CHAPTER 14The Importance of Designing for DataLessons from the Upstarts

War is 90 percent information.

—Napoleon Bonaparte

In April 2013, thousands of doctors, scientists, and researchers from dozens of international organizations did what was once considered a pipedream. Led by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy, this group of luminaries successfully completed the Human Genome Project.

The potential benefits of this accomplishment are manifold and hard to overstate. Perhaps most important, new testing and related data should enable far better predictions of individual health risks, superior means of alternative medicine, and personalized medicine. The possibilities are endless. As it happens, though, the process of comprehensive mapping of complex attributes at the smallest possible level—and critically, the relationships among these attributes—is not restricted to health care.


In 1999, Will Glaser and Tim Westergren were thinking about a different kind of radio service. What if they could map the “music genome”? If they pulled it off, they could provide remarkably personalized music recommendations. Along with Jon Kraft, the group founded Savage Beast Technologies, the predecessor to the music-streaming service Pandora (launched in January 2000).

At a high level today, there are two ways to provide music over the Internet. Spotify, TIDAL, Google Play Music, and Apple Music all allow their users to select the ...

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