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DDW Trend: Data as material

26 September 2019

G. Königstein, Untitled Experiment. From the archive of KPC de Basel,<br /> Het Nieuwe Instituut
This year, Dutch Design Week (DDW) presents 8 design trends that mark the most important developments in the field of design. This trend is all about Data as a material.

Designers are expanding their skills further and further into the digital world. Online it is possible to gather information and share knowledge like never before. If the physical world is built with traditional materials like wood, or stone, then the digital world is built with data. The field of data science has received the growing attention of designers worldwide. It is a multi-disciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights. Data, ranging from personal information, knowledge and skills, can be gathered and shared, both online and offline. How do we incorporate digital data into the physical world? What are the possibilities of sharing this data? Can we design physical places for sharing this information? Among the participants of DDW19, we see a trend in the digital field: DATA as a material.

0.0416 seconds
© Julia Janssen

Data protection

Like every other material DATA has a value; the worth has been rising over the last years, especially personal data. This information is useful for companies to sell their products or services, to find new customers or to get more insight into their behaviour. Our lives have been become more and more public. In an increasingly digital society, we live our lives online with an audience of friends or even complete strangers. With just one click we post, “like” feed, share images and even agree to legal actions like accepting cookies. But do we fully understand what this implies?

Julia Janssen’s presentation 0.0416 seconds awkwardly shows how ignorant we, the internet users, really are. While visiting a respected website like we click without any consideration the ‘got it’ button. That one click means we are accepting an astonishing 835 privacy policies. This so called Trusted Third-Party Hosting Network is a legal construction to collect and share personal data among companies. To read all those legal documents would actually take almost 275 hours, but we take them for granted and accept in only 0.0416 seconds. Janssen states that ‘according to the General Data Protection Regulation, almost everything is allowed with permission. But what does ‘permission’ mean, if one-click equals 835 times accept?’ In her live performance she works together with the audience to read out all the privacy policies. By doing so she hopes to create more awareness about protecting our valuable privacy and our personal data.

The data archive

Data can be gathered and shared, but how to store all this data? How to make it accessible for future generations? Museums and institutes own a great amount of data. Their digital archives can be an endless source of inspiration for designers and artists. However, like all treasures, this data is stored away in unreachable digital safes. The project Open Archief by the Nieuwe Instituut and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision tries to break down these walls. They invite creatives to create new work, using archive items from their digital collections and to experiment with themes like creativity, technology and authorship. The project shows how these digital collections can lead to new and beautiful works. If the digital archives become open to the public, this cultural heritage has the potential to tell a contemporary story and reach a new audience. Reusing this data can lead to new stories and new perspectives.

The future of data

The digital world offers huge possibilities to share information and knowledge. A product can be designed in one place but printed or fabricated in another. Open source information allows us to discover, download, customize and develop new ideas and products at a fast speed. The library of open source projects is growing and ranges from tradition materials such as wool or wood to 3D printed materials. Or even a worthless material like plastic can become an important problem solver worldwide, as Dave Hakkens and his team strongly believe. The process of really making a change takes time and needs constant improvement. The designer therefore is bringing an updated version of his ongoing Precious Plastic project, for which he has won the prestigious ‘Toekomstbouwers’ (ed. Future Builder) battle by Dutch broadcasting agency VPRO during DDW17. Precious Plastic is a catalogue with information on how to make tools, machines for-, and products from recycled plastic, all shared online and open source, allowing people worldwide to access.

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The physical data

How do we access information? Designers are finding new ways to enhance the experience of navigating, reading, and collaborating within a collection of information such as a library, both online and off-line. What role can data carriers, like books, play in the sharing of modern data? The project SUSLIB, initiated and founded by Amir Houieh and Martijn de Heer, is an exploration on how the physical space of a library can encourage the sharing of knowledge. They combine the digital and physical world to promote interaction, discussion and sharing. The project brings the accessibility of digital information flow to the more traditional physical library. The result can be seen at DDW19.