Monday, August 18, 2008

Creating a Digital World: Data As Design Material

The role of data in UX ...

"The common wisdom is that we now live in the age of information; the freedom and access we have to data is unprecedented in history; and the efficiency and convenience of online commerce, research, and communication has already transformed our lives for the better. While this is true, of course, our excitement should be tempered by these realizations:

* We’re only just beginning to discover what possibilities the information age may bring.
* We’re at the very beginning of a major transformation in the way we work, play, and live.

The technological tools and resources with which we’re now familiar—such as search engines, Web applications, and notebook computers—could well be the digital-age equivalents of the industrial age’s steam engine and cotton gin. And just as the steam engine helped launch an era that altered the face of our planet, so, too, will today’s Internet-related technologies give rise to massive changes that we can now only imagine.

he 18th-century weaver sitting at his loom at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution could not possibly have envisioned the inventions and events that would lead to millions of people working in factories, living in cities, and driving cars. He might have seen the immediate potential of new industrial machines to replace workers and, more specifically, put him out of a job. Similarly, we don’t have any idea how great the changes the information age has brought on will be. And, we also face the fear that our jobs as knowledge workers—no matter how secure they seem today—will somehow disappear tomorrow, because of greater competition or cheaper labor or perhaps both.

But, as UX professionals, we have the advantage of seeing how these changes will happen—through greater access to data that will enable faster, more efficient decision making. As UX designers or researchers—we’ll be on the forefront of the movement to handle the coming flood of data—and make it not only available, but easy for people to use and understand. By designing great user experiences, we’ll break down barriers between users and the information they need or want at any given place or time.

The Data Explosion

The Internet is growing at an astonishing rate. A Google blog post from July 25, 2008 announced that the company’s systems had processed 1 trillion unique URLs on the Web at once. Eight years ago, in 2000, the number was a mere 1 billion. And while not all of these pages contain unique content, the growth rate is nonetheless amazing and presages our increasingly connected future.

While the Google statistic gives us an idea of the size of the Web itself, the quantity of all types of digital data is much, much greater. For instance, we’ve only begun to tap into the vast amounts of public data governments have stored in various information silos. For example, in the United States, some of the biggest repositories of data that remain inaccessible to the public reside within branches of the federal, state, and local governments. Making data publicly available can be expensive, and with no immediate stimulus to do so, governments will not make this happen quickly. Private data is even trickier. The unconnected, disparate components of the United States health care system—ranging from doctors’ offices to hospitals to pharmacies to emergency rooms—provide a perfect example of closely held digital data. Although this information is held closely, once again, for a good reason: privacy."    (Continued via UXmatters, Jonathan Follett)    [Usability Resources]


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