We’ve partnered with ProtoPie, the future of interactive product design, to help you navigate through uncertainty and overcome the challenges today’s unprecedented conditions have brought to the industry. Join us for Season 2 – Designing for a new level of uncertainty.
Kieron Leppard shares his experience working with different clients during the pandemic, talks about the challenges they’re facing and gives his point of view on Design Thinking and how designers can help make change rather than just being part of it.
He also highlights the accelerated importance of Society Centered Design” and how this should be part of everything designers and organisations are delivering during this time. Kieron believes Design Thinking is still the right methodology to deliver value, but he encourages Designers to focus on real solutions rather than just deliverables.
Speculative design processes and constant prototyping and testing are some of the techniques that Kieron thinks Designers should keep utilising in order to respond to this new level of uncertainty.
About our guest
Kieron is the Vice President Experience Design at HUGE. Apart from juggling family during two lockdowns in the UK, Kieron has also been helping his clients respond quickly to their digital needs.
Kieron is an Interaction Designer at heart.This means he designs how people interact with brands, products, services and experiences to get something done. How they look, how they behave, how they feel. He is always. He always gives a fresh perspective on design and provides tangible and practical advice.
What you’ll learn
- How has Covid-19 impacted what businesses are asking from designers
- How can designers help clients navigate this new level of uncertainty
- What can designers do to help companies unlock existing value rather than looking for new products or services
- What is society centered design and how do you apply it
- How can designers help with change and not just to be part of it
- Is our responsibility as designers to help define the new normal
Chris: I am Chris Mears
Carla: and I am Carla Lindarte
Chris: We are two UX designers
Carla: and we hate jargon. So we are here to help you untangle the world of design
Chris: Cut through the crap and talk about what really matters
Carla: Yes, solving people’s problems.
Chris: Welcome to Design Untangled.
Chris: Hello everyone. We are here today to chat to one of our very special guests. Kieran Leppard, who is vice-president of Experience Design at HUGE. How are you doing Kieran?
Kieran: I am doing very well, thank you. How are you both?
Chris: Yeah, good thanks.
Carla: Hello. I am here as well. You forgot to talk about me Chris.
Chris: Sorry. Hello Carla, you are there as well.
Chris: Always lurking. So yeah, I guess before we get started, let’s cover the obvious question which is just about lockdown and how are you coping generally really?
Kieran: It has been a proverbial sort of rollercoaster of up and downs. It has been brilliant in some aspects in that I have probably seen my children more in the last six months than I probably did in the preceding five years, but I have also seen my children more than I usually do for the last six months so that has also been a challenge. I think we adjusted pretty well at HUGE because we have been kind of fully able to work from- asynchronously because a lot of our clients demand that we do that.
We have a lot of clients around the world. So, although culturally it has been a challenge to not be together in certain moments, I think we probably done about as good as we can and hopefully I think some of the stuff that we have learned from it about when we do have to be together and when we don’t. We should be able to take forward into whatever happens after this, maybe next lockdown or lockdown after that when we start to get back to normal.
Carla: Yeah, can imagine being really, really challenging for you guys and have you seen any particular kind of trends in terms of what your clients are asking for during the pandemic?
Kieran: At the start I think, you know it definitely came in phases. I think when everything started to shut down first of all, there was kind of a- everything just stopped. So, like project contracts kind of stopped. That kind of thing and we sort of almost stopped overnight and then suddenly things started to pick up a bit again as I think people were working out what it was, you know, they were going to make a bit.
You know we try to do things like proactively just to reach out, talk about how we could help, information we can provide, research that we actually did, proprietary research we did at HUGE but a lot of our clients that- they just needed to focus on like keeping people in their jobs, keeping the boat afloat. You know we had some clients that- you know they were heavily invested in bricks-and-mortar retail that, you know, their whole revenue fell off overnight and that was very very challenging but we had some other clients that were fully virtualized or digital first however you want to kind of talk- however you position it and you know they kept going, but certainly with a more cautious- yeah- outlook of what was happening.
I think what we started to see a little bit more now is that the work started to pick up again for us specifically and that is good. That means I think that people are just accepting now that- the mode that we are in and the way we are going to work is what it is going to be I would say for at least the medium term and so I think it is comforting to know that- you know we have had new briefs coming in, RFPs, just clients asking for support again.
