Why All Companies Need a Data Experience Designer

Evgeny Káganer calls for a rediscovery of the person behind the data

22/04/2015 Barcelona

Big Data
In leveraging big data, companies must not neglect an essential piece of the puzzle: the person / Illustration: Oscar Giménez

Pundits have dubbed personal data "the new oil" of the 21st century. Yet for all the hype surrounding big data, people complain they have less meaning and are frustrated with how poorly brands leverage their information. That’s because many companies still mine data with the end goal of streamlining business processes, largely neglecting an essential piece in the data economy puzzle: the person.

Writing in the latest issue of IESE Insight, associate professor Evgeny Káganer and Abby Margolis, director of research at Claro Partners, define the core elements of a new design mind-set that companies must adopt as they create new data-rich products and services.

In the emerging Personal Data Economy, firms will reap value to the extent that they enable, empower and meet future needs, rather than merely analyzing past behavior. The authors envisage a new organizational figure – the data experience designer – to take the process forward.

A Different Mind-set

The mind-set of the data experience designer differs from that of the traditional data scientist in several regards. Whereas scientists view data primarily as outputs of human activity, designers regard data as inputs into human activity that can change and enhance the way people interact with the world.

So, instead of mining and aggregating data to track past consumer behavior, designers try to understand the situational context in which consumers generate data, and use that data to create and deliver meaningful experiences for future engagement.

The authors list several new tools coming onto the market that suggest how to reach today’s new class of customers, or "prosumers," i.e., those who are both producers and consumers of data.

One example is Gym-Pact.com, an app that uses cash wagers to help people meet their fitness goals, which taps into meeting the functional, emotional and social needs of prosumers. Another is Waze, a social GPS solution, which pools data about current road conditions from fellow drivers who suggest which route to take to get home fastest. Both are trying to make life better for people, enabling new interactions and experiences based on personal data and contextualized to the actual lives of real individuals.

Getting Inside the Head of the Prosumer

The authors interviewed data prosumers in cities around the world, including Berlin, Boston, London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Tokyo. Their research turned up some surprising results.

For one thing, data prosumers are fully aware of the digital footprints they leave behind. They see value in pooling data rather than just harvesting one’s own individual piece. They don’t like to be treated as averages.

As one young New Yorker explained, "I may visit Amazon as a foodie, as a Gen Y expert or as a business analyst, but I don’t want to be treated as all three at once. I will just end up getting a lame recommendation for another Harry Potter book that I don’t want!"

Moreover, people are not naive to the ways that businesses make money off their data. Indeed, most are willing to share data with companies so long as they perceived some equitable value in return. The companies that grasp this will emerge as the leaders in the new Personal Data Economy.

Although the data prosumers in the authors’ sample may not be representative of the broader population, the authors believe these outliers, given their growing numbers, provide clues for how the average person might think about and interact with data in the not-so-distant future.

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