Why do I need human-centered design when there’s no interface?

Anyone who has ever worked on data projects has probably heard this understandable question. “Data projects” are those that involve either the movement and consolidation of data (e.g., data pipelines, data lakes), or the collection and consolidation of analytics or system data for eventual use for decision making. With both types of projects, it’s a bit difficult to understand the role of human-centered design (HCD). After all, isn’t HCD about creating interfaces for end users?

Creating interfaces is only part of what HCD does. The principles and practices of HCD can be applied to anything that affects humans – including data solutions. HCD research addresses the needs of the humans who interact with, or benefit from, data projects. HCD design can create more consumable visualizations for stakeholders, or more usable APIs for developers. Understanding the requirements of all of the humans involved, and building what they consume in a human-centered way — whether they function at the end of the stream of data movement, or way upstream, where the data originate — is key to product success.

In October 2019, a group of human-centered design researchers, agilists, data scientists, and others who work with data projects, convened to take a deep dive into the question, How do you apply human-centered design to data projects? The result was this paper, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Usability Studies.

The paper is only the beginning of a planned long-term effort to enhance the way HCD is applied to data projects. Please enjoy this writeup, highlight videos from the workshop, and please stay tuned for more.

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