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Designing health


As the Irish election looms, our health sector is a major issue on the doorsteps. Leo Varadkar has stated that there is no quick fix to the system, and only incremental, strategic changes over time will improve the service. We spend enough (relative to other countries) on health to expect a better service and results. Recently launched was the Health Innovation Hub to encourage private companies to jointly develop products and research with the health services.

Last year, as I lugged my child’s bulky manilla folder of medical files from department to department in hospitals, and spent a half hour explaining her history to each of the multiple medical professionals I met, it definitely didn’t feel like the most efficient service. The waiting time for letters to be transcribed, signed, posted and delivered can seem like an age when we live in a world on whatsappslack and co. Realising the hospital pharmacy shuts at 5pm seemed a bit bizarre – don’t get sick out of office hours is the lesson. I also experienced the trolley crises. Next time you complain about a wobbly wheel on your supermarket trolly, go spend a night in A&E.

Things are moving though. Public consultation on Electronic Health Records (EHR) for all is ongoing with Richard Corbridge of eHealth Ireland (part of HSE) leading the initiative. However, PatientsKnowBest.com is pushing for patients to maintain their own records, as opposed to a hospital or state owning them. eReferrals from GPs are being successfully piloted. Unfortunately, technology is generally regarded by the HSE/Government as a cost, not an investment. Public sector websites for instances are procured under IT rather than creative/marketing.

Glohealth recently launched their ‘Skype’ GP service, which allows you to video call a doctor 24/7. Surely when this goes mainstream it will reduce waiting times in primary and secondary care centres? There are apps now that give real time surgery updates – to reduce the stress of loved ones in the waiting room. I suppose that depends on the outcome of the surgery. Technology is years ahead of our public system. I recently saw an app demoed that enquired as to why the user hadn’t left their house in days and hadn’t answered any of their  close friends calls? Are they feeling down? Would they like their GP to call them? This is the future.

The goal of all health systems should be prevention not cure. However the obsession to optimise the existing diagnosis/post diagnosis system means we are starting the plan at the wrong place.

Interestingly, when I look through the list of job titles in the HSE and entire public sector, there is not one person with a job title of ‘designer’. I say let the designers at the health system. We are trained to think about the user (patient) and to design a system with them at the heart of it. Not an IT system, but a customer experience. Who can remember the last time they completed a satisfaction/feedback survey from a clinic or hospital? NPS for medical professionals?

Is there anywhere in Ireland I can go and look at a map that shows how we are going to improve (and monitor) the nations health and the medical system when they do need treatment? Does anyone have that plan? I could probably sketch it out on the back of a fag packet if anyone ever asked.

Finally, regarding the huge cost of our health system. How much would one free mandatory health check per person per year cost us? How much would one free mandatory health check per person per year save us? Health has always been, but is now fully recognized as real wealth. If we put as much effort into designing our health system as into complex financial products and spin doctoring, we could create something world class.

The election is over but without a government in place we have no health minister. The HSE however are still in town and for all intensive purposes are the health system. In March’s Marketing.ie magazine, I looked at some of the issues in the health service in Ireland but also some of the amazing innovations going on globally. Smart design can sort our health system in Ireland and create an international template for best practice.

The idea of ‘user’ centricity or in this case ‘patient’ centricity is not new. It is however more of a written concept than a practised concept. Really understanding the entire patient journey can improve the interaction and outcome. However most Health Care Professional (HCP’s) have a small task to complete in the overall patient journey and are often unaware of what comes before and after them. Many private companies have intensive on boarding training that requires staff, no matter their level to work in all areas of the business for a period of time e.g McDonalds senior management work behind the restaurants counter. If the HSE / Dept. of health practiced this I am sure there would be a far more holistic view and better outcomes for all involved. Disney, Apple, Amazon, Zappos are some of the leaders in this area. As opposed to looking at healthcare in other countries look at how top brands do it.

To become more patient-centred, the Mayo Clinic in the U.S changed it’s design systems scheduling routines, staffing, and facilities to revolve around patients, rather than physicians or other care providers. It now schedules work based on what will provide the most effective and efficient experience for the patient, instead of what is convenient for the physician. Weekend consultant in Ireland anyone?

Patient centricity is currently a key focus for the pharmaceutical industry. Without the pharma industry of course the Irish economy would be a shambles. Traditionally a sales focussed industry the idea of really understanding a patients life and journey is now seen as key to being a trusted and helpful pharma brand. This of course in turn affects a companies culture and becomes a more attractive place to work. In a sector where talent acquisition is a huge factor this is a win win. Ultimately designing a better experience can improve the outcomes for all parties.

