Design before digital

Digital is the new monster in the room. Everyone wants a slice of it. It is the big revolutionary thing that risks blinding everyone to the fact that the first principles of business still apply – you need to understand your customer and know how to serve them – everything else comes second.

I remember the first dot com boom had people equally breathless – probably a bit more so given that no one knew what shares they were buying and why. But it’s not much different now. People know they should buy Facebook shares, but I’m not sure they know why – or how – Facebook is going to actually make a return for them. People are still breathing the hype.

So when I read this story from O2 it made me think. Yes we do need plenty of new digital workers to run this digital economy we all need and expect. But I imagine 20 years ago they said “we need 700,000 call centre workers” or whatever the new wave was then. Now I know that digital is different from call centres – it offers the potential for exponential innovative change and new business models for every sector. I know this. But I’m uncomfortable with the logical conclusion of this approach – lots of training and education in coding, content creation, UX design etc. 

My discomfort stems from the concern that this is all a bit specific and potentially cosmetic. What we actually need are design leaders who know how to use digital. People who can look at digital (and whatever comes post-digital) and connect it to the business and customer in meaningful ways. What we don’t want is lots of people chucking digital in every direction as the answer to all the problems. Just like I’m worried by the current urge to chuck Big Data as the answer to all the problems. We have a habit of getting carried away with these new things.

(And I am aware that I could be challenged in the same way around service design – but I actually think service design is just good business practice – ‘understand your customers and work out how to serve them well’ is not a new form of practice – we’ve just had to re-invent it as a discipline in a fragmented corporate world where only the customer every sees the whole thing).

What I want is a balance between strategic design skills and digital skills. They are two sides of the same coin. If we generate loads of digital skills without design skills we’ll end up building digital white elephants that fail to deliver. For me it’s all about purpose. Ask ‘why digital and in what form’ rather than assume digital.

I’m excited that the UK Design Commission’s latest area of focus is the relationship between design and digital. See below:

Design matters to the digital revolution – but do we truly understand how?

  • What is the role of design in helping governments and businesses invest in, adopt, and transition to new technology platforms? 
  • Can design help extract optimum value from this new industrial revolution? 
  • And what are the implications of all this for the world of design?

For the Design Commission’s third inquiry we turn our attention to the role of design in an age of rapidly evolving technology, and examine the contribution it can make to the future success of the UK economy.

More will appear here over time. I’m hoping the process and eventual report will bear some good thinking in this space, to help clarify things. But until then I’d suggest taking a healthy dose of design with all your digital…


Get big, go deep – or go home

I’ve had an interesting run over the past few weeks. I’ve been spending more time out of the studio doing strategy stuff. Which means I’ve had the chance to speak to a whole range of people in and around service design. What I’ve picked up is a consensus that service design is reaching a tipping point – that the industry has an 18 month window to do something – to make the case, land it and grow from there – or to fade into hubris and lost potential. I’ve been feeling like this for a while, so it’s nice that the ante is being upped. But worth getting into the anatomy of this opportunity – thus a blog post.

Why a tipping point and why now?

A few things have come together recently:

  1. Government Digital Service – basically a design studio wrapped in a digital money saving business case – has demonstrated that design has a role to play in even the most traditional of organisations. Not only is there a forceful design studio in there of excitable designers seeking to change the world in a nimble/agile way, but there’s a Transformation Team of dyed-in-the-wool civil servants soberly connecting the deeper elements, and negotiating in the trenches with the grubby back end
  2. My own organisation is seeking to step up its intentions around service design. After a few years now of tactical success, we’ve proved the business case. I have clients who are asking for similar input. So people want more – more breadth and more depth. They want to talk about operational change – they want us to help them rethink how their organisations are plumbed, so they can be more customer-centred
  3. Other organisations are taking design more seriously. Barclays have just put a Chief Design Officer on the board. Accenture bought Fjord etc

What is going on?

I think senior leaders – the people who hold the big purse strings around organisational change – are finally being converted to Service Design. We’ve been in an elongated pilot phase. Every agency and lots of clients can point to game changing projects that have step changed organisations. Well – I think that finally the game has changed, the step has been taken. We’re no longer a substitute brought on for an occasional turn. We’re now on the field. This is great news, but being on the field brings its own challenges – which is what this post it really about. 

Dom Campbell at Futuregov wrote a great post called Go Big or Go Home. Go and read it. It echoes my feeling. I’d just like to extend it a bit – it’s not just about big design – ie broad application across large scale services like local government or telcos. It’s also about going deep – penetrating the innards of the organisation to make change happen. Now this is interesting, because many designers just don’t seem to see that as their job. They design, they generate ideas, they create collateral, and they pass it over – even if it’s an agile handover that is very seamless. They still hand it over. But to who? This is why we need to ‘go deep’. Let me break it out.