The bigger change I would probably say is a lot of the work has a near to mid-term focus. So you know typically at HUGE, we are trying to look at like defining new categories and opening up new products and services that can create a lot of value. I would say that the most of our clients sort of the horizons have come a bit closer in. So how can we start to leverage things that they already have or how can we just start to move the needle a little bit with things that they already got in place rather than potentially pushing out much further.
That is not to say all of our clients are doing that but I would say you know good old 80/20 rule. 80% of people are more in that mindset but there are other people who are seeing it as an opportunity to either change the way that their business operates, going more digital first or just seeing it as an opportunity to just keep doing what they were doing because actually- potentially they have got more customers or they growing a lot quicker because of that huge shift to digital that happened.
Carla: Yeah, can imagine and is there more like, you know, tactical fixes to websites or like quick development of apps or that kind of stuff that you seeing or?
Kieran: Yeah, I would say speed, quick wins, those types of- you know- this year, as soon as possible, those types of phrases are certainly common but they were always common, right. I think the- that we are having a lot more sort of discussions around conversions, sort of optimization and I don’t think that sort of just selling to people, just here is something that we have got how do we optimize that to be the very best thing that it can be for both users and the business with what we have got. This is maybe building up new capabilities on their services.
Chris: Yeah, so I guess following on from that a little bit, I mean some of the solutions will be to fundamentally kind of change the way some of these clients actually do business and as you mention that is kind of the longer term thing. A client still having that in the back of their mind so that can be coming down the road or is it very much focused on, you know, how are we going to survive the next month or two.
Kieran: Yeah, I don’t think that ever goes away right. Every- you know, people always say is like, we don’t want to do this right now but we are still going to do that thing. So, I think, you know people understand this is hopefully just a moment and that we are going to get back to a place where they were going- you know- the goals that used to be there or the objectives are going to come back again or the things they wanted to achieve, it just seems to be like I think in the- yeah- even the- even the work thing- is looking still a bit further out that 20% I mentioned, you know, it is just in a more challenging commercial environment.
Every dollar counts, right and people are losing their jobs in different areas and lots of different places, people are cutting back, you know, there is a lot of focus on making sure that when we propose any piece of work or a contract or proposal that we are really focus on being as lean as we can and making sure we create as much value and as much impact as possible.
Chris: So, what kind of things are you helping with that kind of process? So, clients are coming to you with these sort of time critical projects I suppose, how are you getting those off the ground as quickly as possible and delivering that value as quickly as possible?
Kieran: Yes, so we are running a lot of like co-creation and workshop sessions just online using tools like [MURO?] for example. Using some of the techniques that we potentially used before in person, if you want to call them that sort of work in session but applying those into tools where actually like it is all about collaborating. In fact, in some ways we collaborate with our clients now more than we used to.
You not sort of building up to this like four hour one day- two day workshop where you all come together and people fly in. You can just constantly kind of work together much more regularly or asynchronously which has been kind of like pretty powerful and you know some of these tools, they don’t let you add too much branding to them, right, so you not wasting too much time on like getting stuff into your brand design or toolkit, it is just about getting the information down which for some of the works at design agencies sometimes quite hard because you know, we have a lot of pride in our brand and craft and details that actually would make kind of more products sort of hat on- I am like well actually we focusing on the value which is the words and the content that goes in it, not focusing too much on the wrapper.
So that has been really good and that is why I think, you know, just making sure as well that we apply our learnings that we have from working with a lot of clients in a lot of different sectors and a lot of different verticals to very quickly help people close the gaps. We are seeing a lot of people for example if they had a weak or non-existent e-com offering that is something that they want to accelerate quite quickly. That is probably the most obvious and most frequent requests because it is just a way to get revenue back into a business potentially where there was no revenue stream before.
Carla: Yeah, I can imagine that- I mean obviously they are trying to unlock existing value, like trying to- as you mentioned before- like you know, lots of optimization work and you know stuff like that that is going to help them operate better digitally but how can you- because obviously based on my experience as well doing that kind of work could be a little bit tactical and potentially a little bit boring for designers. How do you keep your team motivated across these kind of more tactical projects and you know with the pace that they need to actually go for?