One of the key issues in health is adherence, literally taking your tablets, or administering an injection at home. Patients comply with their medicine schedule somewhere between 50-70%. So up to half of patient issues regarding non adherence could be solved. Companies like Health Beacon which monitors adherence by sending texts as reminders when medicines are not taken and AI Cure which uses artificial intelligence to confirm ingestion in clinical trials and high rick groups are just two applications of smart design to solve problems that were almost seen as impossible to fix.

Well designed technology has made it much easier for HCPs to access the data they require. Many GPs now spend more time looking at their screens than at their patients. Live consults with other HCPs online is an amazing way to speed up diagnosis though and is growing in specialist areas with the use of platforms like DefinitiveDx. HCPs use online resources to find drug information, prescribing guidelines and even view the highlights of a seminar that they couldn’t attend. These technologies need to be maximized in our system which is obsessed with a longer more staged based.

Burning books. Having experienced the health sector intimately in the last few years I have to address my personal pet hate. Paper based healthcare systems to me are something from another era. Without universal digital data the health system is hamstrung with administration and processes. Most tech companies have completely automated this part of their business. HCP’s should be delivering healthcare not health administration. This change needs dictatorial like leadership. I’m not sure who has the strength or vision to do this. Estonia have the world’s first digital led public sector. Flights to Estonia are commonly filled with Irish public sector fact finding missions. Stop finding, start doing. And get some design help while you are at it. Recognise this skill set does not exist in the HSE. The design industry is waiting to help.

This article was originally published in Marketing.ie magazine in February and April 2016.

Designing the best customer experience


Design is a lot more than just chairs, logos, websites and clothes. Design is now rightfully taking its seat at boardroom tables. Design thinking is now core to the success of most modern businesses.

As customers, we do not separate the product/service we bought, and the experience we had buying it. Customer experience comes directly as a result of how we have / have not designed our service. Why we want something is equally as important as what we want.

Most companies have identified user experience on their website as a priority for customers. But less have looked at the overall customer experience. Virgin realised that getting to the airport, although out of their control, affected their customers experience so they introduced a chauffeur service for certain customers.

But who is the customer? The customer is the buyer / user, but also your internal team and partners. The experience for all three needs to be considered. As equally important in the design of a great customer experience (aka service design) is the design of how these changes will be adopted internally. Unfortunately for some organisations, CX starts and ends with metrics like ‘how many were delivered on time’? Operational efficiency is confused with customer experience.
Understanding the customer is the key first step – giving them what they want, but also what they don’t know they want….yet! Ongoing feedback feeds into continuous improvement (Kaizen) but this shouldn’t be limited to customer service data – it also needs to include survey platforms that collect data, analytics and reporting, and qualitative feedback. The speed at which this happens is particularly important in B2B business where revenue is recurring and renewable, and where customers choice of renewing a service is dependent on their level of success, perceived value, and overall experience. Businesses now need to have the right data and processes to deliver alerts to identify any customers at risk, and be able to act immediately to recover customers in this situation.

Measuring the experience
Measurement and continuous improvement loop of product or service are essential. It needs measurement and a business process. Whether measuring Customer Satisfaction (CSat), Loyalty, Net Promoter Score NPS(R), or Customer Effort Scores (CES) – they need a supporting business process to drive improvement and value. One or other on their own will fail. Journey mapping, Process flows / 6 sigma (not everyone’s favourite) and industrial engineering principles fall into this category. Closed loop ongoing monitoring of customer feedback, and feeding back in a continuous improvement / evolution cycle will drive improvement in product and service.

Engaging Employees
One of the first requirements in engaging employees is to communicate and help them understand the goals for the business, and to translate this into local goals and targets at team level. Providing the business and corporate ‘big-picture’ context for the ‘day-job’ and helping teams understand how the duties they perform contribute to company success is key. Employees are often not seen as customers, although we should be selling to them as hard as we are selling to an end buyer, particularly in industries where employee intellectual capital forms the basis of the company’s value proposition – it is imperative to measure and understand employee satisfaction and loyalty, in much the same way as for customers.

