A Clash Of The Titans: Data Versus Design

A Clash Of The Titans: Data Versus Design

For the last few years the idea of big data has been getting a lot of press. Everyone is seemingly on the hunt to find out how they can benefit from the mountains of information that is collected every day. A lot has been written, building the expectations of what big data can do for your business. Is it the future of marketing? Can we do away with conventional research in favour of ‘real life’ data?

Will the growing expectation of what big data can do live up to the hype? And more importantly what are we sacrificing on our quest to find the holy grail?

One of the pitfalls that data falls into is that it places the majority of the importance on the result and very little on inception. Let me explain this a little further. Anyone who has mastered the art of pretty much anything will tell you that the quality of the output is directly linked to the quality of the input.

Skill does play an important role in the outcome, but it is certainly harder to get good results when you’re not starting from the right place. A top chef will struggle to create a masterpiece with poor quality ingredients and a fine tailor’s clothing won’t have the same allure if they are not using the best fabrics.

Marketing, advertising, branding and media are exactly the same. While results count, and if we’re all being honest they are the only things that matter, we need to remember that it is only through the freshest ingredients, finest fabrics, or by putting the best ideas at the heart of what we do, that we are able to create something of true quality. Something that is both memorable and differentiating and in turn leads to the results we are all chasing.

Let’s look at this process a little further to understand the role of data and analytics, because there are definitely lessons to be learnt along the way. One of the keys to great design or creativity is development. A big idea, when first hatched, probably isn’t going to be enough to get the best possible results. But as we go through a development phase, editing our ideas, they become more refined and closer to the greatness we are searching for. As the old adage goes ‘iterate to innovate’, which is best illustrated by James Dyson’s 5126 prototypes he built before finally coming up with the bagless vacuum that we all know today. This idea of development is starting to play to big data’s strengths, collecting information on different variations to discover what things are working and what things aren’t.

In the past, and even today, a lot of design or creative development has been done behind closed doors. However now the information that we can gather on pretty much anything allows us, in essence, to conduct real world development more efficiently and effectively than ever before.

The key here is to make sure that our two elements, design and data, are working together in harmony and not working against each other. Good ideas can have their potential to become great ideas killed off if the development is not done correctly. Likewise there is no amount of data that will be able to save an idea that just isn’t working. Balance here is critical.

While learning from the past is important, and data can certainly help us with this, focusing on big ideas will keep us up to date with today and hopefully put us ahead of the pack tomorrow. Data will always be able to provide insights on what has happened in the past but great design and ideas will help us to reshape the possibilities for the future.

Andy Wood is associate director of strategy at Interbrand Sydney

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