3 Design Thinking Tips for Data Innovators to Steal

June 13, 2016 1:00 pm PST | Data as a Service

Last month, AIGA DC, the D.C. chapter of the professional association for design, hosted the second annual DotGovDesign Conference. The event brought together federal government creative professionals to collaborate, converse, and inspire one another to use their work to make the greatest positive impact for our nation.

Representatives from 18F, the Department of Education, the U.S. Postal Service, and even the CIA discussed what it takes to successfully implement change in government. While the conference focused more on designers than data enthusiasts, many of the conference’s lessons are worth considering for anyone attempting to use data in new and impactful ways.


AIGA’s new Executive Director, Julie Anixter, delivered the morning keynote at the conference. Anxiter brings over 20 years of design expertise to the role, having supported the U.S. military, private sector brands, and other organizations in curation, business development, UI/UX development, education, and management. Here are three tips for designers that data changemakers can steal to make the most impact in their program or agency.

1. Remember that innovation is solving problems to create value

Whether a designer is creating a poster or a data analyst is considering a new dataset to share, value is derived from solving problems, for both government employees and citizens. Innovative governments don’t just dump data into a website, they find ways to use the data to support narratives, program decisions, and services

2. Create a force for good to amplify your mission

Anixter says that designers, “think differently.” Data enthusiasts also think differently. They see the value of data and its potential to enable positive change. “Be influential beyond your wildest imagination,” Anixter says. Don’t let your agency’s precedent or your job title stop you from seeing the potential in your work.

3. Connect with people who care about what you do

In order to cause positive change in an organization, creative thinkers need to find advocates that can amplify and raise up their work. As a government employee, your direct supervisor might not understand the value and potential of using data to improve operations or increase citizen satisfaction.

If that’s the case, look to your peers in other governments, perhaps other program leaders, mentors, or other employees with similar interests.

“Use your secret radar,” Anxiter says. “Find the people who are receptive,” she recommends, and then “bring them a visual” to explain your ideas. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few conversations to get your idea to stick. There are likely other civil servants on the same path looking for support too.

Want more inspiration from other government innovators? Register now for Socrata Connect, Socrata’s annual event in Washington, D.C.

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