there?
The value could be winning more market share. Transforming audience perceptions. Building products of the future. Or it could be intrinsically within the data itself and need to be surfaced. Whatever the aim, we’ll define a strategy to realise that ambition.
It’s a strategy led by examining the true potential of the client’s data. Not just what they already have. But what they could have. What data could we source, create or derive? What insights could we discover if we searched hard enough?
Only through such intense scrutiny of every single data point can we find the opportunities that others miss. Only then do we have everything we need to find the connections between the client’s ambition, and the data that will make it happen.
With the right connections, we can use our expertise in interaction and information design to transform data into information, and information into insight. We can create work of real value by revealing hidden patterns and unearthing knowledge that gives clients something genuinely new.
And because of the rigour with which they are created, these products and stories are designed to evolve. To change as the data updates. Creating experiences that live on, that people love to use again and again in their everyday lives.
Shaping the future of design by asking the right questions of data. By asking ‘why’ before ‘what’. And always ‘what if’.