Chapter 3. Data and Innovation

Data are just summaries of thousands of stories—tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.

Chip & Dan Heath

In the design world, data is sometimes perceived as an innovation killer: Big Data looks backward, A/B tests seem to focus on the small stuff, and analytics just skim the surface. There is some truth to all of these observations, but the core issue is not in the data itself; rather, it is in how it’s being used.

Discovering new opportunities has long been associated with ethnographic methods. Trend researchers such as Latitude and GfK use diaries and informants to foster innovation and new product development. Relative newcomers such as Sparks & Honey are combining ethnographic techniques with social media data analysis to identify new opportunities.

A similar evolution is taking place with regard to design. Companies and design agencies are looking for patterns in big datasets in combination with exploratory research to discover gaps or trends. Pairing thick data with Big Data is also becoming a big part of the planning process to map out customer journeys or round out user profiles or personas.

Large Datasets and Ethnographic Methods

Some organizations are already moving in this direction, using data for inspiration as well as validation. IDEO’s hybrid insights group combines data from surveys, or other larger datasets, with interviews. The quantitative data is segmented by behaviors to guide further research about a ...

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