  1. Get out of the studio – the studio is a nice place to be. They play music there, and where flip flops. Get out of this comfort zone. You need to spend more time with the Learning and Development team understanding how to change staff behaviours. You need to understand how a commercial model for a transformation programme works. You need to sit with the IT guys and understand what data latency means. 
  2. Compromise – I wear a suit and tie every day. Only yesterday I had to explain to a senior colleague what Kickstarter was. We all need to stretch further towards those we’re trying to convert. We need to swallow our pride, be the bigger man/woman and suck up the short term “eugh, suit!’ thing. We need to be prepared to lose battles, forfeit ground, in order to win this war
  3. Challenge ourselves – we need to stop patting ourselves on the back that we’re the next big thing, riding high on the hype wave, with lovely projects and beautiful collateral. I was challenged the other day by someone that ‘service design fizzles out’. And they’re right. We are now more ‘the thing’ rather than ‘the next big thing’. Organisations are giving us the time of day – but they need to see that we can run broader and deeper. That’s the 18 month window we have.

My proposals:

  1. We need a joined up coherent campaign to tell the market that ‘this is what we do’. We’re out of pilot phase, we are prepared to go broad and deep. The campaign needs to be agile – it needs to not take 18 months to get it’s act together. Luckily the Design Council seem to be shaping this one up.
  2. We need to propose how we should fit into big organisations, splitting out the two big things we do: a) achieving multichannel customer service excellence, and b) delivering ongoing service innovation on the other. These are different skills so we should classify them as such. It’ll make it easier for others ‘to get’.
  3. And we need to reach a rapid consensus on the usual suspects – better evidence, neater proposition, improved talent market etc. Though my belief is that if we crack 1 and 2 we will be compelled to do 3. The reason 3 hasn’t happened is that we haven’t been forced to make tough decisions in the face of tough deadlines. Let’s let necessity be the mother of intent. Too many academics have spent too much time on 3 – it’s a MacGuffin. We need 1 and 2, then we’ll get 3 as a bi-product

And if we don’t do something?

Well we end up missing our boat, like Systems Thinking. Still around and doing good tactical things, but never really lived up to it’s hype and largely descended now into hubris. Service Design is not the answer – but it could be. Betamax was the answer wasn’t it? As Geoff Mulgan said at a meeting at the Design Council last week, Service Design exists in a very competitive environment. It is up to us to come together and land this opportunity in the next 18 months. We need to collectively tool up – get big, go deep or go home.

European House of Design Management

I attended a one day workshop to expplore what a Design Management toolkit might look like and how it might help public sector orgs in Europe. It was organised by the DBA in partnership with Danish Designers, on behalf of the EU. Thought I’d capture my thoughts.

The exercise felt a bit constrained by the way the initiative was procured. The team had obviously had to rapidly find a hypothesis with reference points, which we as a group then rapidly dismantled. The models felt a bit old, dusty and out of step. But that’s by-the-by. It triggered the right level of debate, and the message was given and taken in good grace and I think there’s plans to take a design approach to the next stages.

What was interesting was the intersection of practice in the room. Design was there in many different forms: design managers, design leaders, design academics, service designers, public sector design enthusiasts – all sorts. I was struck by the route Design Management had taken from product, industrual and architecural routes, which made me feel a bit out of place, given I’ve come up through the digital UX route. This was a bit evident in discussions with me banging on a bit about how new methods like Lean Startup and Agile UX were conspicuous in their absence. Also the CX work coming from Bruce Temkin and CXPA. If we want a toolkit in 3 years that feels fresh, then it needs to be taking into account latest practice now!

Having slept on it, I guess my big hopes are:

  1. An accredited design toolkit – so clients know what they are buying, get a degree of predictability in method and thus reduces overall risk of the purchase of design. Makes it easier for us to sell it. Something like what architects have evolved.
  2. A route map that takes the reader from the steps: “what could we do”, “what should we do”, to “what can we do”, “what will we do”, with a parallel stream of “how should we do it”. Adopting strategic design into an organisation needs to be pitched as a bit of an adventure as it changes the way the organisation works – as evidenced by the Roca case study we were presented with by Raymond Turner, which echoed my own experience with my own clients.
  3. A set of tools aimed at leaders (how do I envision and engage), managers (how do I change direction and drive through) and frontline staff (how do I become a designer and keep designing) – to help each group to handle the change on their own terms. Each will face very different challenges through stages of transition
  4. A community for leaders (definitely) and managers (maybe at a later stage) to help them build understanding and confidence – hear from others, learn from their mistakes, seek advice from peers.
  5. Language, tone of voice, pitch – Confidence is the major stumbling block here. Risk is the watchword in all this – the public sector hates it, but embracing it will help it survive. The relentless pitch to these guys needs to be “innovate to save. execute to survive” – design needs to be positioned as a low cost route to considerable savings, whilst also delivering better outcomes for staff and customers. We need to be clear that this is at the heart of the Design Management offer. We also need to make sure this doesn’t devolve into a dry EU toolkit. It needs to retain all the appealing and human ‘colour’ of design – the creativitiy and inspiration – the focus on storytelling, imaginatoin and drawing that we know often mark the turning points of projects. These things need to be embedded into the output and the way it is distributed.