Low Effort and Consistency
We don’t always need to design for ‘delight’ or ‘exceed expectations’. Just make it low effort, minimum interruption to customer, do ‘what its says on the tin’ and do that consistently. Consider HP and the mundane task of replacing printer ink. Through HP Instant Ink, the company has executed a subtle shift away from pure transactions – customers simply buying ink when they need it – and toward establishing an ongoing service relationship, wherein HP knows when it’s printers will run out of ink and preemptively ships more, saving customers time and effort. And making their lives easier not only makes customers more productive, but also makes them happy and generates loyalty. Research by CEB Board on Low effort correlates with loyalty over time, which of course correlates with retention. Low effort design points to many initiatives including good on-boarding, CRM management, in-app help and notifications, self service, minimal channel switching (Web> phone> X team transfers etc), good CRM tools to provide agents 360 views and customer history. Solve the issue on the first call, and solve anticipated (adjacent) customer problems.
Customers want to feel special. In reality, this amounts to empathy, good communications skills and emotional intelligence to be able to tune into to customers. Coaching your team to find out about the contact in advance or reading a company report. Segmentation also helps – a customer paying 500k p.a. might have different expectations to a customer paying 20k p.a.

Manage expectations
When things do fall short, and they do from time to time – how businesses respond determines how customers will feel. Proactively manage customer expectations, and have a plan to deal with below par situations when they do arise. (Processes approach, define the problem root cause, put a fix or workaround in place to mitigate customer impact, investigate root cause, corrective action, evaluate). And communicate all through the process. Volkswagen is a case where customers were left for weeks without communication.

Volkswagen have experienced a major backlash which will permanently damage their reputation.

So while the basics are always going to be key foundations of any service design, we are at an interesting point in time where customer expectations have pivoted and will shift more, primarily driven by advances in Technology. So what are these new expectations, and if resources were not an obstacle, what would the customer experience / service design specification include?

Immediacy – We want it now! Nobody wants to wait. If you phone a call centre and there’s a wait, you’ll probably move to live chat or another channel instead, and worst case, write a negative post about your experience on social media.

Omnichannel availability – People want you as a business to be everywhere and connected at all times and to provide a channel to customers, 24x7x365.
Automated Services – We’re already seeing a lot of things like IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and while virtual assistants may not be pervasive just yet they’re going to get a lot better as technologies like text and context analytics enrich that channel experience.
Richer interactions – Customers want to be able to receive videos instead of documents, upload a picture or video clip from their smartphone instead of writing a description, have a conversation at any time instead of text chat. They want to feel that the information is provided in a way that helps not just solve their problem but helps them be successful, and that information is being provided in a way that helps them consume it.
Clarity and openness – Increasingly, customers want to know what are the service levels they are being provided, and how you are delivering. Apps such as TripAdvisor, rate my service etc respond to this need.
From Customer support to Customer success – New Customer Success Management (CSM) solutions can monitor accounts for specific behaviors based on predefined rules, and send notifications to the Customer success team when they detect potential issues like too many support tickets, or a drop-off in application usage. The ability to merge and analyse customer behaviour data from a several databases (e.g support, purchasing, returns, billing, purchasing etc) makes it easier to accurately alert changes in customer behaviour and utilisation, and increase the effectivity of a customer success team. Data analytics, whether it’s big data, small data, or in between data analytics on customer behaviours are developing service capabilities in this way

Customer Co-Creation – All technology companies have Support forums and are cultivating communities of users that help each other, evangelize the technology and provide feedback to the ‘mother ship’ on how to improve products and services.

Education –  Helping your Customers (and teams) to extract better value from the product, and to use it’s full functionality. This has the benefit of making your product or service more sticky’ i.e. If a customer has trained his or her team on your product, or is familiar with your service, they are less likely to move (education becomes a barrier to change, increases stickiness).

Professional Services: e.g in Software, many companies may have a software platform (e.g Salesforce CRM) only to partially use it, use limited features, and not build the appropriate business process to extract multi department benefits –  i.e. don’t experience the full value. This has risks come renewals time. Having a strategy (sometimes via partners) to help customers build out the full business processes, helps maximise the value and secure renewals and ‘customer for life.’

Zappos are rightly observed as best in class for customer experience. Staff believe and deliver the brand promise to partners and end customers. And their success and customer loyalty is second to none.

They make life easy for customers by having no shipping fees on returns, and always delivering within 2 days. They give their staff discretion to make emotional connections with customers even if it takes 10 times as long as a call should take. They spend time knowing their customers – particularly the VIP ones who get priority at busy times. It treats it’s suppliers likes customers by providing free airport shuttles for them when they are visiting. Ultimately, they deliver on all core brand values – they are not just a giant pyramid of values at reception.

Zappos have designed every single part of the experience by looking at one journey and not having multiple siloed interactions managed by separate departments. Design and measure your entire customer experience, don’t leave parts of it to chance.

