RLUK DSF: Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

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Professor Chris Speed FRSE is Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh

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RLUK's Digital Shift Forum

Design From/With/By Data

The design community have used qualitative and quantitative data to inform the development of products, services and systems for many years. From market analytics to observational analysis, and questionnaires to design probes, designers understand implicitly the need to watch, listen and learn from the data that is gathered by prototypes before, during and after the design process. However, whilst the methods for gathering data have grown to reflect research through design approaches, there has been little classification of the kinds of data that we are encountering in an age of large digital data sets, nor to frame how we design alongside them.

The talk / argument reflects upon a framework for designers that was introduced in 2016 that reflected on methods of working with data, in order to anticipate its ability to transform design processes as its level of performativity increases. This talk recovered kinds of value that data is involved in mediating and then establishes a complexity in which qualitative and quantitative data becomes entangled across social, economic, moral and ethical values. Whilst digital forms of data are often preceded by an assumption that designers should be designing interactions with computers (Human Computer Interaction), the talk encourages a move toward a field of enquiry entitled Human Data Interaction (HDI) (Mortier et al 2014). HDI demands that serious attention is required to address the systems that place stress on conventional ethical and moral models of handling personal data. The talk extended this mantle and proposed that designers play a vital role in the design of future systems in which people, things and computers co-exist in the production and consumption of data.

In order to understand better how to design alongside data, the talk recovered the ablative framework for designing from/with/by data and uses a series of cases studies to exemplify how design is taking place. The framework aims to offer a means of organising both existing methods but also of anticipating emerging methods that recognise the increasing performative qualities of data. The framework is placed within a network society in which designers are working alongside a wide range of disciplines to mediate value within a constellation of stakeholders including algorithms:

  • Design from data: when systems are designed by people, where they are inspired by measurable features of humans, computers, things, and their contexts.
  • Design with data: when systems are designed by people, where they take into account the flows of data through systems, and the need to sustain and enhance human values.
  • Design by data: when systems are designed by other systems, largely autonomously, where new products and services can be synthesised via the data-intensive analysis of existing combinations of humans, computers, things, and contexts.

The provocation of the talk / argument is that by acknowledging the fast-moving nature of data-driven technologies, there are many challenging aspects of being a contemporary design researcher within the Digital Shift agenda, and we need new literacies (including the ablative framework) in order that we retain a digital literacy and social values.


Mortier, R., Haddadi, H,. Henderson, T., McAuley, D. & Crowcroft, J. (2014) Human-Data Interaction: The Human Face of the Data-Driven Society. Available at SSRN: or

Speed, C. & Oberlander, J. (2016) Designing from, with and by Data: Introducing the ablative framework. Proceedings of the International Design Research Society Conference 2016. University of Brighton, June 2016.

Professor Chris Speed FRSE is Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh where he collaborates with a wide variety of partners to explore how design provides methods to adapt and create products and services within a networked society. He is especially favours transgressive design interventions, to help identify and promote the values we care about most, including coffee machines that order their own ethical supplies, hairdryers that ask you to wait for the right time to blow dry your hair, and apps for sham marriages. Chris co-directs the Institute for Design Informatics that is home to a combination of researchers working across the fields of design, social science, and data science, as well as the PhD, MA/MFA and MSc and Advanced MSc programmes. Chris has an established track record in directing large complex grants with industry partners, that apply methods to challenges in the creative industries, banking, international development and cultural heritage sectors.

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This event will be held via Zoom webinar. Attendees will be sent a joining link the day before the event and should ensure their email is entered correctly in the registration form. Attendees should check junk folders if no joining email is received.

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