Data, Design & Society

Ewan Klein, Alyssa Alcorn, James Stewart

13 January 2016

Course Intro


Day Time
Wednesdays 9.00–10.50
Fridays 10.00–12.00

Quick Course Overview

Very quick overview of the course. This will focus on the what, not the why or the how.

  • projects
  • theme and sub-themes
  • teams
  • hack structure


  • Most of the course is oriented towards you doing research and experiments
  • in teams
  • out in the world


  • We adopt the broad definition of design by Herbert Simon, namely “devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.


  • University is currently drafting its first Sustainable Food Policy
  • In DDS, you will develop a project that engages with Food and Sustainability in the University
  • by designing, building and evaluating a proof-of-concept design idea


  • Reducing wastage of food served in Pollock Halls Dining Hall
  • Reducing packaging waste at any point in the production and consumption of food on campus.
  • Increasing the rate at which students select healthy / sustainable food options, either on campus, or off campus; and with either prepared food or raw ingredients.


  • We will assign you to teams next week — these will stay the same till the end of the course
  • 4 people to a team
  • Some will probably have an easier time than others
  • Each team will get a mentor / facilitator


  • period of focused, intensive collaboration between experts and stakeholders
  • should be creative, interactive, fun
  • “studio” approach — show and share your ideas right from the start

Four Rules for DDS

  • Turn up and be fully present — class time is essential
  • Do every exercise and piece of work when it comes up — you can’t cram the material in during last week of semester
  • Be reliable — your team members will depend on you
  • If in doubt, ask in class or see Alyssa

Example projects from Design for Informatics (D4I)


  • D4I is Masters course organised on similar principles to DDS
  • Projects can illustrate what’s possible
  • D4I Theme: promote walking in the centre of Edinburgh


  • Challenge: Encourage more active travel by people who commute by bus into the city centre
  • Idea: Offer a financial incentive (special cheaper bus ticket) for them to get off the bus early and replace part of their journey with walking.
  • Goal: Alter people’s existing travel habits, rather than create entirely new ones.

See Walkabus Website

  • Click through to the Process tab to see pictures and short descriptions of what the team did in different stages of their project.


  • Challenge: Reduce the extent that poor weather dissuades people from walking (versus using buses, taxis, etc.)
  • Idea: Propose a network of umbrella vending machines around the city centre
  • Users could borrow an umbrella whenever they needed one – free of charge as long as the umbrella was returned on time to another point.
  • Similar to a “Boris Bikes” for umbrellas.

See Umbrella4Everyone Website

Proof of Concept

  • Both project websites lead reader to believe that they already have live apps and a functioning service.
  • This is not true —– both apps are mock-ups!
  • E.g. umbrella vending machine was some umbrellas in a cardboard box made to look like a vending machine.
  • Projects to not need to build complete apps or fancy equipment in order to show “proof of concept”.
  • DDS is the same in terms of how complete your projects need to be.

Two other D4I Projects


A city-wide, scavenger-hunt style game targeted at Edinburgh residents. The goal is to encourage people to explore and enjoy their own city via walking, especially taking little-known streets and routes.

FlowED Website

This group does have a live app for you to download and try!


Aimed to encourage walking by translating food and drink consumption into walking times. For example, did you know it would take you 52 minutes to walk off the calories in a pint of beer?

This project had a “public service announcement” style poster campaign, and mocked up an app that would translate food items into walking distances.

See some pictures of their posters

Small group discussion


  • Each person at each table gets 2 minutes to talk
  • While one person is talking, everyone else in group just listens
  • Introduce yourself and mention one kind of food that you particularly like
  • And say why you signed up for this course.
  • Whole class: each table gets to share one interesting thing that came up in their discussion

Motivation for DDS

Why are we running a course like this?

  • Learning by Developing
  • Edinburgh Living Lab vision
  • Employability


[5 minutes]

Project Website

Key Course Information



  • ‘lecture’ type stuff
  • lab-sessions, plus working with datasets
  • field work, including data-collection
  • design sessions with stakeholders
  • project work in teams, with and without tutors
  • independent study, reading
  • in-class discussions
  • in-class and out-of-class writing
  • in-class presentations
  • team bonding exercises
  • in-class making stuff
  • reflective writing

Project Phases, 1


Initial orientation and skills

  • Food and sustainability issues
  • Introduction to design thinking
  • Introduction to data and information
  • Introduction to observation, ethnography, and research ethics

Fast Hack

Takes place in week 3

  1. Gather data and information about your chosen sub-theme and its current state at the University
  2. Do this “in the wild”
  3. You’ll need to put aside the best part of at least 1 day to do this, as a team
  4. Identify specific problems/questions within your sub-theme, and generate ideas for how to address them
  5. Your team will give a group presentation and you will write an individual report

Digging Deeper

Weeks 4–5

  1. Consolidating what you’ve found out in Fast Hack
  2. Identifying gaps, quesstions, topics to investigate
  3. Build up more skills in data collection and data analysis
  4. Start critiquing and refining the design ideas generated during Fast Hack
  5. Hold a focus group with University stakeholders

Innovative Learning Week

Week 6

  • Go wild!

Slow Hack

Weeks 7–9

  1. Narrow down to one potential solution — a proof-of-concept design idea that has the potential to solve the problem(s) you’ve identified
  2. Do more data collection, building up more evidence for your design idea
  3. Do some prototyping that allows you to test your idea and measure its effectiveness — ideally you’ll do this a number of times
  4. Hold a participatory design workshop with University stakeholders

5 minute colouring break

What to do

  1. Sit round your table
  2. You should have a big piece of paper
  3. Grab a pen
  4. Choose someone to start, and from then on, keep silent
  5. In turn, draw one line to represent something to do with food
  6. Try to figure out what the previous person was drawing, and see if you can extend or refine the picture
  7. If you’ve had enough, put your pen down
  8. Keep on going until everyone at the table has put their pen down

Project Phases, 2


Weeks 10–11

  1. Bring it all together into a persuasive and easy-to-understand story
  2. What is the problem you are addressing?
  3. How does your design idea have the potential to solve this problem?
  4. What are your reasons for adopting this design?
  5. How have you evaluated it?


  1. In-class design critique and feedback session
  2. End of semester group presentation — be prepared for an audience!
  3. Write your final report — we’ll give you more information on what’s required



Week Assignment Due Type Weight
3 GP1 29 Jan Group Presentation 0%
5 R1 8 Feb Individual Report 0%
11 GP2 23 March Group Presentation 25%
12 R2 1 April Individual Report 75%

Release date

  • Specification of GP2 and R2 still in draft form
  • We’ll announce when they are finalised in a couple of weeks

Next Class

When and Where?

  • In this building
  • In Lecture Theatre 1
  • Friday 15th Jan, 10.00 – 12.00

Bring a Writing Book

  • You’ll do in-class writing
  • By hand, on paper!
  • Bring a writing book that you can use just for DDS
  • Preferably not loose leaf
  • It’s up to you whether it’s lined or unlined