This article was first published in Marketing.ie during November/December 2015 and January 2016. Special thanks to John Kelly of CustomerLink for his help with this article.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec / Jan 2016 issue of Marketing Magazine

As disciplines converge

We have all been in meetings where the client decides that all their agencies need to get round a table and share/contribute to the common good, namely the brand. The media agency looks over at the digital agency and identifies what piece of their pie they would like. The branding agency looks at the ad agency and decides, these guys need templates. The PR agency is wondering “why spend money on advertising and why have a digital agency, when they can handle everything through social?” And the ad agency wonders why the client isn’t only listening to them. So in the Marketing.ie world there are no boundaries anymore. No clear division of tasks. And the big integrated agencies are on the rise.

Design is no different.

There’s a convergence of service, business, industrial, product, UX, customer experience, graphic, packaging, motion, web and brand design. Key to this is the app world. The creation of apps draw on skills from all these disciplines, so convergence is no surprise. Multi disciplinary teams in the app world are the norm.

ICAD recently hosted an evening in the Sugar Club entitled 2X. Umesh Pandya of ustwo spoke about Wayfindr, an amazing open source system they designed which gives audio directions to visually impaired people to help them navigate the London underground on their own. In order to deliver a solution like this, there was a team of a range of skills required, all coming from the design agency. Check out their video on YouTube. Terry Stephens of global design group Moving Brands spoke about how they use motion design (video + animation) to set a brand mood before a designer would even lift a pencil or mouse. Moving Brands is responsible for the new Eir brand. Love, hate, or care less about ‘life on Eir’ the way they have taken the standard mood board to a new level was quite exciting. They considered how a brand lives and feels in the real world, rather than starting with an identity. An in-house multi-skilled highly collaborative team was key to the process.

The Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI), led my Marc O‘Riain, represents over 800 designers from a cross-sector variety of interests. The convergence in the industry is also reflected by designers seeing themselves as a community, industry and ultimately a lobbying body. Yes, a return to prosperity always helps industry bodies but national initiatives like Year of Design are definitely helping the industry’s PR. IDI have also just introduced The Register of Irish Designers. 
The term Registered Designer will be ‘a mark of quality assurance for the design industry, to its clients and the public as a whole that they adhere to the highest international design professional and ethical standards’. So Registered Designer label, rather than specific graphic designer or product designer, may become the new norm in business in Ireland. The Design Business Association in London hosted an event entitled ‘New horizons: what’s the real impact of design in business?’ The sessions, all of which proved most absorbing, explored the rise of those with design authority in the boardroom, the role of design thinkers and design doers, and the rise of strategic innovation consulting.

Call it what you will but design skills, the thinking bit, has now become valued more than ever. The ability to think like a designer is now highly sought, whatever their specific design discipline. The corporate world does not foster this skill set although badly needs it to solve problems, capitalise on opportunities or communicate complicated ideas. Simplification is the ultimate goal of design. Convergence means simplification – a simplified briefing for clients, a simplified customer journey based on a multi disciplinary approach. Great simple thinking that makes things better.

Finally, some important design dates coming our way should be noted in diaries. Design Week runs from November 2nd-8th, while the IDI Awards night is on November 26th.

This article was first published in Marketing.ie in October 2015.

Harder, better, faster, stronger

In 1990, I was still in school and recovering from Féile ’90.

Desktop publishing had started to take hold and was to revolutionise, democratise (some might even say homogenise) and forever change the design industry. Apple, now the biggest company in the world, was struggling to exist with the design industry as it’s only real customer. To make some people feel very old, System 7 was released in 1991. In 1990 the internet was virtually unknown and the closest thing we had in Ireland were imported Argos and Damart catalogues. Design was concerned with the print world. Many designers made their living from managing print rather than design. Repro house, The Type Bureau, threw the biggest industry design party in town. Design agencies were broad in their services offered and the industries they served. Specialised branding, packaging, POS, web (then digital), FMCG and B2B disciplines began to emerge, although Irish agencies were often still one-stop shops.

Much has changed, but a lot has stayed the same and in the opinion of some, regressed. To get an idea of how Irish design has moved on over the last quarter century, I asked a number of leading creatives and agency owners old enough to remember what they think has changed, and what’s been for the good. The rise of digital and the range of channels available remains a challenge for the design world. Many would argue that the web design agencies were more into development than creative. Mary Doherty of Red Dog says the constant, almost weekly, arrival of new digital channels – including mobile – is a challenge.

Gerry Whelan from Brandcentral agrees that although challenging, it means more opportunities and more work for designers looking at all of a client’s channels whereas before, it was about designing for single channels. Go back 25 years and there was no time and yet despite all the developments in technology, there is still no time.

