Moving From Data-Driven to Design-Driven Innovation

September 18, 2013, 5:09 pm

I was tweeted into a conversation about assessment and I wanted to take a minute to comment. Elliott Shore (ARL) recently called for a radical change in library assessment—with the gist being a move from descriptive to predictive. I’d like to push it further into the realm of innovation-generation.

I tried to contribute my part to that conversation at last year’s Library Assessment Conference with a paper Too Much Assessment, Not Enough Innovation. I wasn’t booed off the stage, but I definitely felt avant-garde compared to the mainstream assessment crowd. But of all the papers I’ve written recently that’s my favorite one because I enjoyed digging deeply into places like PARC and Bell Labs.

Anyway, twitter isn’t ideal for long-thought sharing so I’m dashing this off over lunch. I’ve been reading the October 2012 issue of Fast Company (yes, I’m a bit behind) and it touches on the spirit of this topic. An undercurrent that stuck with me is a shift from being data-driven to becoming design-driven. Once an infrastructure is in place, design becomes the distinguishing factor. And there are many startups being funded (like Pinterest) that exemplify this direction.

Here are a few quotes from this issue:

Innovation today is inextricably linked with design–and design has become a decisive advantage in countless industries, not to mention a crucial tool to ward off commoditization.

Designers are the ones best situated to figure out how a kit of parts can become something more–they’re the ones who can figure out the human interface for a vast chain. If they do their job right, the result–a working ecosystem–is a far better platform for innovation than an isolated product.

When designers lack influence, superb products become almost impossible.

Look at what happened to Microsoft in the 2000s and how only now is it trying to redefine itself by building a more design-driven culture. Microsoft, having stagnated as Apple turned the vision of perfectly integrated software and hardware into an ocean of cash, now has its own road map in place, aimed squarely at the evolving future of mobile computing.

Innovation usually cycles between periods of raw, technical inventiveness and the finer task of packaging it for mass adoption. In personal tech, for example, we’re in an integration phase that comes on the heels of fundamental advances such as the Internet and mobile computing. With back-end magic becoming a cheap utility, user interfaces are now a startup’s best chance to break out.

That’s a taste of it. I recommend the full issue because all this content applies to us. I also recommend Bell’s work with Designing Better Libraries. He’s been a strong advocate for UX and design thinking for years and it seems like library assessment is getting ready to move in new directions. And Karen’s part about moving from being collections-centered to engagement-centered fits here too.

 A central point that I tried to outline in the paper is that when organizations are going through huge changes, changes that require new thinking and new roles, that the old metrics are no longer sufficient. (new mission = new metrics) The way we measured the value and effectiveness of telegraphs is different from telephones and is different yet from smartphones. Measuring transactions is different from measuring experiences. And we’re not even sure yet what those experience need to be.

There is definitely a need for data to remain a valuable diagnostic but I feel it is becoming a smaller part of the conversation. I’m not anti-data, but I feel decision making and advocacy require a larger palette of insight. Plus the provocativeness and possibility of a greater emphasis on design is intriguing to me.

I’m glad ARL is talking about this. I hope there is a ripple effect. Maybe someday they will endorse startup thinking as well!

And thanks to @kboughida for the connection.

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