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Big Data and Sustainable Design

Last week’s post talked about open data, and how designers are trying to make sense of it. Previously this type of data was collected but hard to get and typically in formats that weren’t easy to use. As more open data, and data of all kinds, becomes available, we start to enter an ear of Big Data.

Big data, such as the millions of data points generated when we use the internet, is large and complex, but when analyzed, can yield profound insights. So far a lot of the insights related to big data have, not surprisingly, been concentrated on figuring out how to make money from it, although there are examples emerging in education and training. Rajat Paharia writes about big data and gamification in the context of user engagement in his book Loyalty 3.0.

A nice example of design tackling the social aspect of big data comes out of Singapore’s Design Incubation Centre, where they looked at how they might use “big data” to improve quality of life for elderly people (which harks back to my recent post “Ageless”). Here I like the ambition which seems somewhat bigger than the actual project. The project appears to look for particular activities or areas of the household (opening the fridge door, flushing the toilet) to monitor in search of abnormalities that show an older person might be in trouble.

ideas from Design Incubation Center, Singapore, using data to support the elderly

But the ambition of big data is to look at large data sets and this project suggests we consider doing that through the lens of concern for aging and the elderly. What existing data streams (travel? health? household size or location?) might be available and useful in analysis through this lens? Good question for students looking at open data perhaps (see previous post on open data).

Here’s a PDF summary of their work.

Do you have any examples of designers starting to work with big data around sustainability concerns? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Please pass this post on to others who may be interested and if you’d like to get monthly summaries (with a bonus article) sign up on the right.

Island Press Sale on The Designers Atlas of Sustainability

Have you got a copy? Need to give one as a gift? Publisher Island Press has a sale on this week only (from October 21 – 28, 2013). If you order through their website, you can get the book for $25, which is about 50% off retail (the current Amazon price is $42.50).

Oh and one more thing—you can read “Social License: turning CSR on its head” over on the design activism blog.


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