Clinton Bonner: Dave, you’ve been around a while now, lots of different clients.
David Schell: Hey, hey, hey. Hey.
Clinton: What shifts?
Clinton: Well, you know, hey. Math is math, my man. I can’t shift that.
[CATALYST INTRO MUSIC]
Clinton: Welcome to Catalyst, the Launch by NTT Data podcast. Catalyst is an ongoing discussion for digital leaders dissatisfied with the status quo, yet optimistic about what’s possible through smart technology and some great people. Today’s topic, we’re going to dive into the minds and maybe even the hearts of two experienced design leads to chat design-led everything. I’m gonna be joined in the studio today by Ash Howell. Ash is the experience director at Vectorform, where she develops new strategies and original design solutions and projects, ranging from core digital to immersive experiences over to AI. Her philosophy when approaching a new endeavor is to collaborate to push boundaries while never losing sight of what makes meaningful and incredibly useful design. Then we also have Dave Schell joining us. Dave Schell is Senior Principal Product and Experience Design at Launch by NTT Data, and he’s focused on insight-driven creative with extensive experience building brands in the digital space, informed user experiences, digital strategy and cross-platform storytelling and product experiences. These are two extremely informed and extremely experienced folks. Ash, one more thing about you, you’ve worked with Adidas. You’ve worked with Bose. You’ve worked with Jeep, and many, many more. Dave, you’re coming in with working with VW Volkswagen, AT&T and even Vail resorts. So, I’m extremely happy to have you both doing today. Ash, how you doing? Happy Friday. How you doin’, Ash?
Ash: I am doing great, thank you for having me.
Clinton: Dave, how’s your Friday, man?
David: My Friday’s going well.
Clinton: Awesome. So we’re going to be talking about experience design, what does it mean to be design-led? And so, guys. Grab a piece of paper, and I’m gonna give you five seconds, want you to write down an answer to this question. When does design begin?
Clinton: Alright. Ash, what’s your answer? When does design begin?
Clinton: (Laughs) I like it.
Ash: To elaborate on that, it’s really… a design should begin at the onset or recognition of any business or customer problem. We have the methods and way of thinking to help solve for those problems, so bring us on early.
David: Yeah, and what I’ve learned, and… my path into design is creative direction, initially, before I got into product design, so I’m a natural problem-solver, that’s what my brain wants to do. I think a lot of designers want to solve problems.
David: But what I’ve learned is that design actually starts with research. So, you know, a while back, when I started integrating a bit more with research, and then when I was on the client side, I had a pretty big UX research team, and what that taught me is actually the need to hold off on solutioning, to understand the problem more. So, you know, whether it’s foundational or whether it’s generative, you know, early, early research stuff, too, like observational research, like diary studies on… I know a lot of people probably don’t consider this design, but it is. And involving design with that… you know, designers, again, they want insights. These insights are catalysts to their thinking process. And so, again, you know, like I was mentioning with me, designers are kind of natural problem-solvers, so if you pair them with researchers or have designers that do research themselves, that early foundational stage, that generative stage, attacking topics or areas that haven’t been clearly defined or even explored, to me that’s where design starts. To Ash’s point, that’s what early means. And it’s really early, right? A lot of places say this is product strategy, or it’s maybe CX, or it’s some other areas. But having design kind of involved in that area, you’d be shocked what starts to churn in that area up there. So to me, that’s where design starts.
Ash: Yeah. And to add, I think there’s a misconception about design, right? It is more than department, it is more than moving pixels and making things look pretty. It is a way of thinking about the world, and what the world needs or could have, and we have processes and methodologies that help drive value and create solutions for those problems that go beyond the traditional idea or misconception that some may have about design.
Clinton: What I’m interested in knowing is, let’s say there are people doing that research, that front-end things, and they’re not designers. Right? They’re just researchers, they are gathering. What’s gonna be left behind there? What potentially doesn’t happen at that early onset, versus a designer who’s leading a design team doing that research? Are there some deltas there that you could flag and say, “Well, you’re probably going to miss out on something like this”?
Ash: You’re making a lot of assumptions about what’s ultimately going to drive value. Maybe you may have an understanding of a high-level business objective, or you might have, you know, a high-level understanding of what your customers may need, but until you understand the true core and details around that problem, you can’t solve for it properly, and you’re ultimately making a lot of assumptions around the end-all product solution. And that’s what I see happen pretty often, right? Is that, “Oh, I know my customer, I know what the business needs. Here’s exactly what we’re going to deliver.” And you could go embark on developing your product, reinvesting a significant amount of money, and you go to launch that product and ultimately it doesn’t hit the mark.