Former Design Business Ireland chairman Alan Howard says there is not even time of the “overnight test” anymore.

Siobhan Griffin of Clickworks believes there’s and over-reliance on stock imagery. A government department recently sourced their logo online for $50. To think, 25 years ago, the job of selecting an image, buying it, scanning it, and getting it print ready took over a week, now it can take 10 minutes.

It’s not just about the increasing complexity but it is the “speed of change” which seems to be accelerating. But not all change is bad. Andrew Bradley of Bradley Brand & Design feels there is now a better focus on getting the design brief correct from the start and not jumping into the process immediately. As a result, the standard of creativity is higher as both clients and designers strive to differentiate more.

Good clients have an understanding and appreciation of design beyond return on investment (ROI), particularly with websites. Clients are more aware of what is happening internationally than before. It means Irish designers must raise their game, but it is also easier for Irish agencies to do international work – sadly, few do.

A quarter a century ago, a client went to a design agency for design. One in three designers work in – house and Bradley expects it to rise to one in two. Ad agencies, PR firms, media agencies, print management companies and digital agencies all offer design as a core service. So too are management consultants and big tech companies. The likes of IBM, McKinsey, Ericsson, Accenture and Deloitte are recruiting top talent from the industry. They see how design is core to the customer experience and something that is rightfully taking its place at boardroom level. Apple is probably the world’s most famous design – led company and clear proof of its commercial value. Since Marketing.ie was first published, design has become more competitive, faster, and more complex. But it is finally starting to become a core part of business – before, it was merely a vanity exercise for some. To continue on the right path, designers must understand a client’s business and that’s not just down to branding.

So the identity guidelines and annual reports may not be the lifeblood of a design agency anymore but the arrival of more design – focused companies, and the range of digital channels is good news for the next 25 years. Finally, a somewhat nostalgic mention and farewell to scalpels (and A&E runs), spray mount, ZIP disks, Quark Xpress, fag breaks while files saved and illegible faxed proofs.

Special thanks to Mary Doherty, Red Dog; Gerry Whelan, Brandcentral; Andrew Bradley, Bradley Brand & Design and Siobhan Griffin and Alan Howard from Clickworks, along with countless others whose brains were picked in passing.

This article was published in the 25th anniversary of Marketing.ie Magazine – September 2015.

Persuading & Nudging

Persuading & Nudging

Design needs to capture the attention and set a tone but increasingly a designer’s thinking is used by organisations in a non-graphic way. Most of us in marketing try and change consumer behaviour. Changing may of course involve doing more of the same thing, Advertising may at time be guilty of the sledgehammer approach and design of the too-subtle-for-it’s-own-good approach.

Persuasive design – mainly on websites – and nudge theory are two ways of trying to change behavior. Persuasive web design aims to change user behaviour and perception through social influence online. It is more subtle than ergonomic design – simplifying the user’s interaction. Ultimately, if done right, persuasive design can result in a user interface or website which is more enjoyable and user friendly.

Most of us will observe the behaviour of other people to judge what is considered normal or socially acceptable, and then mimic such behavior. When applying this to persuasive design, it is known as “social proof”. When shopping online and looking at a product page, you may see a feature on the page with the title “People who bought this product also bought…” – this is social proofing. Facebook and Twitter use social proof by giving users the option to “like” or “favourite” content shared.

Another persuasive design technique is “Framing”. Imagine a digital service for sale where there are three alternative options to choose from which to choose. Two of these options are merely distractions. The first option is exaggerated and fully featured, while the final option is stripped back so much that it is barely useable. The option you want the user to choose is the middle option, it has more features than the minimal choice but less than the first – it feels “just right”, so such framing is often referred to as the Goldilocks effect.

As noted by UX guru Jakob Neilson and other researchers, the default settings on a user interface can greatly influence a user’s behaviour. You may want to pre-populate fields with default values that persuade the user or hint at what to enter on a form. The default setting is often viewed by users as the recommended option. Another example would be search engine listings. Most people will click the top listing as they see this as the recommended option, but it’s not necessarily the most relevant to the searched topic.

People will feel more comfortable using your website if they believe it comes from a credible and influential source. The “authority” principle is how to influence a user’s behaviour through trustworthiness. Layout, typography, colour schemes and visual appeal help, but it is not enough. To really make a user feel comfy more credible factors need to be added. For example, logos for accreditations and awards. When selling products on a website, the use of trusted security symbols and payment processors works best.

