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Prescriptive vs. Predictive Designers

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Recently, Red Privet was interviewed by Forrester Research, Inc. analyst, Allegra Burnette, about the changing nature of the field of design. We were honored to be quoted in her April 2015 report for customer experience professionals entitled, “Brief: Staffing for Data-Driven Design.”

In the brief, Burnette, discusses how customer experience professionals should approach staffing for the modern design team. She also included a quote from us on knowledge workers.

“Look for designers who are system thinkers. In a healthy environment where data and traditional design skills work cooperatively, the designer’s job moves beyond the particulars of laying out a screen to make sure that everything connects and works at a human scale to drive business. As agency Red Privet notes, ‘The emphasis is increasingly on knowledge work and thinking and less about the skill at rendering.’ And as the focus on big data profiling and artificial intelligence grows, the role of data is going to continue to drive design as well as both the small and the systemwide decisions that go into shaping the ultimate customer experience. “

Design has been slowly evolving from prescriptive to predictive. In prescriptive design, the focus was on usability. We didn’t really know exactly what the user wanted to do, so we attempted to make the presentation of all the possible options as simple and intuitive as possible. With the advent of personalization, we attempted to create a more meaningful experience–but it placed the burden of creating context on the user through profiles and preference menus.

While ethnographic research and contextual inquiry provide us insight into archetypical user behaviors and thinking, big data allows us to systematically see patterns of behavior that allow us to anticipate individual user needs. In the world of predictive design the goal is no longer just designing a screen, it’s about designing a thinking system that can adapt and respond to inputs. And these thinking systems require system thinkers.

We agree with Forrester that the “data/design mashup is a good thing.” At Red Privet, we look for employees who have a “sense-making” skillset–people who can observe customers, find patterns, anticipate desires and translate that into effective interfaces, interactions and experiences. Graphic artists can be systems thinkers, but so can account planners, engineers and anthropologists. In order to make predictive design a reality, we’ll need both algorithms and artistry at the table.

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