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Design Thinking and Data

The ‘Data Studio’ is a new format being developed by UAL to create and explore connections between design research, data science and social and cultural research.

Current project

The Innovation Insights Hub is exploring ways to combining the ‘studio’ approaches found in design and the arts with other kinds of expertise with a focus on data. Specifically, we are combining design thinking and service design approaches with data analytics to understand the potential and consequences of emerging technologies.

Current projects include a new funded cross-disciplinary academic research project exploring how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape professional services. This is an ambitious and exciting initiative that will bring together perspectives from several academic fields to explore and assess the implications of AI in professional services firms and the barriers and potential for service innovation.

Over 18 months, UAL will work closely with academics, professional bodies, managers in firms, regulators and other stakeholders to explore the potential and consequences of AI for law and accountancy firms. Activities include a series of “design sprints” with participants from law and accountancy firms and academics from several fields. Planned outputs include reports, scenarios, a service innovation toolkit, policy studios and events.

Previous projects

The ‘Data Studio’ is an ongoing practical experiment that explores what happens when the generative, material practices of the art and design studio encounter ‘big data’.

Data Studio #1: Food Poverty

Data Studio #1 Food Poverty took place in July 2016 at Central Saint Martins, UAL. It brought 35 people from different backgrounds together for 2 days to explore data about food poverty and foodbank operations. During the workshop participants worked in small, mixed teams to explore data relating to food poverty and generate proposals for new research projects.

Some of their proposals focused on how insights from research might be used to shape policy, organisational strategy and service design. Some of them proposed linking research about people’s experiences of food poverty and triggers shaping use of foodbanks with other data sets. Some of them proposed new connections between players in the food poverty, benefits system and social sector. As well as producing proposals for new research, the studio encouraged participants to question assumptions about the nature of research and how data is gathered, analysed, visualised, interpreted and used.

The Data Studio was organized by the Innovation Insights Hub, University of the Arts London and funded by UAL. It was designed and facilitated by Professor Lucy Kimbell (UAL) in collaboration with Dr Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths), Professor Richard Vidgen (UNSW) and Andy Hamflett (AAM Associates) with support from Naomi Bailey-Cooper. Thanks go to the Trussell Trust for their expert input and to all the participants who took part.

Data Studio #1 is documented in a report that shares the themes, insights and questions that emerged about food poverty and food bank operations, as well as using different kinds of data in relation to social challenges and service design. The report also includes eight ‘proto’ research projects addressing different aspects of food poverty and foodbank operations. Some of these are now being further developed by some of the participants.

Data Studio #2: Patient Experience Data

With colleagues from Kings College London, the Innovation Insights Hub presented Data Studio 2 at Central Saint Martins, UAL in March 2017. The workshop brought together 16 researchers and healthcare professionals with a shared interest in patient experience data within healthcare organisations. The outputs included a proposal for new research projects.

Data Studio #3: Environmental Change

Data Studio #3 Environmental Change took place in May 2017 at Modern Art Oxford. 14 people took part, including researchers from the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, artists and designers from University of the Arts London and members of the public.

The workshop took participants through a process of first getting to know models of environmental change produced by researchers, and then working together to generate prototypes of new ways of enabling people to engage with research insights and data. The models produced did more than

The models produced did more than visualise academic research; they translated research concepts and materialised them so audiences can experience their own agency in relation to environmental change. The proto-sculptures suggested the potential for opening up the social, material, behavioural and experiential dimensions of environmental change.

Save Our Air: Creating air pollution data publics

What it is

With partners in the Public Data Lab, Innovation Insights Hub was awarded funding from the EU Organicity scheme. Over six months, researchers from design, sociology, digital methods and computer science worked together in “research sprints” to explore different ways of understanding air pollution data. The project situated data about air pollution in day to day practices and places.

It resulted in three prototypes for different ways to assemble “data publics” around the issue of air pollution: a digital platform/social network, a teaching toolkit/measuring device and an interactive/data collection protocol. The latter, the “Hot Potato Machine”, creates a digital interface allowing people to explore how the issue of air pollution is represented in policy documents in Camden, London and the UK and how actors in the issue apportion responsibility for doing something about air pollution.

Why it matters

Air pollution is growing public issue. Much of the focus in policy and practice has been on gathering and visualising data to communicate the issue. In Save Our Air, we wanted to understand the publics that come into being around and through the data and how they might interact with the data.

Who’s involved

  • Public Data Lab including UAL, Kings College London, Sciences Po, Politecnico di Milano, Lyon University and Aalborg University, with Gehl Architects and Borough of Camden
  • EU Organicity


View the outputs for this project - including three prototypes and short essays.