David: Yeah. It doesn’t necessarily mean, and I didn’t necessarily mean that designers do the research, right? Sometimes they do. But I’m a big believer in the team model skill set, where you build a team of people that go deep in different areas. So, pairing a designer up with somebody who’s great at… especially if we’re talking, like, early foundational stuff, like the observational, you know, really early stage stuff. The designer might not be involved all the time. But having them along for the ride is where you start to get triggers. And again, it’s about informing what we should build and why, as opposed to like, what Ash was talking about. A lot of times, people think design comes in after we already know what we should build. I’m saying, this starts, you know, kinda early on that front. So, you know, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything research misses without design, necessarily. I think, in fact, you know, I’ve done it a lot of places where we have either an agency that we’ve worked with, and I’m speaking from client side a little bit, that provides research, or on, you know, at the company I worked at, it was an academic company, and they had research everywhere, like PhDs and things like that. And so, there was a lot of research happening in a lot of places. But that would always come in the form of, like, a white paper, right? Which was like, you know, what are you gonna do with a white paper after this big study that was done over like, six months, nine months, you know, ethnographic research that’s done by another group. Involving design along the way… there’s just a lot of things design can do, right? They can start doing service design. They can start doing some mapping. They can kinda start doing a lot of different things. But again, it’s really critical to not jump into solutioning in that point. It’s really important just that that designer’s there, kind of along for the ride to listen and think, and then that cues up activities. That starts to cue up workshops, that starts to cue up ideation processes, that starts to cue up a lot of things.
Clinton: Yeah. It sounds a little bit like the opportunity might be that you’re missing the chance to do a few things in parallel. And then, like you said, if you’re just passing off a white paper, then that’s gotta be digested, understood, and then put into action. So, there’s probably some time sacrificed there, and maybe a bit of the intimacy of what would have been known if the designer was a little closer to it from jump street. Or just, you know, really brought in to start building out those maps.
Clinton: So, you know, one of the terms that’s out there a lot is “design-led innovation.” And I like to define words, especially for the audience, ‘cause it can mean different things to different people. So Ash, when you hear and you say to a client, “Hey, this will be a design-led project, from an innovation perspective,” how do you define that? If a client says “What do you mean by that?”
Ash: Well, I think first off, design-led does not mean design-only. The best solutions are often a result of really well-rounded teams with different perspectives. I’ll put that out there. And if you look at the word “innovation” in itself, right? Okay, you have an invention and it’s theoretical. An innovation is an invention that’s been put into practice. And in order for something to be put into practice, it involves creative, strategic and technical minds to create true innovation. So if we go back to design-led innovation, and what that means to me and how I’ve seen it, at its core it’s putting the people that you are servicing at the center of product strategy. And designers are trained to put people first. So, as you look at us and the way we think, in terms of putting people first, we truly seek to understand the needs, the pain points, the unmet needs of your business. And likewise, the same of your customers. And then we solution and ideate and generate solutions for those unmet needs and desires, and ultimately, when you are solving for unmet needs and pain points you get value as an output of what you’re innovating. And that creates a competitive advantage, it creates an increase in productivity and profitability. It can do a lot for your business and a lot for the product that you’re creating.
David: Ash, it’s like you were reading my notes with your first comment. The first thing I wrote down was that design-led can sometimes sound like it’s only design, and so I want to double down on what Ash was saying. I’m gonna speak a lot from my client-side experience. And we pushed for design-led… like, when I joined, design was deep, deep in the product channels, and we kept on kind of suggesting design-led, and that really pushed off a lot of folks, to Ash’s point, ‘cause they were like “Well, what is that, design-only? Does that mean you own the whole thing?” And it’s not. It means that design is at the table from the get-go, right? And so, again, back to the research point, back to some of those other areas. It just means that design is involved to start with. Again, like Ash mentioned, design was not just about appearances, it’s about being from the beginning. It’s kind of like… I don’t know why, but the A-Team is coming into my head.
