Boom in Data Designer jobs in the future?

One designer argues the proliferation of data means the job of data designer will be needed in the coming years:

When I began my career 25 years ago, the notion of design in the software industry was still nascent. It was an engineer’s world, in which just making software function was the consuming focus. So the qualification for this design role was quite simple: do you know anything about software? Those of us trying to apply humanistic or artistic notions to the process faced fundamental technical challenges. It was actually quite exciting, but a constant uphill battle to effect change…The new design challenge is to use this data for the same humanistic outcomes that we have in mind when we shape products through the user interface or physical form. Even conceding that many interfaces are not changing much—we still use PCs, and the mobile experience still mirrors traditional PC software tropes—we can see the data that moves through these systems is becoming more interesting. Just having this data affords the possibility of exciting new products. And the kind of data we choose to acquire can begin to humanize our experiences with technology…

We might consider the Data Designer a hybrid of two existing disciplines. Right now, Data Analysts and Interaction Designers work at two ends of the spectrum, from technical to humanistic. Data Analysts offer the most expertise in the medium, which is a great place to start; but they are approaching the problem from a largely technical and analytical perspective, without the concentration we need in the humanistic aspects of the design problems they address. Interaction Designers today are expert in designing interfaces for devices with screens. They may encounter and even understand the data behind their interfaces; but for the most part, it’s too often left out of the design equation…

Sociological implications. Presented with new capabilities of new technology, the design problem is to determine not just if a certain capability can be used, but how and why it should be used. When systems take in data quietly, from behind the scenes, from more parts of our lives, and shape this data in radical new ways, then we find an emerging set of implications that design does not often face, with profound sociological and safety issues to consider.

Data doesn’t interpret itself; people need to make sense of it and then use it effectively. Simply having all of this data is a good start but skilled practitioners can do effective, useful, and aesthetically pleasing things with the data.

My question would be about how to make to this happen? Is this best addressed top-down by certain organizations who have the foresight and/or resources to make this happen? Or, is this best done by some new startups and innovators who show others the way?

Look for the new, important company to come out of a “low road building”

While suburban office parks and city skyscrapers often gleam, one commentator suggests that important innovations tend to come from less attractive “low road building[s]”:

The startup lore says that many companies were founded in garages, attics, and warehouses. Once word got around, companies started copying the formula. They stuck stylized cube farms into faux warehouses and figured that would work. The coolness of these operations would help them look cool and retain employees. Keep scaling that idea up and you get Apple’s ultrahip mega headquarters, which is part spaceship and part Apple Store.

But as Stewart Brand argued in his pathbreaking essay, “‘Nobody Cares What You Do in There’: The Low Road,” it’s not hip buildings that foster creativity but crappy ones.

“Low Road buildings are low-visibility, low-rent, no-style, high-turnover,” Brand wrote. “Most of the world’s work is done in Low Road buildings, and even in rich societies the most inventive creativity, especially youthful creativity, will be found in Low Road buildings taking full advantage of the license to try things.”

Brand’s essay originally appeared in his book, How Buildings Learn, and has just been re-released as part of The Innovator’s Cookbook, a new Steven Johnson-edited tome of great essays about inventing stuff. It couldn’t come at a better time. The aesthetic of innovation now dominates the startup scene, but it’s like the skeleton of a long-dead invention beast. The point of a Low Road building isn’t that it looks any particular way but rather that you could do anything with and in them. “It has to do with freedom,” as Brand put it.

The argument here is that the particular design of a building, ordered, new, and stately versus bland, functional, and drab, leads to different creative outcomes. If this is the case, why then do successful companies move from their “low road building” to corporate complexes? This likely has to do with status signals – a successful company has to look to look the part such as having an impressive lobby to intimidate visitors and upscale offices for executives. But do the new buildings necessarily slow down innovation or is it more of a function of a growing bureaucratic structure?

I wonder if there is empirical evidence about where great companies get their start and how soon it is before they move to more traditional corporate offices.

Another take on this essay is to think about where these kinds of “low road buildings” tend to be located. In the suburbs, I would think they tend to be in rundown strip malls or in faceless industrial parks. In the city, they might be in old manufacturing facilities or more rundown neighborhoods. On the whole, people would probably not want to leave near such places. Such places could often be considered  “blight” and not the best use of the land. If something more attractive was to be proposed for such sites, many cities would jump at the opportunity. Does this mean we need to protect such spaces, particularly since they are often cheaper and could be used by start-ups who have limited capital?