In his inspiring book, InfluenceDr Robert Cialdini says once we have made a choice or taken a stand, they will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave with that commitment. The pressures will cause people to respond in ways that justify earlier decisions. So we like to believe that our behaviour is consistent with our beliefs. In persuasion design, we can apply this by requesting a publicly visible small commitment from the user. Once they commit to following you on social media for example, they are more likely to continue to “like” posts on your news feed as they have already committed.

Users can be persuaded with rewards for particular tasks – like following us on social media or signing up to a newsletter. Rewards include premium content. Users can be asked to “like” a brand on Facebook first to get access to content. Sites like Hubspot offer premium marketing content and information which can be downloaded as PDF’s. To access such quality content, you must first sign up to their newsletter.

Users will only give consideration to content which is relevant to their current task, and may react adversely if distracted by information which is wasteful. A person will uphold this “tunnel vision” until they have finished the task or reached a milestone. In persuasive design, these “seducible moments” (one for the meeting lingo bingo) – It is when a user is open to distractions outside of current tasks.

From a less commercial angle, nudge theory uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion to achieve it’s aims. Obama and Cameron have used nudge in forming policies. Examples of nudge include the image of a fly on urinals to improve the gent’s aim, reducing energy use in US homes by telling the bill payer how their usage compared to a neighbour’s and green footprints leading to bins reducing littering.

Many elements of persuasive design overlap with nudge, but design thinking is core to both. Now, Google “choice architect” and see how much persuasion you can spot in your daily browse.

This article first appeared in Marketing Magazine – Design Brief – July/August 2015


What clients want

John Moore on the art of agreeing a client – agency prenup.

Whether you are from the design agency side or the client side (often known as “the dark side”, a moniker in itself which is psychologically most probably a bad start for a relationship), you will probably either have experienced frustration from the other side not listening, not explaining, or simply just being plain stupid. Sadly, it’s a common occurrence.

Mark + Paddy’s (Google them) excellent series of posters highlight some great , albeit worryingly common, client comments…”I’ll know what I want when I see it“, or “I really like the colour, but can you change it?” or “I’m the target market” and “I don’t like it“. Another includes “We need more images of groups of people having non – specific fun“.

Or you find them asking “Can you turn it around in Photoshop so we can see more of the front?” and even “we can’t use the national anthem because it’s too IRA”. Pixel Fox Studiosposters highlight some of the common language used by clients who don’t want to pay. Like, “there are more projects lined up so charge extra next time”.

Even “we are a big name to have in your portfolio” and “this is just a five – minute job..” sometimes, “other agencies charge much less..” or “We’re a non – profit organisation”. So yes, there are inexperienced or just plain bad clients, but there are also many experienced clients who have behaved this way but have never been properly challenged.

Agencies are more likely to rant among themselves, or stew and suffer rather than confront. The average size of design agencies being under five people is a problem and sometimes the balance of power in the client / agency relationship can be askew.

On the flip (dark) side Shan Preddy of Preddy & Co design training and consultancy in her books on the UK Industry writes about what frustrates clients most in dealing with agencies.“Navel gazing purists hanging on to a design to the detriment of commercial viability” is a personal favourite comment of mine. The lack of a true understanding of a client’s business often ranks number one. Design agencies being obsessive about brand guidelines is a common complaint, and being particularly protective and defensive when other agencies are involved. They are guidelines, not a rule book.

The lack of confidence and professionalism in presentations is cited as an issue by clients. As is the ability to deliver from the start to the end of complex projects. In general, clients appreciate and enjoy the creative work but can feel let down by the rest of the package. Up To The Light’s survey reveals nearly three quarters of clients wish their agencies were more proactive, while 61% wish they were more self – critical.

So nothing particularly new here. Good design comes from good relationships. And a lot of trust. So why not design the relationship from the start. Clearly map out the scope, agree staged sign off procedures, understand subjective likes and dislikes, understand what has and hasn’t worked before, agree how the day the day work will function and how problems which may be encountered en route might be solved.

Understand why previous agency (and client) relationships have failed. Finally, agree what success (from both sides) looks like and how you will be paid. It sounds very boring and practical but often after an exhaustive pitch clients and agencies jump into the honeymoon stage without a real plan of without really knowing each other.

Only fools rush in, as the song goes. The partnership needs to be designed, otherwise it quickly becomes an unreasonable order – taking operation. Treat the relationship as a brief in itself. To use the marriage analogy – it is built on ups, downs, compromise and sharing moments of success. Design needs to be seen by marketers as a true profession, not a trade.

