How Architects and Designers Can Connect Data with the Human Element

10/01/2019 By Valerie Dennis Craven

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Technology is able to provide information easier and move projects forward with more consistent results. When architects and designers use the right technology and data, results can become more successful than might otherwise be realized. Data and outcomes can be determined before spending too much time and money on a project.

However, discovering the right information and tools to get to that point can be challenging. Couple that with the human element that technology removes: Creating an end result that doesn’t feel too impersonal can be a challenge for architects and designers. That’s why creating the right balance is important.

Joel Yow, Linear AFinding and using data is so important, data-focused companies like linear A are offering services to support projects for designers and architects.

Joel Yow (pictured) co-founded Linear A with Erik Carlson. Yow saw an urgency and market response to data-driven services that offer a connection between design and data. The duo wanted to provide an integrated approach that didn’t sacrifice data or design for the sake of the other.

“We challenge people to see the potential in the data they are generating,” Yow explains. Linear A can provide consultation to maximize the potential. “Data isn’t the end goal. We’re data focused, but we’re information driven.”

Bringing Together Technology and Data

Among content you are likely generating that data points can be pulled from includes:

  • BIM models
  • Conceptual design models
  • Strategic planning
  • Master planning

“There’s lots of data in all of this, but it’s rarely connected or analyzed to understand the relationships and impacts that design has on human outcomes and occupant experience,” Yow notes. “Sometimes people don’t know what [data] they’re generating or how they can use it. We try to help people see the value of what they are doing and see a structured way to access it as automated as possible.”


Clients want to see the data behind recommendations designers make, Yow explains. “If a designer says, ‘This is better than that,’ clients will want them to show their math. It’s not nice to have, it’s becoming a requirement.”

To get the most out of data, Yow suggests these two things:

1. Don’t only look at one type of data point or field.

Instead, look at relationships between data and things, and how they can be used together to inform one another and make decisions. Yow suggests pairing your own data with data points available to everyone; Linear A uses population data for every project it does.

2. Continue looking at the data.

Standardize the inputs for data to monitor and learn from it over time. “The most ‘aha’ moments I’ve had are from looking at trends over time,” Yow says. He encourages clients to consider how the information is stored, standardized and communicated so it can be accessed.

Maintaining the Human Element in Design

Yow points to the book “Superforcasting” by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gerdner as an example of where data is helpful but not the only answer. In the book, there’s an example of how meteorologists have been keeping track of weather forecasts via computer. The forecasts where people looked at the results and add their expertise (the human element) are more accurate.

We need to take the data and make sure it fits what we need, or the information is correct for the situation. It’s not about replacing design with data, but making design better through data and enhancing one another, Yow says.

[Related: VR, AR and 360-Degree Media for Designers]

“For me, it’s not about tossing data and just going with your gut,” he says. “Take a step back and ask: Does this make sense? Why does it look wrong? Spend time figuring out why you feel that. That’s the relationship between art and science.”

Using data and technology isn’t the end goal, Yow stresses, saying that these approaches need a high degree of human interaction and context to be successful. Technology and data are “an opportunity to provide value.”

Learn More

Yow was part of a panel discussion at Design Connections talking about what technologies are being incorporated into our spaces, and how designers are challenged to maintain the human element. Read what the panel had to say here.