David: I haven’t thought about the A-Team in, like, forever. But remember how, like, they all had their own little specialties, right? Back to the idea of innovation, back to the idea of strategy, back to the idea of, you know, on the client side, or big companies, or big corporations that are putting together their portfolio strategies or their overarching product strategies. It means design’s up there with them making decisions, right? That each one of those people, like the A-Team, has kind of their skill set and their little thing that they bring to the table to think about. And design will kinda come there as well too, from a leadership perspective, with their bag of tricks and the different exercises they can do, and the contributions they can bring. So, to me, design-led merely means that design is there. You know, that’s the “led” part. Gets a little confusing, but I think really what it also means is that design is there to lead with some of the exercises, some of the processes, some of the different things that we kinda know and understand. And bringing it all back to the user, right? And really, that’s what design-led means to me, is that the design leader there is helping the entire group to start with any thinking that they have to be centralized around the user, or around the customer.
Clinton: So, first time that we actually got the Catalyst podcast going, Gina and Chris were interviewing me and introducing me as a new co-host also, and we were talking about how sometimes design can be cruel, if, if you don’t have the right people at the table.
Clinton: So, it’s the same thing from another point of view. My point of view was, look, unless you’re doing green field for the sake of green field, that’s cool…
Clinton: …and it can be valuable. However, if you’re doing it with an enterprise and there’s a product strategy, or you’re trying to form a product strategy, and you’re doing design without the knowledge of the engineers or the product strategists, it could end up being quite cruel, because you might end up in a place you can’t actually go execute.
Ash: Exactly. Yeah.
Clinton: And, like, Ash, for you, you said earlier, like, theoretical versus getting down to the execution layer… like, yeah. Design could still float around in theory, but that might not be very purposeful, right?
Ash: Yeah. I think it’s also worth noting, right? That design-led innovation is extremely nonlinear. You might start off with a strategy, right, but you always have to come back to that initial strategy, and it’s continuous improvement as well, and design is the cornerstone in that continuous improvement with always validating our initial hypotheses along the way.
Clinton: And then Dave, you know, so we’re hearing the terminology more. You’ve been around a while now, lots of different clients.
Dave: Hey, hey, hey. Hey.
Clinton: What shifts?
Clinton: Well, you know, hey. With that, what shifts have you seen in the enterprise around the application or their thinking of design-led approaches?
David: Well, I think the first thing, and this started happening quite a bit ago - I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago, um… you started seeing two things, really. You started seeing design becoming part of a leadership tier within the clients. So I’m speaking of what we’re seeing from our clients, you know, that type of thing. You’re starting to see design become more of a decisionmaker, more of a stakeholder, more of a C-level position, right? Or a VP maybe to start with. It’s gonna range, in companies. But you’re starting to see companies say, “We’re building this executive group, design should be a part of it.” Right? That’s the first thing. But then you’re also starting to see the building of design teams, and all the kind of core expertise within the design teams. I remember, you know, 10 years ago, when… not even. Like, six, six-seven years ago, on… IBM was like, on this quest to have the largest design team. I think they had like 300 or 400… and it was being written about in every design, you know, magazine and things, about how big IBM’s internal design team was, and their commitment to design. And of course, then, that meant that they also had leadership across their group as well, too. So I think having design in the boardroom, having design at the C-level, having design be a client and stakeholder for us, and not just a CIO or a Chief Product Officer…
David: …but seeing design not only report into the product function, like a CPO, but actually have design be a peer to the CPO. And to me, that’s what, you know, companies really need to do to push, for lack of a better term, UX maturity. And you know, there’s this Nielsen Norman UX Maturity Scale, or Design Maturity Scale, I forget what they call it. But it has like six or seven different levels to it. And companies mapping to that and working internally, not just to have somebody at a seat in the table, but also make sure they’re practicing what they preach, right, in that maturity scale, it speaks to a lot of interesting things. Like, how many developers do you have per designer within your organization? You know, where is design in the process? So everything we were talking about before, with “does it start with design or does it start with research?” Or, do you do all these exercises and then bring in design? Um, so those are all kind of checks and balances of a maturity scale, and you’re starting to see a lot of companies actually invest in that.
Clinton: That’s interesting, for sure, and the maturity part… you have a lot of, at Vectorform, lots of, I would say, modern clientele. And when I say modern, I mean almost like, hip.
