Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Early General Motors auto designers.

Early General Motors auto designers.

By Paul Papas

Picture an architect laboring over a blueprint, or an auto designer working out the basics of next year’s model. Once upon a time, this mental image probably included a drafting table and a clay model, but not much else.

With some variation, those were creative tools that designers, architects and artists relied on to render their inspirations, refine them into concepts, and finalize them into market-ready products.

Fast forward to the era of high-performance computing and how this has radically transformed the creative process in pharmaceuticals, automotive, and government R&D – where the trials, mistakes and amazing breakthroughs were rendered, tested and proven in silicon, before they were realized in factories.

Today, data continues to inform the design of products in new and innovative ways. What’s truly revolutionary is how marketers and other business leaders are using data to inform the design of something much more intimate and essential – the personalized experiences that millions of individuals will have with their products, services or brands.

The en vogue term is “experience design” – beautiful, elegant interface designs that create irresistible experiences that are smart, individualized, trusted and valuable – and all 100 percent dependent on the astute use of data.

Today, the agenda of business is being defined by these two forces – massively available information and new models of individual engagement. In fact, experience design is rapidly becoming a de facto element in contemporary business strategy.

It’s a harder trick to pull off than modeling metal, but human behavior is emerging as a medium from which designers can learn and modify designs before they’re implemented, as insight from data gives companies the ability to understand context, learn and evolve with the consumer and create unique, reciprocal experiences.

For example, BrownUniversity recently faced a tough choice: to upgrade its existing engineering school or move the entire department off campus, to a larger, more insular new space. Through a deep analysis of a hodgepodge of data – from faculty collaboration patterns to course enrollments – Brown discovered patterns showing an enormous amount of cross-fertilization between the school’s communities. This convinced them that the move would negatively affect students, faculty collaboration and research dollars, leading them to go in another direction.

SP Paul Papas

Paul Papas, Global Leader of IBM Interactive Experience

Diverse approaches are key to accelerating progress in this emerging field. Toward this end, IBM recently launched a new consulting practice dedicated to advancing the way businesses use data to inform design, which is part of a new integrated marketing portfolio. In new studios around the world, businesses can collaborate on exciting new customer experiences with researchers and consultants as well as experts in experience design, mobile and digital marketing.

Will big data ever replace all those pens, sketches and moments of imagination that have long defined great design? Not necessarily, but that’s not the important question. The spark of invention can spill out onto the back of a napkin or onto a large flat panel display.

What’s not in question is that the long-anticipated ability to really find, know and engage the proverbial “market of one” is finally at hand. And enabling and accelerating it are powerful, data-intensive tools that render the designs and create the experiences that will unlock the next great level of possibility and value for enterprises in every industry.

This story first appeared in Wired on Nov. 12.

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