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The Plasticity of Data

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Recent advances in the capacity to collect and manage data have been
addressed in a wide range of academic journals as well as the popular press.
Often, the instrumental value of these processes is emphasized. Pundits and
journalists, for example, frequently depict “big data” as a source of
innovation, highlighting opportunities that have been derived from the
detailed analysis of routine socio-technical interaction. Given the emphasis
placed upon matters of application, there has been remarkably little
discussion of ways to address the putative value of such analyses from within
the institutional context of design education. This paper describes an initiative
to prepare design and management students for the data-rich environments
in which they will practice. It explains our motivation for introducing these
students to basic analytical and computational methodology as well as the
framework in which we do so. As exemplified, this approach fosters forms of
exploration and experimentation that diverge from conventional approaches
to both scientific research and design practice by decoupling the symbolic or
referential value of data from their attributes as media. Ways that such
training increases our students’ capacity to speculate on future conditions are
examined and discussed in light of the larger objective of drawing attention
to new ways that designers and managers can use data to steer, as well as to
reflect upon, the course of innovation.


PUBLISHED: Proceedings from the The 19th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference, 2014


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