Clinton: Like, fun. It’s… consumer goods, things that get physical product, physical-digital interfaces, like… lots of really, really cool stuff out there. Now, for your client base that you’re typically interfacing with, do you tend to see that they are more mature in their philosophy of design? Or, are they still, you know, lagging, and that delta kind of has to be taught when you start an engagement?
Ash: There’s a broad spectrum. I mean, we work with corporations, still, right? But I can tell you in my experience, there has been a fond appreciation and respect, for the most part, about embracing design-led processes. That’s where I’ve seen the coolest and most successful products come to fruition, is when you… I think of even, just, a client being able to say “I don’t know what this involves or how we can make this possible,” and leaning on us to consult, is where there’s 100% trust and partnership in the process, that we see less time dedicated about educating in design, and, you know, how our methodologies bring the best results, and more time trusting the process and trusting a design-led process, that we see success the most often.
Clinton: Well, it allows you to get to that value faster, also.
Clinton: Right? I mean, if you have to spend whatever that time is, a week, two weeks, a month, selling your case, convincing, well then that’s a week, two weeks, a month that you’re not producing something that shows the efficacy.
Clinton: So, from your perspective, what do you think is one thing that clients still have a big misconception about when it comes to design-led innovation? So Dave, why don’t you take it first?
David: Well, I guess they might not call it design-led, right? They might operate in a model where the product leadership dictates what they think they should build, for example. Right? They’re not starting with the voice of the customer, which is critical, right? I used to have a slide on the client side that said “We are not the user,” in a lot of the presentations I would have, I would say that. And the reason being is because, at the company I worked at, they had a lot of instructors that came over to run product. So they were instructors at universities, and, I mean, wrote a book, were amazing, came over. And so, when it came to our design team working on, let’s say, a new product for instructors, they would say “Oh, well, we don’t need to meet with instructors, I can talk about what they need, what they’re going to do.” And so it took a lot of convincing to say no, we need to build a group of people that we work with that can speak to this, that are currently instructors, for example. So you know, I think organizations still think of design as appearance. And back to your point about, you know, Ash, and the clientele that they work with and whatnot as well, too, and my history with brands… sometimes the flashier brands aren’t as mature, from a design perspective. Right? Because they do still see design as flashy, as kind of those final stages. So, maybe also misunderstanding what design-led means, when it comes down to it, and still thinking appearance is really, you know, that thing. So, you know. Quick take there.
Clinton: I dig it. And Ash, same question to you. So, you know, what’s been your experience?
Ash: I don’t know if it’s even a misconception, I just, to David’s point… it’s fundamentally, holistically not understood. So, you might hear the term “design thinking,” right, get thrown a lot, when it comes to design, anything design-led, right?
Ash: And in their mind, that might be, you know, “Let’s just all get in a room together, and let’s workshop the solution.” And it’s not a one-stop, one-size-fits all solution or approach. Every business or product or solution… yes, design has got, we have our best practices, methodologies and approaches, but we curate the best path forward, leveraging those methodologies and the right skill sets to meet a customer where they’re at, and then ultimately propose a solution for them that suits the need or the pain point that they may be facing. It is not a one-size-fits-all, it’s not a one-approach-meets-everyone. It is 100% customized. Leveraging what we know and our best practices. And it is, to Dave’s point, it is not just moving pixels for design-led. It is… it is a way of thinking. A lot of companies are very early on in understanding what design-led means.
David: I think they don’t build enough customer involvement in their process into their product life cycle. You know, maybe they do useability testing, you know, things like that that are a bit later stage, are we getting it right, can they complete a task? But there are so many ways in which you can involve the customer from the very beginning, right? Interviews, like I said, diary studies, things like that. Empathy mapping, journey mapping sessions, where you actually bring in the customer to do it with you, for example. And then, you know, co-design sessions. Those are really fun things to do, where you’re actually designing a product with customers. Whether you’re designing something and quickly bringing it to them to get their feedback, or not. So I think, you know, again, back to design-led, it’s not just about the design leader or designing the process, it’s also about the involvement of the customer, of the user. And I think you can kind of involve them throughout the entire product life cycle. So not getting that right.
