Creative Data Lab – A Week in Reflection

This article was first published on Hyper Island.


I am really glad that I had the opportunity to work with such creative and smart people this week. Apart from Jakob and Jonathan who regularly teach at Hyper Island, there were two industry collaborators from Shopify, Daniel and Edward, who taught us a great deal about data.

Open Data

So, what is open data? Open data is freely accessible, machine readable and free to distribute/modify. The mindset of open data is to bring the whole community together, no matter what their skills are. Open data hackfests are not events solely for programmers, on the contrary: getting the community involved, from children to elderly, is key to designing experiences that will benefit all citizens.

Some great examples of open data projects in other countries/cities include:

  • OttawaTrash
  • Dog Park Finder
  • Fix My Street
  • Don’t Eat At
  • Cycle Tracks
  • FixMyStreet

    The open data movement has also spread to journalism — The Guardian is a great illustration of this. A few years ago, they begun releasing data that they used for writing the stories published on their website and have opened up their platform: users can help shape the articles they write, explore how they report their stories, add insights to book reviews. The Open Journalism Movement is revolutionary and can be read in detail here.

    Scraping Experts

    During the workshops, Daniel and Edward taught us how to scrape data using a tool called OutWit. If you have not used it yet, I suggest you go and play around with it. It’s so exciting to use! Essentially, instead of extracting data manually (for instance by copying and pasting contents of a table), you could “automate” this process and use a software to do it for you. It’s a very powerful tool, especially when you need to collect a great amount of data. I scored major geek points in that workshop 🙂


    The workshop on analytics really emphasized that analytics is only a tool, not an end to itself. What’s essential is designing changes (actions) that we take as a result of data. Measurement provides a platform for improvement. When creating dashboards using tools such as Geckoboard for yourself or your company, it’s important to design them around supporting actions: don’t just design dashboards that display numbers, always ask yourself, “So what now? What can I do to improve?”.

    The dark side of open data

    In one of the workshops, we also took a more philosophical approach to data and discussed the dark side of open data. Is open data always good? How far would you agree with “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”? Are people even aware of what they are sharing online? Jonathan shared a powerful tool with us called Ghostery, which sees the “invisible” web, detecting trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages. I think this session was really fascinating because everyone had very different views on sharing data. For some people, sharing medical records would be unthinkable while for others, sending their blood test to a company such as 23andme, which provides genetic testing, was not seen as an issue at all.

    Group work & concluding remarks

    Apart from the amazing workshops, we all had to work in teams on a client brief and come up with a solution (or multiple!) to enhancing and improving the way we live, work and play in Singapore, as well as enabling businesses to improve productivity. Every group applied the techniques they learned during the week (data scraping, Google Fusion tables and so on) and came up with very creative solutions. For me, this is what makes the Hyper Island methodology so unique: learning by doing (experiential learning), a group dynamic process, constant feedback and reflecting every single day either individually or in group about what we have learned and how we can apply it in our teams.

    Everyone left the lab feeling energised and empowered and some discovered a whole new world of possibilities. What a great week! I really hope to attend more labs in the future. Their next one is August 19-23 and it will be on User Experience. Who is going?!

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