We are living in a data obsessed period from open data movements to the data visualization craze. There is a sense that if only we had access to more data, then we could analyze the data and then make rational deicisons. But we forget that data itself is never just pure or neutral data, nor is the representation or the interaction with it.
We are also living in a design renaissance. But there is discourse in the design community that good design alone can save people. Designers like Bruce Mau preach about the wonders of design methods in saving poor people in developing countries. I was at talk where Mau actually made the claim that design was going to save the country of Guatamala with his Guatemala project…no kidding.
I personally think there is a middle road to everything - we need solid data and we need thoughtful design, but we also need nuanced thinkers who can find the balance in these two in creating relevant services and products. James Landay is one of those thinkers who understands the need to have a balance of data and design.
In his latest post, Are we becoming too analytical? , he questions whether over-analysis of data gets in the way of designing a product that truly understands the needs of its users. He provides several examples of when the data needs trumped design and user needs, which then results in “Product Failure Due to Over Reliance on Self Data Analysis”
Jame’s article illustrates that the visions for data analysis and design can be complimentary:
A balance between analytical approaches to design (e.g., computer science, data mining, and quantitative HCI experimentation) and more design-oriented approaches that are good at creating products that make an emotional impact on people and create a desire to own them.
His article is worth reading in its entirety and he also provides good examples of projects that were led with well-thought out intentions but misleading assumptions about users.