Clinton: Yeah. So I think we’re starting… starting to dip our toes here into, you know, tactics and practices too, Ash. So I’ll paint a scenario, and I’d love for you to tell the audience, “Okay, given the parameters,” that are loose, you know, but where would you start? You know, a customer says this to you, what are you gonna suggest that they go do from a tactic or practice perspective? And I’d really like you to land, also, so folks can understand, what’s the benefit of what you’re proposing? So let’s say, for you, Vectorform is Detroit-based, lots of automotive industry clients. So maybe you have a new, let’s say, net-new automotive company that’s working with you, and they want a brand-new heads-up display, something in the interface inside the car. Maybe they provide a couple of must-haves, and they say “Look. We want you to help us create it and design it. We don’t know all of what we want. We just know we want to innovate in that particular space.” Where do you help them to begin? Like, what’s your first move with a team like that?
Ash: This is a technical thing. The heads-up display is a very specific part of the in-vehicle experience, so let’s talk, like, maybe comprehensive HMI. Just so we can broaden our scope here a little bit, if that’s okay. I would say, first move is always understand current state. And that’s really important, ‘cause again, you brought it up earlier, it’s like, we wanna meet you where you’re at, and we want to help navigate the right path forward. So then I’d be facilitating discussions to understand what’s been developed, what is their competitive landscape, what are their business objectives, who’s their target market, have they conducted research? What are the customers looking for, that’s going back to their needs and desires, right? What technology will enable this? And then, considering all of that, what gaps do we need to solve for, to pave the direction forward in our strategy? So, it’s also about initially creating consensus and alignment for where the core opportunities are, so ultimately, once we understand where the market may be going, what the customers may be needing, what their business objectives are, it’s a matter of ideating a cohesive solution, right, from that collective, and then prioritizing and setting a path forward, to say “Okay, this is what you’re… this is what we must develop towards.” In short. And that’s all theoretical. Obviously, near that first initial…
Clinton: Sure. I think the fascinating part of the answer is, at no point did you say “push pixels.”
Ash: (Laughs) No, I…
Clinton: It was all the things you started out with earlier, that are like “Hey, these are… this is a heavy set user and technology research, of understanding what is actually possible.” I always think the… people like to toss around the art of the possible, and then they jump to the, “Well, I’ll just go design an interface, and that’s the art of the possible.”
Ash: No, yeah.
Clinton: And I’m like “No!” Like, that might be the art of the impossible, ‘cause you didn’t do the lift to understand what actually could be, given the parameters.
Ash: Yeah. Exactly. And to add on to, like in the initial ask, the questions of what’s the value that’s ultimately delivered by doing that? Right? It’s… we are creating a path forward that’s ultimately gonna be competitively advantageous. It’s gonna be something that your customers want to use. It’s different in the market. And ultimately we can pull it off.
Ash: That’s the big value driver, right? And so often, organizations across different startup automotive companies… and we’ve worked with, you know, the big three here in Detroit, and so often, I think it’s a common core thing, that your business is not ultimately really as aligned on a shared vision on how you go forward in developing the right customer experience. And developing that strategy together creates that alignment as well.
Clinton: Really thoughtful stuff. And Dave, I wanna give you a scenario, but a different one. But same exercise. So, let’s say a client comes to you and says “Hey. We have a good idea.” You know? “We have a… what we believe is a concept or an idea that has some legs. So we kinda know what we want to go do.” However, they really have no idea how they would take it and accelerate it through the next stages. So, a little bit further down the path from the scenario that I provided Ash, what do you do in that scenario? And then how is design, design-led, again, applied there, and how is that maybe a little bit different from the scenario that I gave Ash?