Kieran: Yeah, I think we have- still apply a lot of sort of design theory and user-centric sort of thinking to it, right. So, we have been running like maybe what many one or two weeks sort of discovery phases where we still try and do rapid user research, we are looking out into the landscape to look for inspiration either from direct competitors or people out of category.
We still talking to the brands and the business owners to try and understand what it is uniquely they have to tell or that they have to give as part of a value exchange. We are still doing that in a mini way. Then we are starting up some pretty nice multi-disciplinary teams that would consist of- to do that researches, data scientists, content writers, designers, UXs- like putting in strategists and putting those people together and might just say listen, you got an opportunity here to really help people and to help the business by providing that service or product in a new way and you know- I- me personally, I kind of geek out on data a little bit and I think when you are getting fast [iterations?] loops into a process that is hard but you are able to kind of be like, we did that change and this thing happened, we learned this and that either worked or it did not and I think for some designers, maybe not all, but I think that is quite a fulfilling thing to see that your design is actually being used, liked potentially, hopefully.
Carla: Yeah and is actually going live as well because-
Chris: So, are you finding yourself having to rely because of the pace of work a lot more on quan- feedback and data rather than qualitative stuff because as we know it is a lot more difficult to get to speak to actual users and you know, sit down and do a full on research session with them so, yeah, is data becoming more of a priority would you say in terms of making design decisions?
Kieran: Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, what we are trying to do is probably run more quicker iterations using data and then obviously slightly slower on using research but trying to get a blended view between qual and quant always. It is, yeah- It is not easy- but you know, [prime?] thing is actually recruiting people and that is quite icky because we have to kind of do it all online so I think even the recruiters- sorry the participants are even a bit more used to it now.
So that has helped us in some ways and then just trying to make sure as a team we all kind of learn and share, not just across the same accounts but different projects to sort of understand so these guys over there made the change that did that for their customers maybe we could try that quite quickly and kind of see if that works and try and get- you know we had someone working in a work- a workspace provider and now we got a team working on a B2B software market.
They are not the same category at all but a lot of them both lead up to an in-person like lead gen form or call to a call center, so there is learnings you can take from either one of those about how to create streamline forms, about how to create, you know, craft micro copy that leads to higher conversions, like those principles exist across both even if the two categories are completely different.
Chris: So, in terms of the process and how it has had to adapt we spoke a bit- there about how research has changed a little bit. Do you think design thinking is sort of the [defacto?] process that we use to design products and services- do you think that is still fit for purpose during this particular time we are in or do you think it has had to change or have other processes sort of emerge as a result of it?
Kieran: Yeah, I mean, I still believe the design thinking process, right. I think foundationally that process has not really changed. You know, 50 to 70 years right because it is still about understanding a problem space, understanding the people that are kind of struggling with that problem, creating solutions potentially multiple solutions, testing them and then integrating right. You know- ultimately that design process has not changed that much. I do think though that, you know, maybe some of the- I guess some- sometimes I sort of seem to know them more focused in kind of getting the deliverable into their portfolio so I want to do a service blueprint and my kind of challenge to that always is like why do you want to do a service blueprint, what is the outcome of that deliverable in order to make whatever gets put into some pixels at the end or maybe not more effective.
So I do see that a lot in portfolios where people are more- and when I chat to people who say I want to do this, I am like what it is you really want to do is you want to be able to ship a product more quickly to someone that gets feedback from it. You don’t want to create an asset but you know people want assets in their portfolios as well. So I do think that [all?] is right, I do sometimes think that maybe some of the- the fluffier sort of stuff that surrounds design thinking and the slight different forks of the same tools and the same processes maybe it just pulling back a bit more to what really matters and doing that as quickly as possible. I do think speed is the big differentiator at the moment.
Carla: It- I mean is that- you raise a very, very like interesting point. Something I always said to, you know, people in teams when I was in agency world and it is like, you don’t need deliverables you just need solutions and I think this is an opportunity as you said to kind of like make our work as designers a bit more real, you know, because as you said like a service- service on blueprint like beautiful, deliverable but sometimes it just did not do anything, did not change an organization so it is interesting how you see that now is more like realistic, okay go there, make those changes, you know, look at the data, etc.
So what kind of advice you can give designers in terms of data and data analysis because, you know, it is something that obviously we have been talking about it but it is kind of being accelerated based on our conversations and based on what is happening in the world?
