The past decade has brought enormous and growing benefits to ordinary citizens through applications built on public data.

Any release of data offers advantages to experts, such as developers and journalists, but there is a crucial common factor in the most successful open data applications for non-experts: excellent design, writes Cyd Harrell, UX Evangelist at Code for America.

In fact, open data and citizen-centered design are natural partners, especially as the government 2.0 movement turns to improving service delivery and government interaction in tandem with transparency.

It’s nearly impossible to design innovative citizen experiences without data, but that data will not reach its full potential without careful choices about how to aggregate, present, and enable interaction with it.

“Design is a critical practice for enabling open data to reach its full transformative potential. Without citizens being able to interact with government data directly, we are unlikely to trigger a revolution in how services are provided. We all know how much we need that revolution, for reasons of cost, fairness, and human dignity.

Methods drawn from the user experience field are the easiest way to translate open data into a format that’s usable and accessible for the average (or non-average) citizen. The most successful and broadly used open data projects have always relied on design, whether or not people formally trained in design were part of the teams. Our task now is to bring our best design ideas into our shared movement and take advantage of everything the discipline has to offer. With design, we can give the public back its data in real use, as well as in name.”