Finally a note of concern about the 3 year timescale. Please please please can we not wait until then to deliver a perfectly form but hopelessly out of date toolkit? Can we instead borrow from the latest in design (Lean Startup and Agile) to reach a Minimum Viable Product in the next few months. Get that basic toolkit out there in the public domain, being used by a beta group and – crucially – failing to work, so we can quickly improve it again and again. The energy in the room yesterday will lend itself well to that way of working. 

Where are all the service implementers?

I’ve had some interesting conversations with buyers of service design of late, and though all are very positive about what service design can bring, without fail all have gone on to say -“but when it comes to implementation…” This seems to be a bit of an achilles heal. Is it because service designers haven’t had the chance to flex implementation skills – plenty tell me they’re gagging to get stuck in – or is it because, as designers, they tend to get a little bored quickly once the creative bit is over? I feel like the latter is a bit of a cliche, but as an industry we need to prove our way out of this by giving some good implementation. I need to know the answer, because at some point I’m going to need some service implementers – people who are motivated by design and what it can bring to the start of the journey, but who also want to follow through over what can take months and even years.

Waitrose Delivers… sort of

I expect great things from Waitrose, so I was shocked to discover their online service feels so bolted on and un-integrated.

We keep running out of food, so my wife suggested we start getting a weekly shop delivered. I checked out the options and found out Waitrose delivered for free in my area, compared to others who charged. Yes, it’s a bit more premium, but we spend less when we plan our meals and order them online.

The job of registering on their site was laughably difficult. I build websites and design services, so I know the pitfalls, but even I was struggling. It kept telling me “YOU MUST BE REGISTERED TO USE THIS FACILITY” in large shouty capitals, but no-where did it tell me how to register. If it hadn’t pricked my professional interest, I’d have left. FAIL#1

Finally registered, I started “shopping” for groceries etc. The menu system was chaos. They mixed categories of item eg by colour, or if they had a stone in, or whether they were local or organic. And who’s to say what a “speciality vegetable” is? Apparently a sweet potato is a speciality vegetable. Hmmm. Someone needs some card sorting. FAIL#3

Once I’d finished I went through to checkout and fumbled the card details bit a couple of times, but finally submitted my order. No response – just left me hanging. I nervously clicked again, seriously wondering whether I would end up with two deliveries on my doorstep! Screen reverted to homepage and suddenly my basket was empty. I then had to find my account area to get confirmation the order had been gone through. Didn’t inspire much confidence. FAIL#4

And the delivery itself. On time, and by a lovely courteous lady, as you’d expect from a premium retailer. And the food was great – good quality, with no peculiar stand in products. But… with the bags (and my do they like bags – very small bag-to-product ratio. Hoping they’ll take em back!) came a cardboard pack of “welcome” material. In it were four (!?!) copies of the same waitrose entertaining brochure, a discount voucher for my first shop (erm – this WAS my first shop), two copies of the waitrose food magazine (which is alright if I’m really bored, but two copies???!!). What was all this stuff? What was it supposed to add? FAIL#5

The welcome letter on the front had a 5 point “promise” – all of them related to “delivery”. That’s fine waitrose. But you need to take a look at Ocado (if you’re still talking to them that is). Their promise is about “service”. They recognise that you can’t just bolt a digital interface onto your store, buy some vans and away you go. Digital opens up loads of opportunities to deliver your brand experience in novel and engaging ways. Ocado’s iPhone app is a great example, but only because it’s tied into a properly designed service.

Unfortunately, your WaitroseDeliver service feels like a jumbled mix of services. Like your digital team, print team, store team and deliver drivers all thrashed it out in a couple of days.

The major danger from all this is that you probably think that doing sexy online shopping is a must have addition to your modern brand. But actually it’s currently damaging your brand. You should be proud that I have high expectations of your service. You’ve never failed on that brand promise before. But this experience has left me wondering what’s going on. It’s left me concerned that digital is doing you more harm than good. It’s left me worrying that your competition gets it, but you don’t.

But don’t fret too much. You’re not alone. If you’d like my professional view – take a look here.