Walking the line between creepy and cool data – a BIMA Scotland roundtable

29 Nov 2019

On October 28th, we gathered at Edinburgh University’s Inspace for our last Tech Director & Innovators Roundtable event of the year. Our speakers, CreateFuture’s Strategy Director Nathan Fulwood, alongside Creative Informatics Programme Director Chris Speed, were set one task – discuss the line between creepy and cool within the world of data.

Nathan is one of the Founders and Strategy Director of CreateFuture, a creative consultancy working with Adidas, Expedia, The Macallan and others on brand, marketing and product design. He has been working in digital innovation and delivery since the internet came on a CD.

Prof. Chris Speed is Chair of Design Informatics at University of Edinburgh and leads on Creative Informatics, a new research and development programme that aims to bring Edinburgh’s world-class creative industries and tech sector together, utilising data and data-driven technologies to develop ground breaking new products, businesses and experiences.

In a time when information is available to be used ever more creatively, the challenges and opportunities facing agencies working within this space are vast and provided a wealth of topics for our speakers to discuss. Read on for our overview of the best insights from the day!

We began by questioning what our terms of reference for data are nowadays – whilst informatics covers the study of the flow of information, ‘data’ is a much broader concept.

For many years, creatives have been designing from data, yet alone it often has no power and is simply a snapshot of a moment. For true innovation, data needs to drive direction and sit hand in hand with strong design. You can no longer punt it out there and hope for the best!

Currently, challenges exist around the language of data – with developers and designers too often left feeling isolated by complex terminology. This must be overcome to prevent isolation and allow the full potential of data to be harnessed…. yet given too much free rein, data can itself become the designer. Watch out for monotony!

Challenges can also arise when clients misunderstand what data is required to fulfil briefs or use data to fill gaps in the market. Beware these pitfalls!

Using data to validate creative can also be a fractious process. Because clients can measure data, they often overuse it. We must support them to move from marketing efficiency to marketing effectiveness and illustrate that success is not always purely about numbers.

Many businesses are now increasingly driven by data – the magic comes when this can be tied to ROI to concisely illustrate the power of data to clients.

When discussing if data holds the potential to push us down the wrong avenues, some interesting thoughts arose… including the risk created when people leap instantly to the buy – lured straight to the data driven idea as opposed to the hypothesis. The hypothesis should be something the data isn’t telling you, something it’s inspiring you to ask.

Sometimes machines can help to surface half the process, but should still be backed up by human insight. We must all beware of designing things without knowing why – how do we tie data to market as well as product?

With advances in brainwave data and open banking, there’s no moving away from the fact that data is increasingly being used to make choices on our behalf. We must acknowledge what data we create and who could use that to solve problems.

Creative processes go from problems to solutions; how can we add data in to this? Inter industry collaboration and bringing different ideas together could be the solution.

However, due to various barriers to entry our creative industries are far behind others in terms of their use of data. How can we find a way to afford hiring those who understand it?

Many smaller organisations can be unaware of the value of data. And with the sector moving so quickly, those who are aware face huge challenges with funding innovation in the space.

Happily, there are various workarounds emerging, with ever more platforms and tools emerging to fill the skills gap. And don’t forget there will always be a place for gut feeling and intuition alongside data!

There is already so much potential within tech, together we’ve achieved so much – but is there missed opportunity? At a time when we all generate so much data, the industry’s next steps must be based around building trust.

One of the biggest opportunities lies in data’s potential to create a bridge to the things that nourish us most.

Machines have no limitations and can conceive ideas humans cannot fathom – both good and bad! The real power lies in utilising the human element to sort through and filter this data, uncovering the best nuggets of potential.

Data holds the power to kick start the creative process, doing some of the initial heavy lifting – but appreciate that it wouldn’t have suggested selling chocolate using a gorilla and a drum kit.

Broader opportunities can be missed if we’re all too heads down in the data – we need to look up to avoid optimised homogeny and keep pushing clients to be bold and brave whilst embracing the new potential data + creativity together provide.

With the sector moving so quickly, it’s vital that policy and education catch up.

It’s on us to support these and allow data to deliver a new future to a new, diverse generation. Together, we must demystify the world of data and work to champion the importance of critical thinking and the understanding of data alongside coding.

Scotland is undoubtedly pioneering in a lot of areas, but too often in isolated pockets only. We need a high level overview to drive policy, prevent silos and ensure tech’s integral role within all parts of society is highlighted.

This could help police ‘creepy’ data, when users are lost in a minefield of information and unsure as to how it will be used… either for or against them.

Tension can arise when there is possibility for great innovation with joined up data sets we understand BUT problems around what we consent to. We can be informed but still need to use google – what choice do we have?

As data begins to reinvent us, we must recognise and celebrate that algorithms cannot do things alone – they are created by humans. And we have a vital role to play in using data as a tool and directing it to advance our society.

Many thanks to our wonderful speakers, host and attendees – stay tuned for more BIMA Scotland Roundtable events in 2020, open to all BIMA members! 


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