Data, Design & Dread: Who’s Making the Call?

Who makes the judgment call?

As we move towards the age of “Big Data,” new trends and issues are arising. In previous times, the conventional wisdom for making decisions was, you manage what you measure.

However, times are changing and “dataveillance in the present moment is not simply descriptive (monitoring), but also predictive (conjecture) and prescriptive (enactment)” (Raley). As we start to move into predictive analytics, I believe we begin to blur the line between making decisions and making judgments.

The question that I am left with is to what extent will data and price discrimination have a negative impact on public welfare and the commons. In How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined, Marwick discusses the issue with data discrimination:

“These “low-value targets” are known in industry parlance as “waste.” Joseph Turow, a University of Pennsylvania professor in communications who studies niche marketing, asks what happens to those people who fall into the categories of “waste,” entirely without their knowledge or any notification. Do they suffer price discrimination? Poor service? Do they miss out on the offers given to others? Such discrimination is still more insidious because it is entirely invisible.”

Similarly, I am deeply concerned about what this means for encouraging pervasive, structural forms of inequity. The argument is that capitalism as an economic system provides a way of obtaining feedback regarding the value (or “utility”) that an aggregate of individuals has for products or services. However, when we move from feedback to predictive analytics, but continue to build upon what we accept to be the reasons for capitalism — making profit — then the system can become warped. Capitalism as a philosophical system embraced the notion of the freedom of individuals to set their own goals and pursue their own “happiness.” When met with predictive data analytics for marketing, this starts to confound the notion of individual freedom of choice.

However, I think this presents a huge opportunity for designers and those interested in the intersection of technology, design, and people…because to outlaw all data collection seems to be impossible. In any technological system, we are moving information and data around. Instead though, I think that designers can play a big role in making the invisible visible — whether that is through designing products that use data, communication/ information that directly informs the public of how that data is used, or as service designers for businesses when considering how businesses and organizations serve customers.


  • Rita Raley, “Dataveillance and Countervailance,” “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 121–45.
  • Alice Marwick, “How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined, New York Review of Books, January 9, 2014
  • David Cole, “We Kill People Based on Metadata,” New York Review of Books, May 10, 2014.