Louisa is a big believer in the power of design to make sense of a complex world. Her expertise spans a broad range of sectors, from financial to government to consumer goods; B2B and B2C; and commercial and non-profit. She’s worked on both the client and agency sides of the design equation.
Technology has now advanced to the point where the question has evolved from “What can this do?” to “What should we do with it?”. With this in mind, Louisa spends most of her time helping businesses find more innovative, engaging means of accomplishing their goals and relating to their customers through the creative application of well-designed technology.
Louia was at PICNIC with a keynote 'I am Superman'. This is what she describes about owning our big data:
Our lives can be seen as a combination of data, decisions and that unique element we call humanity. But what does it mean to truly ‘own’ our quantified selves?
My life is made up of data. If I have the right equipment, virtually everything can be tracked – where I go and what I do, how fast I get there and how long I stay. What I eat and how much I exercise; which apartments, restaurants and bars I spend the most time in; what's happening at home while I'm away. Add to this the content I consciously create – text and photos and videos – and you've got a really rich picture of what I'm like. Right? Well, maybe.
Life is made up of a million tiny decisions we make every day, mostly subconsciously. For example, cognitive science tells us that when we're having a conversation, only about 5% of the meaning we extract comes from the spoken words. The other 95% comes from body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and even smell. We process these stimuli so quickly that we don’t even realize we're doing it. What we think of as intuition may in fact be evidence-based decision making – just at hyper-speed.
This is part of what makes us uniquely human. Our lives are made up of our choices, which determine our experiences. The fact that we don't yet understand exactly how we do this makes me wonder whether we are anywhere near ready to teach machines how to replicate this. No array of sensors, no matter how clever, can match this.
Owning one's life is not just about possession and privacy; it's also about decision-making, about choices. If I 'own' my life, then I have control or at least visibility over who sees and captures what and when. But I also need to have jurisdiction over what's measured in the first place, and how it's interpreted. This creates an unprecedented design challenge.
A lot of the visionaries these days paint a world where decisions are made for us based on data. On one hand, this is appealing – machines can do basic tasks and make simple choices for me. On the other hand, it's disorienting - what is the logic underlying these decisions? How can I participate in it? Am I comfortable with decisions being made for me when I don't understand why or how?
The answer may be to keep our focus as designers on the things that make us uniquely human, and to allow for those things to shine through the interactions, services and systems that we build on and with Big Data. If people are afraid of Big Data, perhaps it's because we know we're not machines, and we shouldn't aspire to be. The role of design in this is not primarily the creation of artifacts, digital or otherwise (though that is part of the answer); the primary role of design is to make a translation between the abstract and the human, to make connections between humans and the things they need, want and love. Sometimes that means exposing the mechanics, sometimes that means hiding the complexity.
The trick is to let all this richness of data be a means to making better decisions and leading better lives - to making me Super-me.
See the interview with Louisa in the film below: