Tag Archives: digital

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…


Outsourcing my life

Between them, google and apple serve up big chunks of my life. And not just the products they offer – calendars, email, apps etc – it’s the string of products that I’m talking about. Large parts of my memory are now outsourced to my iPhone, mac and google account. Pew Internet are worrying about this, but as their latest research suggests, most people think it’s a good thing. http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1499/google-does-it-make-us-stupid-experts-stakeholders-mostly-say-no

I’m less certain. My reading habits have suffered as I seek bitesize chunks of info – sacrificing depth for breadth. I’m a great believer on “sleeping on things”, but that doesn’t work when the things are on machines. Others argue that you outsource the small stuff, making room for your brain to work on the big stuff, but my efforts to segment like this have been difficult, hampered by an overall erosion of deeper thinking. I just have less time to deep think. Emails, podcasts, music – there’s always more to take in, to fill the gap made by the stuff youve outsourced, and the “in between moments” dissapear as a result. These are the day dream moments when the subconscious gets to work on the deep and broad problems. Without it things feel a whole lot more erratic.

But this is the model for technology. It’s sold on how it makes life easier, freeing up leisure time (where’s the 3 day week Tomorrow’s World promised us with the advent of the PC?!) – but it just makes space for more. My blackberry doesn’t free me from the office, it let’s the office flood into my life (though I’m strict about not letting it).

Am I comfortable outsourcing my life to such a ravenous beast? What’s the advantage if it’s just more information? The answer seems to me to be filters. I need better filters so small stuff is dealt with systematically, so I see only what’s really relevant, so outsourcing means deeper time on the stuff that matters. Intelligent filters. That or ludditism, or stupidity, or whatever.

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.