Kieran: Yeah, I mean, for me like data is just another tool, right, for any designer to use, right. It is no different to user research. It is no different to putting out a prototype. It is just another thing that you can use to either a- help you understand the problem space a bit better or b- help you design solutions better. So, you know there are plenty of good free courses out there that you can take just to kind of like upskill yourself very quickly- I mean if you know you are working within a business that is using G-A then I would recommend that you just go and train yourself up as much as possible to understand how G-A works, what the sort of core metrics are that you want to record, what the core metrics are that your business cares about and you know, know enough to be dangerous, right, in the nicest possible way because it is not something that is going to go away and I don’t- I like designers that have really balanced [t-shaped] mindsets that they can bring in different parts when it is needed. They are not like, oh I just do user research I need a data person just to do that
Carla: Yeah, yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Going back to the- the topic of the pandemic and how important, you know, design could be in the, you know, in this new kind of approach to the world and how we see the world. I was just- I want to refer back to the- not back- I want to refer to the medium [poser?] you recently wrote called, Designer [won’t?] grow up, which I thought it was really interesting where you mentioned- we actually- we could put it in the episode notes so people can have a loo- have a read.
It is very interesting you talk about society center design, so can you explain a little bit what that is and how can you apply that as a designer and in, you know, today’s situation.
Kieran: Yeah, I mean, so what brought on me writing that article was just like many of us sort of sitting at home and suddenly thinking all this stuff I used to be focused on around like OKRs and business goals and metrics suddenly really did not matter anymore when there is this global pandemic that was in place and I started to see lots of people just talking about, you know, designing for society as kind of the community so rather than focusing on just individuals which user centered design did a lot, human center design focusing on whole communities for the collective benefit of a lot of people.
So if you think about sort of what’s happening at the moment, you know, there is no- it is just not one country that is affected by covid, it is the entire planet, right. It is not just one community within the UK or within the country. It is entire connected communities across an entire region or entire countries. So really, society sense of design was really about trying to design a much broader context. Now, much of that work is never going to do in an agency setting and probably not within the business setting but it was interesting to me to sort of see how lots of designers were talking about it and that is something that I kind of just thought was like really powerful to me, maybe growing up in the UK where we do have some like national social institutions, but really just thinking about as a designer- not just thinking about the individuals within the business that use the product or service I provide but what about the environment and the wider community in which they work and operate.
Chris: Yeah, it was interesting, that whole community thing, because as I am sure many people experienced during the first lockdown, there was a much bigger sense of community just in our- our local areas, people helping each other out and all this sort of stuff like I had seen people living like two doors down from me for the first time and all that stuff. So it is interesting to see how that has filtered through to the design approach as well.
I am interested to hear your thoughts actually like, why did it take a pandemic for us to be thinking about this in the first place? Do you think that’s actually a failure of design itself or maybe the organizations that we are operating in the- it is only just sort of come on our radar, oh that we should actually probably design things that don’t fuck up the world.
Kieran: Yeah, I think it is just- I think it is a combination of things, the pandemic was maybe just the thing that just pushed things over the edge but there is probably also more things from just sort of the economy but also through to sort politics and the environment for things that really just started to connect together and that was kind of the thing that maybe pushed people over, that maybe made you think this is too much kind of coming along now to kind of be ignored and so you know I think when people really have that sort of world view and it was about people coming together and you could not ignore the people clapping outside your house every Thursday at 8pm. That was a really powerful thing and I just think for most people it was a bit of a wake up. So, if it wasn’t like, you know, industrialized farming from five years ago or the consumption of cow meat, which is one thing that shocked me. I did not- someone told me recently that nearly I think it is 50 percent of the biomass on Earth is now like processed meat, which is just crazy.
Chris: Oh God, to think I might be the other 50 percent
Kieran: -after covid. Yeah, so that for me, that was just sort of like you know, it was just a bit of a little wake up call and just felt like writing something to sort of reflect it and I kind of read this book by, I can’t remember the chap’s name now. [inaudible 20:10] around sort of the fact that sort of design processes that has had they been designed, the philosophy is like [partly?] there to help us design for anything but a lot of the stuff we have designed in terms of the toolkits and the processes is really focused on mostly on kind of helping businesses that need to grow or scale, right.
