I have done a lot of work in the field of data visualization. It sounds pretentious, but it really isn't. To me, focusing on the design elements of a data visualization (control chart, bar chart, scatter plot, etc) helps the researcher tell their story in a more impactful way. This is a powerful communication tool that can be wielded for good and for evil. With proper intentions, information that is clearly communicated using sound design principals can be nothing less than revolutionary.
Most of my experience with data is in the prehospital medicine space. I have used very large datasets to help decision makers craft medical protocols and hone operational strategies. With a little elbow grease and understanding, you can tease from data the subtle, yet important indicators that help inform decision making.
So how can data impact design?
In the software space, data is used to help create a user experience that is intuitive, economical, and task/goal oriented. Software designers can use data found in A/B testing to tailor interfaces that suit their intended purpose. In interior design, there are mountains of data available that can help us to create beautiful spaces that are also livable spaces. From sound and lighting to ergonomics and accessibility, researchers have found that even though there may be more than one way to skin a cat, some ways are better than others.
As designers, we can use data to strike a balance between style and comfort. Alternatively, we can use data to ensure that comfort is never sacrificed in lieu of style. By providing clients with the best available data, we can help them avoid having to live with a non-functional space devoid of soul and character.