David: Well, I think… I think it’s a little bit the same. But also a little bit different. And I’m gonna kind of switch gears and put back on my solution guy hat, right? Because I think… I’ve been pushing hard, kind of the early stage, research-driven, obviously critical side of things. But I think for this type of scenario, this is where the solutioning side of design can kind of come into play pretty heavy. And obviously, we need to understand what we’re dealing with first, so we need research. But I guess, to say it’s simply design can run a expedited process, where we can do the research and quickly, that Ash was mentioning, right? Understand the audience, understand the space, understand the flow. Maybe their new idea is replacing a process that already exists, right? That’s outdated. Let’s understand that. But let’s do all that in like a week, let’s do all that in a week or two, so that we can really understand what that is, but then quickly switch gears into solutioning. So again, make sure we get what we need, but start to throw ideas on the table. And know that we’re not solving things for good. Right? That we’re taking an idea, like you said, or maybe it’s a big product and they have a new feature or an enhancement to that product, design can fast-forward to the future, and show you what’s that gonna look like. Again, maybe it’s a new mobile app or a new product for a company that is new to the marketplace. It’s critical that you use design to kind of fast-forward… not necessarily push pixels, but wire-frames, whatever that might be, to start to envision it. It could be paper sketches. It could be paper-based prototypes. And get them in front of your customers, or the customer that you have there, to get a reaction. So you can… you can use design to kind of bypass the build stage, to go directly to the learn stage, to say “Is this gonna be right? Are our customers gonna receive this? Will they use this?” And you do interviews with customers. Not to look at, like, the useability, or things like that, that doesn’t matter. Again, we’re gonna go through a full design phase later. This is about saying “This is the gist of what this new product idea is, or this new feature enhancement. Would you use this?” And customers would say, “I would, except for I don’t like that, or I need this in order to be able to use this correctly.” So we would make those tweaks, we can get it back in front of them. But then we have, like, a package of research, we have a package of non-code-based prototypes, or you could… you know, again, if it does involve some data that’s really critical to it, we can do a code-based prototype as well, too, with our engineers. But the beauty of design with a new idea is that we can kinda fast-forward. And what’s also cool about that is, it’s a catalyst to the entire process, so that even though it’s a first-stage just to see if this idea is viable or not, and to get the validation from the customer that it is, it’s also… you know, let’s say it’s a green light, customers say “This is great, I would use this tomorrow if you launched this.” It’s a catalyst to the process, to the team, to everybody, that we already have something kind of on the ground to look at and work from. And then go back to what is, you know, a typical product process.
Clinton: That momentum piece, that catalyst within the organization… again, I always find it funny when people… people profess that they want to be quote-unquote “just like a startup.” We want to act just like a startup.
Clinton: And I always question that. I go…
Ash: Really? (Laughs)
Clinton: “Did you… are you… you sure about that?” In the sense that, number one, it’s probably not your reality if you work inside a large corporation, it’s just not. And, you can still do things that Dave you were just laying out, that provide for the velocity that a startup might seek. Right? So really condense some exercises towards the front, to do validation in ways that gives you that kind of velocity. However, I think inside a big organization, you have to look at momentum. If it’s two people sitting in a garage, you get a prototype, you push it. Right? What have we got to lose? Like, let’s go. Inside a larger mechanism, if you will, organism like a corporation, whether you like it or not, you’ve gotta build momentum and stage-gate in some ways. So, the things you were describing there, Dave, I think really… the catalyst, and you get to outcomes early, that I think can do a lot of psychological things. A, get people around it, visually. Get them excited. And if you’re a product owner, likely the benefit being “Hey, you can go get your funding.” Go get that yes, go get that green light. Get the support that you’re going to need to take that to MVP fully, and then over to market hopefully, for yourself and for your users. I was gonna ask you guys for one project you loved, one project you hated. You know what? Why don’t we just keep it on the love side. Let’s just keep it fun, whether it was the client, the work itself, the environment, the outcome… something you’re super proud of. Dealer’s choice. Ash, what’s a product you would anchor on and tell a story about?
Ash: I have a lot. You mentioned a couple earlier in the introduction that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, like Bose. And Jeep has been a long-standing customer we partnered with, building a badge of honor program. I honestly have… I have a lot. We’ve had the opportunity to build really cool things throughout my career at Vectorform. And honestly, I cannot think of the one. But it is… the ones that are the coolest, and have been the most exciting, are the ones that are not afraid to take risks when it comes to innovation. I think that’s a big one, especially if you look at large enterprises, right? There’s… there’s new layers of red tape in large enterprises, right? And we look at, like, built a completely bespoke solution, voice solution, ground-up for Mitsubishi Power, that enables having a conversation with a power plant. Because we had buy-in at the top level, their CEO had a vision of… the power plant of the future will be voice-enabled, and because it came from him, it empowered everyone that was going to be working on the solution to cut through that red tape and create an Alexa-like experience for the power plant, and to create new ways of operating not only for their customers, but also internally. It is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the opportunity of working on, because it’s truly one of its kind. But I’ll say, when you have the investment at the highest level to push through, that’s when it’s no holds barred, and you just… you make the coolest things.