That is how it is mostly focused. As long as everything goes up to the top right hand corner of a chart, that is always been seen as a success but now we are looking at a system that is kind of very finite, whether that be the materials we have to put into it or just the systems that are now in place and sort of I think, you know, part of this- the challenge from this book was just the idea that it is not the tools that we have at the moment, they are going to need to change.
So we have got the right philosophy and we have got the right beliefs as designers but we need a broader toolkits and they would help us- in order to help us kind of achieve those goals that we want to.
Carla: I mean, it is a bit tricky because, you know, there is a lot of designers out there who are, you know, in the middle of an organization that is kind of going through these change, like what kind of practical advice you can give designers to not just, you know, help with the change that organizations have to go through in terms of like responding to, you know, things like a global pandemic but also how can be part of it as well?
Kieran: Yeah, so I think you know if you- perhaps a couple of years ago everything was about design ethics, right and I think after this sort of surveillance capitalism article, I can’t remember the name of the lady that wrote it but, you know, it is a lot about, you know, big corporations that are not regulated global- using our data to sort of do bad things and kind of manipulating us like design ethics committees, sort of- sort of sprung out of that and I sort of feel that there might be a newer iteration of that that starts to come out where that sort of sustainable design or design sustainability is going to have the design community looking back at their employers and starting to say, hey, listen, you need to be doing this sort of thing and I think if you look at a lot of the brands at the moment, I think they are doing a lot of social activism work, not just to sort of the Patagonia’s but there are like a lot of brands out there now that whereas they might have been socially responsible a few years ago in that they were trying to just say we are not doing anything bad.
There is now a lot of brands who are being incredibly active and using activism to attract new customers and new fans to sort of leave the planet in a better state than they have left it before and I [inaudible 22:53] Apple’s, you know, huge carbon neutral pledge but it is not just them. H&M has done something across all of their brands and you think they kind of work in fast fashion.
There are lots of brands now that are really kind of saying, actually, we want to leave the world in a better place than we left it or we found it and that is because our next generation of customers are expecting brands to operate in that way. So I think creating sort of just discussion and community and it is not just for designers, right it is for anyone that wants to, you know, do some good is going to have to like set up many communities within the places that they work.
Chris: Yeah, I am just interested to hear your thoughts because as we were discussing kind of at the start of the episode, I think when it came to crunch time, companies were immediately focused on [right?] survival. How can we get enough money to keep people employed? What tactical things can we do? How are they going to shift that mindset to thinking about these bigger issues? So even beyond just kind of doing good as a brand or being more socially responsible with some of this wider society stuff you spoke about, is it through the success of these tactical things that will give them the platform to build upon that, do you think?
Kieran: Yeah, I think from a lot of I think, you know, you can’t do everything right and I don’t think every business or brand could support every social activism sort of activity that is going on. So I think it is about businesses and brands attach themselves to something that they believe in that is potentially linked to their purpose, because then it, you know, really has a core that is kind of relevant.
I have seen like more brands looking to sort of seek- sort of be corporation status or certification, if you guys know what that is but that is about brands that sort of balance purpose with profit and so they are actively not just saying about, you know, we are kind of use everything- it is just about us making more money but they are starting to think about how the decisions that they make affects not just the users and their employees but also the communities in which they operate and also the wider planet and I think that will continue to grow.
I don’t think any forward-thinking business or brand will be able to not have a very strong social action point of view if they want to be successful going forward.
Carla: Yeah, definitely this is a core part of what everyone is doing right now, at least, you know, in small and big scale. Going back to the topic of the series, which is about designing for uncertainty, like obviously a design as we always design something that we don’t know if it is going to survive the next, you know, year or three years, sometimes weeks and we obviously use tools to be able to design thinking is one of them but what other advice you can give designers right now to help them navigate these kind of, you know, unprecedented level of uncertainty when you don’t know if, you know, you can actually go on holiday- Like I had to cancel my holiday this week because that is what I am using the example, but you can’t really know what is happening.
So how do you help consumers navigate through that uncertainty and what can designers do to actually help with that?
Kieran: Pretty big question, that one.
Carla: Yeah, exactly, because it is- I mean- it could be like something a bit more tactical, you know, that people can do even organizations, maybe just in applying design thinking to more but I just wonder, you know, what can you do in your role as a designer to actually help with that uncertainty?