If design is purely seen as tactical and aesthetic, many client comments like the ones above will continue. It seems simple, but the more professional designers become the more it will become a profession – and that would not be a bad thing at all.

This article was originally published in Marketing.ie magazine in May / June 2015

Design: Experts in weaving webs

why creating websites should really be left to designers

Once upon a time there was a powerful ‘being’ called the webmaster. The webmaster was the holy trinity of writer, designer and developer. Often from a network IT background, their role was more security guard than marketeer. The site’s design, accessibility and ability to change for marketing reasons was usually far down their list of priorities. Continue reading “Design: Experts in weaving webs”

Death by PowerPoint

Sometime in the last 20 years, the role of presenting was handed over to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

Others like Keynote and Prezi have tried to challenge the big P, but the key role of presenting a business to another business (or its staff) seems to always fall back to that old workhorse. Strangely the role of ‘operating’ Powerpoint seems to fall to an agency junior who ‘gets’ all that ‘IT’ and ‘interweb’ stuff. So our most important first impression falls to a visually untrained junior. Amazingly the business community seems to think more is more, not less is more regarding presentation content. A potential client trying to read a series of 10 bullet points and listen to a presenter is like having the tv and radio on at the same time: white noise.

Would you pass legal duties or your company’s audit over to the office junior? Of course not, yet most companies pass their first impression to an untrained junior (or an untrained senior).In ‘The Art of Business Communication (how to use pictures, charts and graphics to make your message stick)’ author Graham Shaw tries to convince us that live drawing (ie using a marker to illustrate ideas) in presentations is the ultimate way to engage. A collaborative, live drawing presentation / brainstorm can also lead to greater engagement and team or relationship building.

Us humans have an 85-95% recall rate on images we have seen.
The more unusual or bizarre the image, the higher the recall with an almost limitless storage limit. The book is full of simple presentation tips if you decide to pursue this live route. But if your Powerpoint is thrown together an hour before a presentation by the junior it might not be for you. Shaw does have a few nuggets though, the use of left and right to storytell, using the direction of your gaze to lead others, and the language of problems and solutions. Shaw touches on identifying key messages from within a large amount of information.

The infographics that we see on a daily basis are all trying to do this same job to varying degrees of success. There is an element of filtering the ‘chart junk’ as with all content. Florence Nightingale (yes, the same lady with the lamp) was the first person to use visual presentations to bring data to life. Her presentations to parliament and Queen Victoria helped bring about policy changes for military hospitals. Perhaps she could look at one for A&E in Ireland. So it’s old, but has it moved on? Infographics, data visualisation, information design or information architecture, whatever you want to call it has been taken to the level of art in David McCandless book ‘Information is Beautiful’. Here the real data story is not always absolutely clear but they do look amazing. Whatever way you bring your presentations or data to life what is most important is actually who does it.

You need a designer. Not someone that is handy at Powerpoint or knows a bit of Photoshop, but a visual designer. Someone who has studied for years to interpret problems and can create engaging, clever, appealing and memorable visuals. ‘Everyone thinks they are a designer’ is a line often bandied about. In fact many designers are not even designers. You might wear a designer suit to your presentation but has your presentation been to a professional designer?Sometime around the switch to digital we lost the ability to decide, then execute. Powerpoint allows us to constantly change our mind, make committee style decisions (everything is included) and reduce costs by taking an expert (designer) out of the loop. Most of us are happy with a ‘ah, that’s grand’ presentation, the bar has been set nice and low. If your website is your shop window your presentation is your point of sale. Design brief’s advice – Go Pro!

This article was first published in Marketing.ie Magazine’s Design Brief column in February 2015.


It’s about investment

Design is commonly seen as a cost. It can come from the client from a lack of understanding, or equally from the design agency that concentrates on order taking or the aesthetics and not enough on the return on investment (ROI). Design is one of the most important investments Irish marketers can make in business, either internally or externally.

But don’t just take my word for it. For evidence, look at Apple. Whether you want to drive competitive advantage, engage customers or staff, change behaviours or even save lives, think design. The Design Business Association (DBA) in the UK rewards effective work in a similar way to what IAPI does with ADFX. Interestingly, DBA numbers agencies and clients among its members. Here are some of the stars…

Take Bear, the healthy snack brand. From £0 to £6.4million in sales in only 3 years. It’s the fastest growing brand in healthy snacking and now sits in the unbranded fresh products aisle in supermarkets – something that was supposedly impossible prior to launch. At the heart of their success is great design.

