The Snake That Ate Itself – The Evolving Role of The Designer

4 10 2011

Design Thinkers - London Service Design Party

I recently helped to organise the London Service Design Unconference and Party as an event within London Design Festival 2011. The event was a great success, with over 100 people involved in the world of Service Design participating in either the unconference, the party, or both. The event drew people from across Europe and as far afield as Brazil, and it stimulated ideas, discussions, and collaborations about what service design is, and what it might be in future.

During the unconference session I joined a really interesting group that spent a few hours developing a future vision of what Service Design might look like in 2021. With participants from UK, Sweden, Spain, Germany, and USA, and with a variety of service design experience, this eclectic group mapped out how the role of the designer had begun, where we are now, and where we need to be positioned in 10 years time.

It quickly became apparent during our conversation that while the role of the designer has changed during the ages, it has always focused on providing inspiration and creative linkages between the needs of society (the market), individuals (the user), and technology (of the time). We identified how the earliest designers were the skilled craftsmen using hand-tools to produce things for their community; how this developed into the industrial age when the designers role moved to machinery, automation  and mass production processes; through post-war consumerism when an excess of production capacity meant that advertising and graphic design developed to help sell products and fill production capacity; and more latterly with the outsourcing of manufacturing from west to the east and the consequential rise of the service economy within the internet age.

My group visualised our thoughts within a flip-chart drawing shown on the right (click on this to get a larger version).

The diagram shows how we realised that the number of designers has multiplied from the 1,000’s in zero B.C. to many billions in 2021, driven by dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a desire for greater efficiency and effectiveness e.g. via time-saving. In future we expect everyone to become a designer, asking questions and integrating needs, co-creating and collaborating in large-scale personalisation of products and services. We envisage that this opens up a global market, and will all be facilitated and empowered via emerging technologies based on the internet i.e. personal mobile devices, networks, cloud computing, etc. It will be much more complex than today.

In summary we were inspired by the image of “The Snake That Ate Itself”. This symbolises the ever-changing role of the designer. A role that has evolved as the needs of society and the individual has developed, and embracing the latest technology of the period as an enabler. We need to continue to evolve as Business and Service Designers, operating globally, within growing networks, in collaboration across the public, private and third sectors, and always involving the end-user in co-creating the increasingly efficient, effective, and personal products and services of the future.

Contact me if you would like to know more about our Business and Service Design capabilities, our tools and methodologies, our insight, our networks, and how we can help you design for the future…

James Rock – MD and Chief Business & Service Designer, CULTIVAR Consulting

 

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Coworking – Independence, Collaboration, Community…

7 04 2011

Photo by Luc Legay, Paris, France

In my last post about the recent Intersections 2011 conference I mentioned some of the emerging global issues in society and business that are creating a new tipping point in our world. In response, our society and our world of work is changing. As our workforce matures and Baby-Boomers and Generation X are replaced by Generation Y (the ‘Millennial Generation’) it is becoming apparent that the straight-line thinking style of the industrial era is losing relevance. We are moving into the age of networks, enabled by rapid growth in global communication technology, mobile computing, etc, and fostered by the team-based and collaborative attitudes of this generation. This trend will accelerate as Generation Z (the ‘Net Generation’) who have grown up as ‘Digital Natives’ and who value their independence fiercely, begin to move into employment.

Within this generational shift we have moved from the concept of ‘a job for life’ through ‘a career for life’ and into ‘portfolio careers’. The economic crisis has resulted in massive unemployment, particularly within our younger generations, and recent public sector job cuts will soon add to our jobless figures. Whilst the economy remains stagnant a key societal response seems to be a renewed focus on entrepreneurialism where individuals are creating jobs rather than finding jobs, and governments are supporting this with programmes that encourage new businesses – like Startup Britain.

Over the last few years this shift in our type of employment has been accompanied by a shift in where we work too. Home working has risen steadily, and there has been a dramatic rise in coffee shop culture and the availability of free public WiFi networks. As a result we now see many more independent people working away on laptop computers wherever we go. The public sector is now starting to encourage this way of working too, as a way of reducing office space and cutting costs. Adopters of this lifestyle are quick to point out the benefits that this new-found flexibility in working offers them, such as less travel. However, after a short honeymoon period, they often begin to realise there are down-sides too, such as loneliness and lack of support, and this is driving a new and rapidly growing trend of Coworking as a modern style of working based upon flexibility, low space costs, and shared values including independence, collaboration and community.

Deskmag – a blog about coworking – recently completed a global coworking survey examining this trend. Over 660 participants from coworking locations across 24 countries responded to a questionnaire about why they like coworking, where they cowork, what they like and dislike, etc. The full results of this survey are documented in a series of blog posts starting with this one: Deskmag – The Coworking Magazine – Why Coworkers like their Coworking Spaces

It seems that the number of Coworking locations has roughly doubled year on year – and by end of 2011 there are expected to be more than 1000 coworking locations across the world, so it seems to be a successful concept. I began working out of a coworking facility in Birmingham about 12 months ago. Moseley Exchange used to be a BT telephone exchange – but now its been converted into a modern open plan office where members can meet, work, learn and exchange ideas. Its a place where collaboration and innovation go hand in hand and where 50+ interesting people and businesses work from. The culture is one of being independently minded, but collaborative at heart. The centre is managed as a social enterprise designed to create jobs and wealth and help to regenerate the local economy – and in this respect it seems to be a big success story.

