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FFS | What’s the biggest challenge for the digital industry?

Be Kaler Pilgrim

Be Kaler Pilgrim

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The Futureheads Five Stories (FFS) series features interviews with many of the incredible people from the digital world we speak to while we are recruiting for technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership roles. Each interviewee tells us about their careers to date, as well as tips, stories and some of the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.   

As we move towards 2019, we revisit some of our favourite answers to the question ‘What is the biggest challenge in our industry in the next year/five years?’ Here is the roundup of our seven favourite themes.

Explaining what it is

Sergey Yanovskiy, service designer and digital strategist, said that the biggest challenge in service design is still explaining what it is. “There have been many times where I’ve had to explain that service design is basically what helps you to link your customer experience with your organisational experience and improve it - and people still didn’t get it,” he said, adding that he hopes the concept will follow a similar path to that of marketing, which took many businesses a long time to comprehended.

Design becoming more central

This theme was picked up on by commentators including digital design leader Julie Kennedy. “We’re at an incredibly exciting time in our industry with design being seen as an integral part of most businesses,” she said. “The biggest challenge is in design being able to influence organisational structures and break down silos, so we aren’t building products around organisation charts, but cohesively across all customer touchpoints.”

Experience director Matt Pollitt echoed these words, adding that we should “accept that only by working together can we create stuff that is epically great.”  

Coping with infinite possibilities

Jeff Gothelf, author, speaker and executive coach, said new tech presents an infinite number of exciting options for designing user interfaces, but presents challenges as well.  “Machine learning, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, voice-activated interfaces, augmented reality may all seem like flavours of the month to some extent but their impact on digital experiences is increasing. This will put a whole new set of challenges in front of digital creatives,” he said. “…it’s limitless. How does that affect user interface design? How does it affect tone, voice and copy? How does it affect interaction models? Perhaps even more importantly, how does it affect privacy and anonymity? These are going to be the big challenges of the next ten years.” 

Meanwhile, Marie-Claude Gervais, a qualitative research strategist and diversity and inclusion expert, said increasing pressures in the research sector to work faster and cheaper, would lead to more “automation, poorer quality, and less genuinely positive innovation”. Secondly, the increasing flow of information could see some “brands and researchers drowning in masses of data from which they don’t know how to extract meaning and direction.”

There were also calls to ensure we keep humans relevant as AI systems become more prevalent. “Articulating a well-judged, compelling and nuanced case for human strengths in an era of AI-based automation,” is a key challenge, said Kevin McCullagh, founder of product strategy consultancy Plan, adding: “The challenge for designers will be to champion human strengths in an age of AI.”

Phil Clarke, creative and digital director, said we need to ensure users remain the focus. “I sometimes fear that the pursuit of technical advancement sometimes is misaligned with the need for it,” he said. “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.

Recruitment

Naturally, the FFS series has tackled the challenges we face to find enough talented people for future growth several times already.

Clare McDonald, executive creative director said we must be careful not to over-engineer our people and UX/UI teams and keep them thinking creatively. “We need to be careful to build innovative teams, not just factories of skills that bring similar results,” she said.

Clare said we need to be open to recruiting from across sectors. “Why only hire people with broadcast experience for broadcast? Why only hire financial services experience for financial services? Why only hire pharma experience for pharma?,” she said. “There has never been a more relevant time to create teams that are as customer-centric and innovative as now, and diversity of all forms can bring that into a business, from experience to approach.”

Design and product strategist Lola Oyelayo believes the industry has “never solved the problem of training, gaining experience and validating expertise within UX and that challenge will continue to haunt us.” With this in mind, she asked how we are going to best develop new skills we need to design connected and no-UI experiences. “Those on the front end of things will need to develop a more technical mindset as the ‘how it’s made’ question will directly impact what it does and how it's used,” she said.

If you’re a freelance designer the landscape has become more challenging, said Claire Durrant, who is a UX designer and ‘digital nomad’. There are more freelance UX designers and the market is becoming saturated, she said, and “Companies who now embrace UX as a part of their ongoing development (rightly so) are moving UX teams in-house, rather than splashing out on agencies.” If you’re a freelancer you’re likely to be getting paid more per hour than in-house staff, and as such, she advised, you need to think carefully about the extra value you are offering.

Finally, on the subject of recruiting standout candidates, Kate Rees, team and individual coach, said: “We need people to admit that they don’t know all of the answers and to create space for empathy, resilience and creative problem-solving. We need leaders who role model this.”

Simon Nixon, digital strategist added: “Being a customer champion of change - both internally and externally - needs a home in the boardroom and its own vertical. The champion of change will soon become the most important role in a business.”

Andrew Rolf, digital transformation adviser, said: “Organisations should focus on where and who is creating value for them. The best people aren’t always at the top of an organisation and the best people are often under-rewarded for the value they create.”

Evaluation

Companies also need to look at suitable metrics for the work they are doing, said service designer Daria Kwiatkowska. “I think we have a huge amount of work to do in terms of measuring and evaluating the value of what we do as designers,” he said. “At times, we have to balance the customer experience and business needs and constraints. And while NPS and similar simple metrics show short-term impacts, we don’t have appropriately equivalent ways of evidencing the nuanced, complex, longer-term effects of good design.”

Brands are back

Creative director James Reeve argues that businesses need to look further than the usability of products. “I feel the key challenge for those trying to make differentiated original products or services is the importance of design brand experiences that go beyond usability,” he said. “Many experiences, whilst being easy to use, are often lacking in personality and are therefore less memorable and engaging. So, whilst it’s great that defining a great user experience is at the heart the things we make, we need to ensure that we think about the brand and how this helps to define the interactions and overall experience.

Simon Nixon, digital strategist believes that many large businesses looking to develop their digital identity have a huge job on their hands. “Adapting to change and fulfilling their need to be digital brands may prove too much and we might see some well-known brands fail in their efforts here. This, coupled with the continuing need to embrace new technology from legacy systems will challenge some CTOs and CIOs,” he said. “World-class digital customer service is going to be a problem for some companies who are already struggling to fulfil it through their existing channels. Customers expect instant solutions and help especially via digital/social channels - and many businesses are simply not geared up for this.”

Digital Ethics

Peter Morville, information architect and author, said the world is waking up to the damage caused by a ‘move fast and break things’ culture, “and we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. Planning opens the door to change and invites us to consider the consequences of our actions on others. There’s never been a more important time to do so.”

This said, Karen Rivoire, chief people officer said tech must ensure it makes real change and doesn’t just ‘purpose wash’. “We need to close the gap between company purpose and business models,” she said. “Responsible technology will play a big role, but we need people to be their best selves and stand up for coherence.”

Experience director Matt Pollitt sums all this up well with his thoughts on what the above themes have in common. “Personally, I think the challenge is always the same. Technology changes rapidly and comes and goes; it's our job to figure out the best way to harness it and make it useful in everyday life - and accessible for everyone,” he said.

“For me, the challenge always lies in creating companies and environments where real change can happen, and real value is added. I have tried to stop worrying about the problems of tomorrow lately. If we all focus on making better today, then we can just enjoy the challenges that will make life interesting down the road when they turn up.”

Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at be@wearefutureheads.co.uk.