What does a data scientist do at a design company?

Having literally just applied for a data science role in at Melbourne-based design company, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this short blog post about data science at IDEO. Only a few* design companies have integrated data science into their work; IDEO of course, and Dalberg Advisory.

As a global leader in design it’s no surprise that IDEO is leading the charge in this space, and at least once a week I find myself looking at the the IDEO career pages thinking “could I move back to the Bay Area?”. I know most people would probably think “Heck yes! put me on that plan”, but after spending my entire first career moving country/continent every 3 years in order to stay in the field – from Australia, to San Francisco, to Liverpool, Oxford, and back to Australia again – I’m not so sure. Data science was supposed to be the career change that meant I could stop doing that.

So I love seeing articles like this, because a) it makes it easier to explain my data science/design obsession to my family; b) it means that change is definitely coming (“I can feel it in me bones”), and; c) it makes it much easier to convince others about the enormous potential and opportunities that data science brings to design.

About a year ago (I think…) IDEO acquired Datascope Analytics, which is how Lisa Nash started out at IDEO, and why their data science team is still based in Chicago. But it appears they are expanding their data science efforts, with positions advertised in Palo Alto… And while I was in London – working as a data science fellow for a tech startup, IDEO advertised for a Quantitative/Digital Design Researcher, that contained more than a splash of data science. I won’t be surprise me if IDEO London (or perhaps IDEO Europe?) establishes cross continental data science hub.

Meanwhile in Brussels, Dalberg Data Insights is working on a bunch of fantastic international development projects – mainly in Africa, around food security, healthcare, and micro-financing. Dalberg Advisory established their data science arm in 2017. At the end of my data science fellowship I couldn’t help but swing by Brussels on my way home, just to check out the city…. you never know…

Fortunately we have some fantastic design agencies in Melbourne.

Portable recently dabbled with data science as part of a their Design for Justice project, and for at least one of their internal projects. More recently Paper Giant advertised for their very first data science role** which is really exciting. I’ll keep you posted on that front. I have no doubt there will be some tough competition.


So who benefits the most when data and design come together?
The data scientist? or the designer?


Both. Equally.

Designers benefit from having a data-driven design approach, where data is brought to the forefront of the decision making process. Rather than trusting their gut, or intuition, they have hard data to back things up. I can imagine scenarios where hard data might be really useful, where user interviews or anecdotes are hard to synthesise, or in cases where they may be misleading, or where there are many different perspectives.


The job of a good data scientist is not only to solve problems, but also to discover the questions worth asking.


Data scientists benefit from having a human-centred approach, where decisions around how to best to select and analyse the data, or to build the right algorithm or visualisation, ensure that the design goals are met. Combine that with rapid prototyping, where feedback can be integrated quickly, and you will undoubtably end up with a better design-driven data science solution.

– A.B.

*based on the two that I know of…

**she says with fingers tightly crossed….


I couldn’t help but love that podcasts made an appearance in her post, and that they’re considered part of her everyday work. About a year ago a friend of mine set up a private Love to Listen Facebook group and my podcast playlist has grown steadily ever since. After finishing Serial Season 3 (amazing — talk about wanting to redesign a justice system… ) I’ve moved on to IDEO Creative Confidence Series and the surprisingly amusing IDEO Futures. Definitely worth checking out…