When we meet people for the first time or reconnect with old friends, many are surprised to hear that we work at a data analytics software company. Their reaction isn’t unwarranted, because we’re not programmers or data scientists. We’re artists.
Why did we decide to join Uptake? Because we believe that creative thinking is implicit to working in any capacity, and especially with technology. And we believe that art is a necessary asset, along with science, to produce beautiful and actionable data insights.
From Studio to Scrum Team
We met a couple of years ago in graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Kayla was getting her MFA in Art and Technology Studies and Jess was getting her MA in Journalism with an emphasis in Design. With writing as one of our shared interests, we collaborated together as editors at the school’s magazine on a number of stories about technology and the open-source movement’s impacts on art and culture.
We quickly found that our interest in data, and what we could learn from harnessing it, came from a shared habit of constantly asking questions that don’t have ready-made answers: How can cloud computing change healthcare? Why do social media networks make good sites for predicting political change? And many more. Data is essentially material—much like paint, clay, or fabric—that can be transformed from a raw resource into a solution, a solution that inspires human reaction and moves a person to take action.
For both of us, joining Uptake was a dramatic change from our “expected” paths in the art world. But, now with the clarity of living on this new path, it was perhaps the most natural career move we each could have made. Kayla is an interaction designer who builds visual interfaces that allow users to have access to, and interact with, our predictive software. Jess is a writer who translates hardboiled technical knowledge into accessible information for our industry partners and users. Our platform is unlike anything that has come before, which makes both of our roles complex. But software is nothing without users, and we enjoy the challenges of taking its complexities and imagining ways to make our product intuitive and clear.
Similarities in seemingly different fields become strikingly apparent, and each day reaffirms that we’re building together, blending art and science.
Our co-workers across teams are just as curious in pushing boundaries in the pursuit of answers. We all want to see what it will look like to shape data into tools to catalyze change and progress in the real world. We are creating systems that will deeply influence the future of some of the world’s largest and most vital industries. A computer program doesn’t power our core—rather, Uptake is powered by incredibly talented people who thrive off of curiosity and innovation.
Art and Science, Creativity and Logic
Often, art and science—or more specifically, creativity and logic—are siloed into separations between “left brain” and “right brain” thinking. But, they inform each other through shared humanistic roots. Artists and scientists share a similar line of inquiry into problem solving that involves a process of research, prototyping, testing and feedback to develop multiple possibilities and solutions to problems.
The space between art and science is bridged by what we think of as the cross-disciplinary practice of design. Design is fluid, and refers to any process of actions taken in order to try to improve the human experience and our understanding of the world around us. It’s a process, not a product.
Design thinking fits well into any discussion about art and science, and by extension, technology. Because its focus is equal parts practicality and creativity, this process of solution-geared thinking adapts well to rapid prototyping and research because of the nature of the end goal: a better overall situation instead of a specific solution to a specific problem. This basis of critical thinking as a method of problem solving encourages free discussion and an open exchange of ideas.
Our experience at Uptake has convinced us that we don’t have to choose between creativity and logic. One informs the other, and practicing both in tandem brings so much more to each. By working at their intersection, we can build systems unlike any we’ve seen before. We can make complex concepts more accessible, and encourage new levels of critical thinking that drive innovation. The potential is endless. An integration of art and science enables dense concepts to be portrayed in beautiful, informative ways.
Ultimately, this encourages us to engage with each other without feeling like we need to be experts to be able to understand. As soon as we stop doubting our capabilities to understand things outside of our immediate specializations, our work substantially benefits.
A Call To Collaboration
The best way to dissolve an “it’s over my head” mindset—the decisions we make that a given subject is inherently impossible for us to grasp—is to bring people from disparate backgrounds together and let them know that their opinions matter.
One of the amazing things about Uptake is the nature of our collective collaboration that permeates all aspects of our company. On any given day, we engage with scientists, engineers, researchers and designers, to name just a few. Every conversation builds off of the others. The similarities in seemingly different fields become strikingly apparent, and each day reaffirms that we’re building together, blending art and science.
Collaboration builds a strong foundation for any project: it brings forth more ideas than one brain would ever be capable of and alleviates the anxiety of trying to know everything. This kind of dialogue leads to new realizations that would be unattainable through working alone. When collaborators are open-minded and willing to ask questions and learn from one another, there is always power in numbers.
What we’re making wouldn’t be possible if the people building it saw themselves as all knowing. To create solutions that successfully cross multiple industries requires listening to what everyone has to say. We all have to be sponges, but we also have to take and parse the information in a way that makes it widely applicable. Striking such a balance can be a challenge, but it’s the only way to build software so complex and on such a large scale.
Uptake’s essence is an integration of creativity and logic, and as we look at so many other technology companies, we realize that our approach is far from the norm. Promoting this kind of multifaceted thinking can lead to discoveries and approaches never before possible.
At Uptake, we’re all experts at something, but we have some of our most profound observations by admitting that we’re not always so. We strive to be specialists who openly ask questions, and never stop doing so, across art, science and the intersections between them.