Take British Gas. They reduced their costs by £750,000 per year as a result of a drop in customer calls by 10 per cent. The reason for the call drop was a redesigned utility bill. Giving practical customer information in a well – designed, easily digestible format resulted in a communicating key details and reducing customer service calls.

Take Gas Safe’s Silent Killer campaign. It attracted 30,000 website visitors with the aim to change behaviour relating to unsafe gas work in the North West of England. It resulted in a whopping 300 per cent increase in high risk households having annual safety checks. Silents Killer was later rolled out nationwide in the UK.

There are many other great examples. The British government actively consults with the design industry. The award – winning Gov.uk site combined all government websites into one, It is design thinking using public money to get the best results, It is true to say the UK is leading the way and it’s worth our while checking them out.

Design can increase clicks, deliver services better, reduce calls, get you noticed, get you understood, change mindsets, create markets, improve processes and even reduce costs. Many clients reading Marketing.ie use a design agency and some may see them as a cost. Yes there is a cost but there’s also a much bigger cost not to think design.

As an aside, the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) is the new independent voice of Britain’s arts, cultural and creative interests. They realise there is strength in numbers and see the need to define their own future, As a small economy and industry, with a lot of associations and bodies – many poorly supported, there is much we could learn.

This article was first published in Marketing.ie Magazine’s Design Brief column in January 2015.

Greater identity

Welcome to the first Design Brief column in Marketing.ie magazine. I feel a little bit like the independent TD entering the Dail for the first time, up against the might of the advertising, media and PR parties who have dominated this publication for along time. But things are about to change, so here is the revolutionary design manifesto.

In the coming months, I will do my best to hi-light the good, the bad and the mediocre of the design world, both homegrown and from further afield. I will endeavor to a wide range of design interests: packaging design, UI design, UX design, identity design, service design and in–store design, to name but a few.

I will talk in plain English, so no mention of leading, pixels, ratios or Pantones. I will give you opinions – both my own and, to keep a balance of course, those of others. Good design deserves to have its say and be seen as a viable, interesting, exciting, effective and vital part of marketing communications.

Where are we now?
The traditional design world has become commoditised. There are no barriers to entry, professionally or financially. The call for certification has raised its head in the UK again. Designers are being forced lower and lower on hourly rates with some even offering fixed prices for a piece of string of indeterminable length.

Who’s to blame?
Well, we can start with business reality shows like The Apprentice where a “designer” moves elements around a screen as directed by a team of budding entrepreneurs, more of a machine operator than a designer. The Design Business Association website has some good posts about this. Then there’s colleges, for not equipping designers for commercial realities of the marketing services business.

But fundamentally, the blame lies with us, the designers. We don’t articulate our value well enough. Would Apple have the same bite without his lordship, Jonathan Ive? We form thousands of tiny companies that just can’t say no to a big client’s will. We forget the commercial part of being a commercial artist. Some 85 per cent of design awards at Cannes this year were won by agencies, not design agencies. So not only do we get the commercial bit wrong, but the artist part too. But there is hope.

Measuring effectiveness
How can we measure design effectively? Digital, for one. It allows us to test our design work and measure instantly. Good design delivers ROI for clients and design agencies. The big budget annual reports and identity guideline bibles that were the bread, butter and jam of the industry for years are now no more.

Smart design agencies that link great design and effectiveness will succeed. And digital lets us do this with all its analytics and ability to easily A/B test. And more good news – aside from digital, design is undergoing a renaissance in Ireland at the moment. Events like Offset are placing Dublin and Ireland on the international stage. We have our own Design Week which ran nationwide this month.

Next year is officially the year of Irish design, aka Irish Design 2015, its arrival on the back of Pivot Dublin’s bid for World Design Capital 2014. Organised by the Design and Crafts Council Ireland, Irish Design 2015 aims to sustain and grow employment opportunities, sales and export potential for the Irish design sector, by encouraging investment in design as a key component of competitiveness and innovation. A lofty but commendable ambition. ICAD(Institute of Creative Advertising and Design) is pushing the C in creativity, encouraging agencies to open their doors to the industry. ICAD is spelled with a capital A and small d, but we are hoping that improves with time.

The Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) design awards also happen in November. These organisations and events are helping to widen the profile of our industry. They’re putting us on the radar and helping us become accountable, both to others and ourselves.

All in all, it’s time to stand up for design. To show how it really can help achieve business goals and help a campaign or a project become the best, most effective campaign it can be. It’s not just about pretty colours and centered logos. It is deeper and more intricate than that. Do I have your interest now?

This article was first published in Marketing.ie Magazine’s Design Brief column in November 2014.