For the most part of my vocation as a Designer — a maker and shaper of digital services and experiences — I’ve been given the advice to specialise; to clarify my role and what I offer.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that this advice wasn’t directed to me as an individual and for the well-being of my career. It was a favour, disguised as a suggestion so that less friction would be involved when trying to pigeon-hole me into the traditional invoice cycles and the conveyor-belt like approach applied by the industry to deliver billable results to clients.
I’m stubborn. I’m quality driven. I’m also a maker. So, these attempts were futile.
Somewhere along the way this industrial approach began to burst at the seams; businesses started to ask for more flexibility, firms started to question the quality of work that got shipped. You could say that our customers’ expectations got higher, and our traditional methods didn’t deliver.
It became more and more evident that what had worked really well for advertising and traditional design firms wasn’t applicable 1-to-1 when the medium was digital; Where a customer interacts and participates with the result. Where the delivery is something that lives on. When what you create is an experience for many more senses in many more scenarios and situations.
Along with this maturity, the… “advice” to specialise got replaced with curiosity on my thoughts on how to execute a project with fewer handoffs and more collaboration. Invigorating.
We are still very much in this maze. A growing scale of brave firms and hero clients are in the forefront to find a healthy and sustainable balance between control, fear, competence, experience, ownership, authority, innovation, guarantees, speed, flexibility etc and so on.
Thankfully, help is on the way.
In 2011, Hyper Island was about to run a 32-week pilot for a Digital Media Management program in Manchester together with Teesside University. It was designed to prepare students for a leading role in the media, creative, and digital industries.
Due to various reasons (mainly a lot to cover over a short period), the ambition was to merge the learning outcomes for design and technology into the same module.
Given my involvement, knowledge and insight into the Hyper Island methodology, in combination with my multifaceted interest with design and technology, I was asked to interpret the learning outcomes and design a learning experience which I also would facilitate.
I was given a lot of trust and a very long leash, which I gladly accepted.
A unique and almost unreal opportunity: What type of co-workers would I like to have in the future? What type of designers would I like to design?
Today, the perspective I get when writing this is giving me a sense of acrophobia, but back then it was more a matter of hitting the ground running.
The result became a module titled ‘Creative Problem Solving’. A learning experience to give the students an understanding on how to get insights into how people interact with digital products and services, their needs and experiences, and how to design them to be both effective and intuitive.
The learning was based on the methodology commonly referred to as Design Thinking, the basis being: define the problem, research for a solution, ideate with others to come up with the best options, create prototypes, choose the best solution, roll it out and learn from its success.
I’m extremely proud that my interpretation of the module caught the imagination of the director and program managers at Hyper Island and lead them to researched this further and ultimately launch an entirely new program, titled Digital Experience Design.
It’s unfortunate that the very type of designer the industry tried to suffocate, is today the type that is very much sought after. The type they promoted, are today abandoned. I liked to believe that the very purpose of agencies were to accumulate and curate talent, not eliminate.
Given my personal experience and reflection on my career to date, it’s clear that talent curation and direction of an industry still need actors such as Hyper Island to inject oxygen into the ongoing change and evolution.
Now let’s embrace and welcome these multifaceted t-shaped designers with open arms and active ears. Let’s give them space and trust to fuel the change. Like with all great endeavours: let’s give it a leap of faith.