Futureheads

FFS Phil Clarke

Rohan Maheswaran

Rohan Maheswaran

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I spend my days working with people who are making waves in the world of technology, and I'm always interested in exploring what motivates and inspires these people in their work.

To that end, a few months ago, we launched FFS. Otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell. We aim to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they've learnt along the way.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

For this edition of FFS, we're joined by award-winning Creative and Digital Director Phil Clarke.

What’s the story of your career so far?

I had to check this, but I've just celebrated my 20th anniversary of working in digital, with a few years prior to that working in more traditional design, but I was hooked as soon as I understood the immediate and dynamic possibilities of what digital can achieve.

I set up an agency with a client in 2000, with the aim of creating a full-service agency. The full-service thing didn't really work out - we quickly realised that digital was where we needed to focus, and built a team working across a few sectors. 

One sector I've always had a passion for is education and learning - from creating Training DVDs, through DHTML (remember that term?) sites, Flash games and onto more pure play digital solutions, it's something that I've always felt comfortable with.

In 2006 I joined EdComs, a leading Educational Marketing agency and set about building the digital offer - working with some amazingly talented people to create national and international programmes that supported educational programmes for corporates, charities and Government. 

Having a foot in both tech and creative, I was drawn to the wider product solution end of the process - articulating the issue, working across teams and with clients to solve this and moving into production. Harnessing the germ of the idea and taking that into a prototype is what I enjoy most, and where I add the most value. 

So that's what I do now - I work with organisations of all sizes to help them solve creative and digital problems.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

Get out there and do it. Don't worry about what people think of you and put the idea out there. In my early career, I think I sat on my hands and kept quiet too much. My approach was to ask questions, absorb and then I'd follow up at a later stage. Whilst this promotes a man of mystery mystique, it also makes the process more protracted and less collaborative. Listen yes. Understand yes. But contribute in the moment - just be brave and say it.

Secondly, and slightly related to this is to punch above your weight. Access to networks where awesome people are talking about and sharing their work is relatively easy to get, and generally, people really love talking about their work. Strike up conversations, learn from your peers and those producing great work - you'll resonate with some and develop lifelong partnerships.

What do you love most about what you do?

Making stuff that solves problems and working with brilliant people. I love the notion that what we get to do every day is creating things from nothing. Get a few great people in a room together and you can solve some of the most challenging issues, or create some amazingly rewarding experiences for users. Working in Education and Learning simply amplifies this - the outcome is that you're improving someone's life chances, whether that's by helping a young person in a school understand a complex scientific issue by creating accessible resources, helping their teacher by providing easy to use and helpful tools, or helping an employee of an organisation realise their potential through the use of assessment tools - it's rewarding work.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

Keep it simple. That may fly in the face of some of the complex projects I've worked on, but of all the many things I've learned, this is the one that was hardest to learn. There are many other lessons that came more naturally - be open and honest, be humble, and even being brave as described above, but keeping it simple can be perversely hard to achieve. It can, however, have a transformative effect.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?

Staying focussed on the user in a meaningful way. I sometimes fear that the pursuit of technical advancement sometimes is misaligned with the need for it. That's a particularly luddite thing to say, and I am loving the explosion in AI, Machine Learning, Voice synthesis, Blockchain and every other buzz technology that we all read about every day, but the old school designer in me wants the need to drive (or at least match) the tool.

I'm a strong believer that tech can drive behaviour change, and this is being managed really well by some organisations - the user and their needs are at the heart of progress, but sometimes this can be an afterthought, and slightly shoe-horned into the roadmap. We need to keep this front and centre as our digital experiences grow beyond simply screens.

A little bit about Phil

Phil is an award-winning Creative and Digital Director, helping businesses to understand the challenges they are facing and how Digital can help overcome them. He's an advocate of using technology for good, and is using his recent focus on Education and Learning with its user-centric focus, multiple stakeholders and unique needs to inform strategies across many sectors.  

You can connect with Phil via LinkedIn or his website 

Want to take part in our FFS series - or fancy a chat about the state of tech? Say hello at rohan@wearefutureheads.co.uk.