Human Centred Design

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.

Just over a year ago 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?


The answer…


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…

Deep Learning with Microsoft Azure


Discussing Ethics & Empathy in AI

Ethical tech, inclusive design, and you

Earlier this week I had the privilege of seeing Sara Wachter–Boettcher talk about how tech industry biases get baked into the digital products we use today. Not surprisingly many outcomes are far from good. In some cases the result has been the stuff of ethical nightmares; Chatbots that harass women; signup forms that fail anyone who's not straight; apps that make you look black or asian – racial ignorance at it's finest. It's astonishing to to think that (a) these were considered good ideas in the first place, and (b) that they made it through the development lifecycle without anyone noticing how incredible broken they were – in both the ideological and technical sense.

She tells the story of her long-time developer friend Eric Meyer , who co-wrote Design for Real Life. One Christmas Eve 2014, Eric was checking out his Facebook account and found a collage lovely smiley photo of his  daughter Rebecca, as part of a celebratory Year in Review. The photo was the most popular post of his year, which is why it made it into the collage, with the caption "hey Eric! this is what your year looked like!". While this may seem like a happy memory, it was in fact the worst year of his life. His daughter had died of an aggresssive brain tumor on her 6th birthday.

This really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately I've had a similar experience with my Apple Photos iPad app. For the most part I love what Apple have done with Memories, but sometime in August last year, I was welcomed to a cheerful Best of June gallery, that contained dozens of photos of my best friend. Little did Apple Photos know that she had lost her battle to breast cancer that month, so while it was lovely to see her smiley face again, I really wasn't in the mood to be reminded that she was, in fact dead. An unfortunate mistake, but one that seems to reoccur time and time again, on apps and social media platforms such Facebook, Instagram, and Medium. Each time the company in question apologises for the "mistake" and sets out to fix that one seemingly isolated issue.

One of the many things I love about Sara is that she is not afraid to call out bullshit when she sees it. I suspect she would be an awesome person to work alongside. Check out the talk she gave at Google late last year;

"You don't get to decide what circumstances somebody is going to be in when they use your technology"

— Sara Wachter-Boettcher

"This is what happens when you assume the technical [problem] is neutral".

— Sara Wachter-Boettcher

"Design makes the biases look like facts"

— Sara Wachter-Boettcher


About Sara

Sara Wachter-Boettcher  (@sara_ann_marie) is the principal of Rare Union, a digital product and content strategy consultancy based in Philadelphia. Her most recent book, Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech (W.W. Norton, 2017), was named one of the best tech books of the year by Wired, and one of the top business books of the year by Fast Company.

She is also the co-author, with Eric Meyer (@meyerweb), of Design for Real Life (A Book Apart, 2016), a book about creating products and interfaces that are more inclusive and compassionate, and the author of Content Everywhere (Rosenfeld Media, 2012), a book about creating flexible, mobile-ready content. Sara speaks about design, tech, and digital publishing at conferences around the world, and consults with startups, Fortune 100 companies, and academic institutions. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Slate, The Guardian, Salon, Quartz, and more. Find her on Twitter @sara_ann_marie or at