Kieran: Yeah, I mean, I think one thing is about creating an environment or creating space within your teams for people to be able to kind of express solutions that might be able to help but because, you know, let’s just say to someone, here is something we want to go and sell for, you know. The power of design, they can put the power of your experience towards, you know, trying to come up with new solutions that could be like a [speculative?] design thing where we are like, you know, this is something that we expect now to happen because of what has happened with covid.
How can how can we start to try and get ahead of that? What can we do and give to our users is something that might be affecting them with how many interact with us directly but is affecting them kind of in their day to day lives.
I guess kind of an example of that might be that people are going to start to go out again, so is there something that you can do to entertain people whilst they are at home, even if you are an e-commerce brand, right and you are used to just selling to people, just giving people that escapism or engaging with them in a time that, you know, is pretty difficult at home and you know, there is a lot of people that are going to need, I think, continued help now in the winter.
You know, the first lock down, I guess, was sort of the- the lighter days. This is going to be the much darker days. I know at the start, I said that my kids could be challenging at home, but I think I would probably prefer that than being just stuck in the home on my own, which I think is probably for me as someone who thrives off social interaction, would be a lot more difficult to be on my own.
Carla: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it is absolutely right. It is kind of like, you know, elevating the- the role of designers, because that is what we knew- that is what we do, isn’t it? It is just trying to find other ways to, you know, come up with different scenarios, to prototype these scenarios, to test the scenarios and- and just hope that- so that- that is great.
Just to wrap up now and I always had this question and is there- is there any- anything that you can recommend listeners to either read- know you mentioned a book that-
Kieran: Oh yeah, so the book, I remember the name of it, it is Rethinking, Design, Thinking-
Carla: Rethinking, Design, Thinking-
Kieran: -by JK Van Patter. There is some really great diagrams and pictures in there and just like things that show you the gap between design philosophy and design methodology that need to be closed. I think also there is just some really interesting stuff happening with- just some of the big brand work like Nike a few years back release the circular design manifesto.
Gucci recently released their equilibrium one. I can’t remember the name of H&M’s but there is like a- I am really interested in circular design and just, you know, circular supply chains in the [inaudible 29:14] economy. I think, you know, keeping abreast of what is happening there will be really important because I will- I think I start to see a lot more of that coming into the design realm and thinking in a circular fashion.
Chris: For those that don’t know what that is, could you explain circular economy a little bit?
Kieran: Yeah, so I guess traditionally when we designed the new supply chain, we just thought about it going one way. So, we didn’t care about waste or leakage along that. So, let’s just take an old classic manufacturing example, I produce a bottle right out of plastic, the bottle gets filled up with liquid, someone consumes that liquid and then obviously we throw away that plastic.
Then obviously we went into sort of the recycling sort of community where we started trying to- start to recycle those things but there is still a lot of wastage, right, because they take natural resources that they can never quite get back to exactly as they are. The circular economy just tries to create more and more of those recycling loops throughout the process.
So, it is either kind of recycle, reuse or repair. So, as much as possible, you know, you want to try and keep those natural reserv- resources within the economy before they actually flush out into landfill and they kind of can’t be used again. You know, if you just look at some of the big e-commerce sites now that are doing trade-ins for leather and fight for leather goods and [farfetched?] released theirs about a year ago.
I think it was Harvey Nichols or Liberty who was doing a luxury goods restoration service. So there is lots of brands now that are trying to do things and businesses that are trying to do things, that try and keep things alive, let’s call it that way, or keep them useful for longer. You know, typically people say, you know, buy- buy less, buy better, you know, use more, kind of thing is a bit of a phrase. That is interesting to me that how we kind of think about that in terms of designing digital products and services.
Chris: Yeah, awesome. Alright-
Carla: Super interesting.
Chris: I think that is all we had so thank you very much for joining us today. I really recommend that everyone has a little read of your blog article, which will link up in the show notes and yeah, thanks again for joining us.
Carla: Thank you Kieran. It is always a pleasure to have you on our podcast.
Kieran: Alright, thank you for having me and yeah, stay happy, stay healthy.
Carla: Search and subscribe to Design Untangled using your favorite podcast app and leave us a review. Follow us on the web at designuntangled.co.uk or on twitter at Design Untangled.