Clinton: And the part there, too, is like… it’s one part to have a bold CEO, I think, in that case for Mitsubishi Power, that provides the vision. It’s saying “We’re going here. This is what it looks like. I could paint a picture of it, we could all see it, but we don’t yet know how we’re going to get there.” But being bold enough to still take that leap. And I think, then, the work, Ash, that you’re describing, and that we’ve been talking about with Dave here too, is when we accelerate through design-led, it brings gravity to that idea really, really quickly, when people can start to see it and feel it, and be like “Oh man, I thought he was nuts!”
Clinton: There were people, probably, being like “Yeah, cool concept and all, but it’s never gonna happen. It’s never gonna happen.” And then you start to show early, with early acceleration… and, again, yes. Things take their time. This is not like, oh, rush rush rush. Not at all. Things will take their proper time. Yet, there’s a way to be effective in the front end, through design-led, that accelerates it, and gets it to these stages that just provide a lot more output early, that just provide that momentum. So I’m sure, when this was early-stage with Mitsubishi, I’m sure the people really appreciated getting to a certain checkpoint, if you will.
Ash: Oh yeah. It was definitely iteration and prototyping involved with that, but… we did. We had investment at the highest level, though, throughout the course of the project. And that is not… that is just the case for Mitsubishi, but when we have that investment, collectively, that is when you truly are just like, you’re on a… in a powered freight train, right? You can just pave through and create, and that’s when change ultimately happens. And it’s exciting to work on projects like that.
Clinton: Yeah, for sure. Dave, I wanna hear from you. Give me a story that warms the heart also for you, man.
David: Well, I’m gonna get a bit cheesy, I guess, for a second. I mean, I agree with Ash. It’s kinda hard to pinpoint one. I tend to look at the people I work with, and the clients and the experience around, on the thing. So, I guess I’m gonna mention one that’s a love and hate. I know you said love only, but I’m gonna break the rules.
David: ‘Cause it was… it was a bit of a love and hate thing, but I guess… I’ll go a different angle. And, growing and maturing a design practice within a culture and company of a 200-year-old publishing company like I did, it was a six year… well, four to six year effort, so it wasn’t like a project or a thing like that, which I’ve done tons of. It was more about enabling projects, enabling teams, watching and building a design team from the depths of the company, to ultimately reporting to the president of the company, and having design actively contributing to the board. You know, it’s like raising kids. It was one of those things where, you took the blows but you also had the successes. And so that’s why I think, for a lot of our customers, I really want to learn about where they are in their design process, and their design culture, and their design… because it was really neat to see us grow, and it was also really neat to have… you know, if you look at it like a project, we had a little over 100 people contributing to that from a design perspective, from research, from content strategy, from design systems, from design operations. And everybody kind of took it on their shoulders, and it was really neat to kinda say “We know we’re not there yet. We know we’re gonna struggle with the engineering team, we know we’re gonna struggle with maybe a product leader making a decision that goes against some of our research. We know we’re gonna have setbacks, but we’re all in for maturing this thing.” And it was neat. It was the lowest, you know, rate of attrition I’ve ever had. It was one of those things where we all kinda celebrated successes together. But again, we also saw the output. So, back to Ash’s point, this isn’t just about building culture or building those things, which it was. It was also about setting up teams for success. Innovating. Pushing the portfolio strategy, just a variety of other things. But to me, again, it was a love-hate. It was one of those things that you kind of had to take the hits while you celebrated successes.
Clinton: Yeah, I think you might have sparked another follow-up episode we could canvas. When it is design versus engineering, when you’re getting the pushback, and you have to compromise, and you have to both make your arguments for maybe what you want, or maybe within the realm of possibility. And this is not a good cop bad cop, “Oh, design’s good and engineering’s bad,” it’s not that. It’s more effective when everybody’s pushing for innovation, and yet there are legitimate guard rails that will come up. And how do you negotiate, and how do you push forward, despite those guard rails, to still get to that experience that you know is a phenomenal one? So I think… I think maybe we’ll do a part 2 at some point. And with that, I want to say a huge thanks to both Ash Howell of Vectorform and Dave Shill of Launch by NTT Data. We appreciate you both for sharing your time with us, and your expertise. And that’s because in this studio, we believe in shipping software over slideware, that fast will follow smooth, and aiming to create digital experiences that move millions is a very worthy pursuit. Join us next time as the pursuit continues on Catalyst, the Launch by NTT Data podcast. Thank you.
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