Human Centred Data

Using Data in a Human Centred Design Process

How can designers use data in their creative process? Data is a great ally when understanding existing processes and behaviours in more detail. But how can it play a role in the creation of new ideas? In areas where data doesn’t yet exist?

We’ve been talking a lot about the ways to involve data into projects at IDEO, others have asked “is this a new offer? A new specialist area?

“Absolutely not”
“As human centred designers we’ve always used data to get inspired. In the past it’s been qualitative data gathered through ethnography, but now we can see much more”

So how does this new view of human intention and behaviour inspire design?

1. Use data to discover new opportunities

Get inspired

Data finds a home at the very beginning of a design process as it draws attention to new opportunity areas that were previously unobservable. Data is gradually becoming more open, with individuals, organisations and governments realising that there is more to be done with publicly accessible datasets. While it still takes traditional data science tools to directly manipulate and extract meaning, there are more and more interfaces and visualisation tools bubbling up. Designers should be both making use of the new tools and learning how to manipulate data directly.

City movement patterns visualised by Human —

Unearth hidden patterns

The holy grail in terms of design inspiration is original insight, and the aggregation of behavioural data can unlock hidden patterns and reveal new insights.

As patterns emerge it’s also possible to quantify the size of the opportunity; we should not only be looking for patterns but understanding their prevalence and significance. Here the qualitative approach — deep ethnography for example — finds a home as a calibrator: living in a pure data world will tell you what’s happening, but not why.

Macro and micro observation

Just as we start to see macro trends emerge, there are also micro behaviours to be captured and explored. Amazon in the past has identified significant behavioural break points down to the millisecond for customers filling a basket with items.

There are interesting questions for creatives when designing in constraints measured in milliseconds. Google and Amazon have show the importance of this in the past when refining an existing product, what if you knew about this while you’re designing something?

2. Measuring the nuance of human behaviour

Say, feel, think, do

Design can’t exist in a vacuum; the further from real people and real context, the less likely design is to have meaning or impact. Where deep ethnography has developed a great suite of tools to go beyond what people say to uncover what they really think and feel, it’s still difficult to understand what people really do in a given situation.

Say, think, feel, do — what happens when the answer to each is completely different and opposing?

Importantly what people say, think, feel and do can all be different and contradictory. It’s not that people are being dishonest — in fact quite the opposite. We begin to understand the nuance of human behaviour between perception and reaction when we compare the differences.

Data brings a new visibility of what people do, with an immediacy that can fit into the rapid iteration of a design process. Anyone building digital products will know the value that analytics brings to the process, in fact it’s now impossible to imagine digital products built without analytics. Now innovators are making use of these tools. It’s possible to collect this kind of behavioural data in the inspiration phase of a project, don’t just wait for the service/product/tool to be finished — collect and learn from data while you come up with the idea. Add analytics to your prototypes!

Group/mass behaviour

This access to behavioural data alongside attitudinal data in a design process is potent. In small groups you can build a very detailed picture of people’s reactions to a something new.

It doesn’t need to stop there we can look at behaviour in much bigger groups at the same time. The small ‘high detail’ group of customers become a yardstick for many more — widely observed patterns cross referenced with your small set.

The combination of broad quantitative data and deep qualitative data is sometimes called hybrid, it is increasingly the standard for design research. You can read more about IDEO’s approach to hybrid here.

Observing overtime

One of the areas I’m most interested in is the ability to record behaviour longitudinally — over a week or month. The challenge when designing something new is to build a body of evidence to show the potential for impact. When you’re recording data around the things you’re designing this suddenly becomes a possibility. Build a prototype and leave it with a potential customer for a month and see how they really use it.

One feeds the other — iterate

Ultimately — and this is something I alluded to my previous post — the new areas of inspiration that data adds to the designers toolkit should become part of richer iteration alongside traditional routes to research. We draw a truer picture of human behaviour by looking from multiple perspectives.

3. Build a case while you go


After getting inspired and understanding the beautiful nuance of behaviour, the third opportunity that data — and analytic tools — brings is the potential to build a business case while you go. Earlier I talked about the value in collecting evidence as you design, the next logical step is to take this data directly into an emerging business model.

Venture Design structure

At IDEO we’ve been building whole ventures — the user experience, the brand, the organisational structure and the business model — our teams are built with business designers and organisational designers alongside ‘traditional’ design disciplines. The mix is crucial. When you have licence to affect all elements of a new service you can build something that is much more likely to have impact.

The data a prototype generates is useful to the interaction designer and business designers alike. The value of original behavioural data in an emerging business case is incredibly powerful to the client too. It’s hard to argue with real people’s reactions and responses.

Human Centred Data

The three areas that data is finding a home in our design process are probably the first of many.

  1. Use data to discover new opportunities
  2. Measuring the nuance of human behaviour
  3. Build a case while you go

We’re continuing to experiment with tools and techniques, i’d love to hear how you’re using data today.

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