Moseley Exchange - A successful example of Coworking in Birmingham, UK.

There is a wide mixture of business types based here including Architects, Designers, Film/TV and Radio Producers, Marketing Consultants, Programmers, Trainers, Arts Companies, etc. The benefits are many and there is a lot of interaction going on, working together with clients, assisting each other with specialist advice, passing opportunities and leads to others, networking, and socialising. Its like being in a larger corporate office but without the constraints. There is now an ‘International Coworking Visa’ scheme that allows members in Birmingham free use of similar offices in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai and in nearly 200 other global locations. There are growing links across this wider network, and over 100 people recently attended a coworking ‘unconference’ at SXSW in Austin, Texas, where discussions included how to develop the global network further for the benefit of all participants. Big corporations are starting to realise that coworking offers opportunities for them too, including greater creativity and innovation within their employees. So expect to see more coworking locations popping up near you, and I suggest you might like to try them out sometime. Every coworking location I know of is more than happy for guests to drop in.

Contact me if you would like to know more about coworking and how you can find one close to you or even set one up yourself!

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer, CULTIVAR Consulting






Customer Experience Matters…

17 11 2010

You can also get an audio version of this podcast here: Listen!

Increasingly companies are not just offering customers products, but a combination of product AND service. Even for those mainly selling products, the customer purchase experience is so important that companies like Apple, Nike, Adidas, AGA, Bose, and Bang & Olufsen are taking the lead by setting up their own stores. They want to connect with their end users and have more control within the overall customer experience. And after-sales service is a further key component of the overall package for many companies such as car and motor-cycle manufacturers, and for electronics/white/brown goods producers.

But whilst product development is usually carried out by dedicated R&D teams, service development is often ignored, or left to distribution partners. This ignores the fact that meeting ever increasing customer expectations is a key aspect of competitive differentiation, and is vital to both customer retention and generating word-of-mouth referrals.

Traditional service related organisations such as banks and restaurants are re-inventing how they deliver as the basis for retaining customers and winning new ones. And those within the public sector are beginning to wake up too. We now understand that there is a need to radically transform how we deliver public services because our economy cannot support the current cost of them. But no-one wants to pay less for a lower-quality service, so the exam question is :-

“how can we deliver a better quality service at lower cost?”

So Service Design is increasingly important to ALL organisations. Customer experience REALLY matters. Looking forward 10 years, meeting the needs of customers will only be delivered by radical change and re-inventing how service is delivered. For example, both Mercedes Benz and BMW are currently investing heavily to develop business models that rent vehicles to users by the hour instead of selling them a new car every 3-4 years. For more about this see this Economist report about Car2Go.

Is your organisation considering this? Will your next 5 year strategy embrace emerging technology and social trends to define how you will deliver a better customer experience than your competitors? Will it show how Authentic your business is? Will it embrace design-thinking as a way of engaging end-users? If not then perhaps it should?

If you would like to discuss how Cultivar can help you to develop and implement your own customer experience strategy then please get in touch.

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer





Room for inspiration?

14 05 2010

In my last post I wrote about the importance of work space in providing a work environment that positively encourages employees to be creative, innovative, motivated and happy. I would like to apply this thinking to the future of UK government.

Whilst much of the policy debate in the recent UK election focused on change for the future, both the Conservative party and Liberal Democrat party tried to engage voters with their vision of “what might be” if they were elected. In contrast to this however, the Labour party seemed to focus on the past rather than trying to paint a vision of the future.  Their key message was often “see what we have achieved in the past – so trust us in future” and, as we now know, this failed to engage the electorate and Labour lost heavily.  Was this surprising? Not for me… If you look at this set of incredible photos taken by Guardian photographer Martin Argles you can begin to understand why the Labour leadership seem stuck in the past: –

Gordon Brown – The last hours in Number 10

Isn’t it easy to see why the team using this office aren’t looking forward? Do these offices inspire you? No? So why would they inspire anyone to think creatively about the future? And what about their other work environment – the House of Commons? Lets take a look inside: –

We can get a sense of history from these surroundings, rich in heritage as they are. But do they inspire creativity? And do they foster the collaborative working environment that all parties say is important to deliver policies that will turn around the country following the recent economic crisis? How about the adversarial layout seen here – the “opposition” benches that are designed to position parties facing each other, and which we so often see bristling with hostile MP’s, and with the “Front Benches” full of big hitters.

As I think about the challenges ahead I wonder if these work environments support or hinder new ideas, new collaboration, and a fresh start for UK politics?  If you look at other coalition governments they operate in the round, and in modern buildings – see below for some examples: –

Inside the Welsh Assembly

Inside the Scottish Assembly

Inside the German Parliament

So will our new UK Government remain stuck in the past? Or will they be able to overcome the inertia of their surroundings? Will the Welsh, Scottish and German parilaments be more progressive with their modern, efficient, comfortable and inspirational buildings? What do you think? – why not post a comment to let us know….

Contact me for more information about how we can help bring design thinking, creativity and innovation to your business…

James Rock – MD & Chief Business Designer – CULTIVAR Consulting