Unlocking the Humanity Behind Data

Hot, Cold. Cat, Dog. Apples, Oranges. All top-of-mind examples of opposites. In our industry, many might think of data analysts and creatives as opposites as well. Nose in the numbers versus head in the clouds. On the surface, they might seem opposed; however, at a truly integrated agency, they should not be. Infusing the skills of each discipline into the practice of the other will drive better outcomes.

Harvard Business Review recently published an article showcasing this point. Their article demonstrates “What happens when data scientists and designers work together” (Wettersten J, Malmgren D, March 2018). They describe how a data-driven startup created an app to address the connection between athletes’ sleep patterns and their athletic performance. The goal of the app was to use data to enable athletes to be able to tweak their sleep patterns to enhance their game. Where the app design initially went wrong was that they focused on showcasing the data, rather than on providing the tools to change behaviors (think sleep reminder alarms, etc.). The team had to shift their approach from being laser focused on the data to thinking about the user’s experience.

While data science as an industry continues to explode, we must not lose sight of the need to apply design thinking to the work. While design and data science are seemingly opposite, in order to succeed we must be sure to connect data engineering to human needs — this is what will drive relevancy and impact. For any data-driven organization, there are 3 key tenets to follow:

1. Start with the needs and insights of people

2. Make space for, and encourage, collaboration between data science and creative teams

3. Rely on design processes to utilize prototypes to gather user feedback

Recently we’ve been applying these tenets to even the most traditional work that we do as a data science practice. For example, we have taken a closer look at our marketing performance dashboards to ensure we’re developing the most effective data visualization tools possible based on user needs and design processes. While dashboards can be extremely data heavy, we’ve incorporated design thinking into our approach, such as focusing headlines on story, placing charts based on user narrative, and designing data functionality based on usability assessment. The result is a superior user experience made possible by close collaboration between our data science team and creative organization. Opposites no more!


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