The intersection of data and design is equal parts art and science

Data-informed design is a framework to hone understanding of customer behavior and align teams with larger business goals.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our forthcoming book Designing with Data; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library — download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

The phrase “data driven” has long been part of buzzword-bingo card sets. It’s been heard in the halls of the web analytics conference eMetrics for more than a decade, with countless sessions aimed at teaching audience members how to turn their organizations into data-driven businesses.

When spoken of in a positive light, the phrase data driven conjures visions of organizations with endless streams of silver-bullet reports — you know the ones: they’re generally entitled something to the effect of “This Chart Will Help Us Fix Everything” and show how a surprise change can lead to a quadrillion increase in revenue along with world peace.

When spoken of in a negative light, the term is thrown around as a descriptor of Orwellian organizations with panopticon-level data collection methods, with management imprisoned by relentless reporting, leaving no room for real innovation.

Evan Williams, founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, made an apt comment about being data driven:

I see this mentality that I think is common, especially in Silicon Valley with engineer-driven start-ups who think they can test their way to success. They don’t acknowledge the dip. And with really hard problems, you don’t see market success right away. You have to be willing to go through the dark forest and believe that there’s something down there worth fighting the dragons for, because if you don’t, you’ll never do anything good. I think it’s kind of problematic how data-driven some companies are today, as crazy as that sounds.”

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Introducing “A Field Guide to the Distributed Development Stack”

Tools to develop massively distributed applications.

Editor’s Note: At the Velocity Conference in Barcelona we launched “A Field Guide to the Distributed Development Stack.” Early response has been encouraging, with reactions ranging from “If I only had this two years ago” to “I want to give a copy of this to everyone on my team.” Below, Andrew Odewahn explains how the Guide came to be and where it goes from here.


As we developed Atlas, O’Reilly’s next-generation publishing tool, it seemed like every day we were finding interesting new tools in the DevOps space, so I started a “Sticky” for the most interesting-looking tools to explore.

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At first, this worked fine. I was content to simply keep a list, where my only ordering criteria was “Huh, that looks cool. Someday when I have time, I’ll take a look at that,” in the same way you might buy an exercise DVD and then only occasionally pull it out and think “Huh, someday I’ll get to that.” But, as anyone who has watched DevOps for any length of time can tell you, it’s a space bursting with interesting and exciting new tools, so my list and guilt quickly got out of hand.

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Signals from Velocity Europe 2014

From design processes to postmortem complexity, here are key insights from Velocity Europe 2014.

Practitioners and experts from the web operations and performance worlds came together in Barcelona, Spain for Velocity Europe 2014. We’ve gathered highlights and insights from the event below.

Managing performance is like herding cats

Aaron Rudger, senior product marketing manager at Keynote Systems, says bridging the communication gap between IT and the marketing and business sectors is a bit like herding cats. Successful communication requires a narrative that discusses performance in the context of key business metrics, such as user engagement, abandonment, impression count, and revenue.

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Designing the enchanted future

David Rose on the IoT’s impact on our relationship with technology.

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I recently sat down with David Rose, entrepreneur, instructor, and researcher at MIT Media Lab, and author of Enchanted Objects. Rose refers to everyday objects with embedded sensors and cloud connectivity as “enchanted objects.” These objects tap into one of our basic desires, which Rose identifies as omniscience, telepathy, safekeeping, immortality, teleportation, expression. (He created a poster identifying some of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices organized by the human desire each addresses.) While there is plenty of experimentation taking place in this space, the products that will thrive will add value to our lives by tapping into one or more of these desires.

When looking at technology and its implications, Rose starts by focusing on user needs. Read more…

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The infinite hows

An argument against the Five Whys and an alternative approach you can apply.

Before I begin this post, let me say that this is intended to be a critique of the Five Whys method, not a criticism of the people who are in favor of using it. This critique I present is hardly original; most of this post is inspired by Todd Conklin, Sidney Dekker, and Nancy Leveson.

The concept of post-hoc explanation (or “postmortems” as they’re commonly known) is, at this point, taken hold in the web engineering and operations domain. I’d love to think that the concepts that we’ve taken from the new view on “human error” are becoming more widely known and that people are looking to explore their own narratives through those lenses.

I think that this is good, because my intent has always been (might always be) to help translate concepts from one domain to another. In order to do this effectively, we need to know also what to discard (or at least inspect critically) from those other domains.

The Five Whys is such an approach that I think we should discard.

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Solid 2015: submit your proposal

O'Reilly's Solid Conference, on IoT and the intersection between real and virtual, will return to San Francisco on June 23-25, 2015.

Last May, we engaged in something of an experiment when Joi Ito and I presented Solid, our conference about the intersection between software and the physical world. We drew the program as widely as possible and invited demos from a broad group of large and small companies, academic researchers, and artists. The crowd that came — more than 1,400 people — was similarly broad: a new interdisciplinary community that’s equally comfortable in the real and virtual worlds started to, well, solidify.

I’m delighted to announce that Solid is returning. The next Solid will take place on June 23-25, 2015, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It’ll be bigger, with more space and a program spread across three days instead of two, but we’re taking care to maintain and nourish the spirit of the original event. That begins with our call for proposals, which opens today. Some of our best presentations in May came from community members we hadn’t yet met who blew away our program committee with intriguing proposals. We’re committed to discovering new luminaries and giving them a chance to speak to the community. If you’re working on interesting things, I hope you’ll submit a proposal.

We’re expecting a full house at this year’s event, so we’ve opened up ticket reservations today as well — you can reserve your ticket here, and we’ll hold your spot for seven days once registration opens early next year. Read more…

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