Marcella Maltese

Marcella Maltese pic

Marcella Maltese

Senior Experience Designer at SapientNitro

24 November, 2015

Marcella, what is your background?

While being a PSSD student I worked as game designer for an innovation lab at Decathlon which adopted a traditional R&D alongside a more multidisciplinary approach - which I really liked. Right after graduating I worked for Orange: I was working for a R&D lab that - again - had to deal with different aspects, from concept development to rapid prototyping on very different projects – interior design, websites, mobile and so on. The most interesting part is how I saw it all changing, from being a very tech-driven engineering hub to a very design-driven hub: during three years the design team got increasingly more relevant than the engineer team thanks to the results achieved by design-lead projects. However, when Orange got acquired the hub has been shut down.

My current position is within SapientNitro which is a very broad agency, able to cover everything, from marketing strategy to app development. It is located all over the world with around 500 people working in the London office only.

How did you see the industry changing?

What happened at Orange has been incredible and lead to many internal debates as you can imagine. Here, as the company is quite big, changes happen more slowly, but for instance the UX and the strategy teams use service design methodologies and to me it means a lot about the innovation culture of this digital agency. Sapient actually was born in the US as an IT agency in early 90’s and got merged with a creative agency, Nitro; they’ve been among the first to actually provide a mix of creative and IT services in a single agency. And it has a very dynamic approach, able to implement new skillsets and provide new services if the market requires it. SapientNitro has now been acquired by Publicis, a big group which includes other agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, DigitasLBi, Razorfish; the aim of the acquisition is to form the leading digital agency network that can handle a massive range of services end to end – from print campaign to app development – thanks to the wide broad of integrated skills.

I guess it’s quite difficult to manage complex projects through different agencies though?

Yes, it is, and we’ll have to uniform processes and workflows in order to do so. However Sapient still is the most relevant in terms of processes for what concerns digital so others will have to adapt to our methodologies.

Which differences do you find from this and consultancies like IDEO or Fjord?

I believe since Accenture acquired Fjord, they became somehow similar to SapientNitro in terms of size and capabilities but there are major differences in the way they became what they are today which forms the company’s mindset.

Inside SapientNitro you have two separate groups: the creative team, formed by copyrighters, developers, UX designers and you also have the strategy team which is historically composed by planners and business analysts that work alongside the client, frame the business problem and plan the strategy to solve it. Those people could have both a background in economics or in humanistic studies but they generally tend to lack in the practical skills related to visualising and prototyping solutions since they are not designers. And we are trying to fill this gap now with service designers.

How about public and private clients? I would expect most of the work to be commercial projects for private clients.

Actually one of our biggest clients is the American Government. However, considering London’s agency only, we’ve been working in the healthcare for the British government and we also have been working on projects for local organizations.

Why do your clients usually contact SapientNitro? Which kind of services do they require most?

It usually is either because they have a delivery or they have to solve a specific problem related to the digital world. For instance, a recent client needed support to renew a contract for their server – a very technical problem - but this lead to requesting our assistance also on very different aspects, mostly related to strategy and optimisation of their digital assets as a whole.

"It's common that our projects start as an IT problem -which is our agency’s speciality– then clients get interested in the wider range of services we can offer them. "

It's common that our projects start as an IT problem -which is our agency’s speciality– then clients get interested in the wider range of services we can offer them. Most of the time, however, is not them asking for a specific capability, but it’s up to us to propose them one of those skills and the impact it could have on their business. There’s also an organizational limit: considering the size of the projects, sometimes there are more groups working with the same client and they might not be fully aware about what other groups are working on, hence sometimes they end up following different directions. But that’s one of the natural risks for this kind of businesses.

How is a team usually formed here?

The creative group – composed by more than 100 people in our office – is formed by developers, copyrighters, visual, interaction and UX designers. For each of those domains there’s an internal organization. For any new project – according to the problem to be solved - people get selected from the various domains and they form a team.

The project I’m working on at the moment, for instance, is very unusual: our client doesn’t have an in-house team of designers, hence my team is constantly working for them and alongside them in this on-going partnership. The team is composed by two UX-ers, two interaction designers and a project manager. And since apps are live and they are being constantly improved it is an ongoing project, the length of each stream could vary a lot.

People sometimes refer to UX designers as service designers, sometimes more as UI designers. How’s your role as a UX designer?

Again it can change a lot. I believe it is generally an intermediate point among people that speak different languages hence I am often a coordinator of the project. If a visual designer has to focus on the specific level of detail of an interface – pixel sizes, colours ecc – a UX designer has to be in contact with product owners, developers, strategists to provide an uniform direction to the project. Wireframes and sketches are often just a physical, tangible artefact to speak about something abstract, that the team use to evaluate different possibilities and features.

What we do as deliverables are usually low definition and they may integrate some user journey maps, but we usually are not responsible for more detailed elements like user interactions or high definition mockups – those are UI designers responsibilities.

What’s the background of strategists here at SapientNitro?

It’s interestingly varied: some have a background in anthropology, literature generally people who have been researchers that here form a team called experience strategy. They use all service design methodologies despite not having a practical design background hence, even if being very smart and creative, these people tend to have some difficulties in doing practical things.

"That is what I think is happening to service design in general: it feels like it is being diluted in business consulting. "

That is what I think is happening to service design in general: it feels like it is being diluted in business consulting. A designer knows why he wants to build a prototype, knows what he wants to test and knows that playing and getting his hands dirty enables the possibility to come up with new solutions.

This is something a business consultant doesn’t have, and that’s why I'm conscious that many call themselves service designers today, but the design and craftsmanship aspect of this work is getting lost.

How do you think is service design going to evolve then?

I see it being transformed into a tool among others. I don’t believe it is going to evolve as a discipline itself, due to its collaborative nature. It’s more like a mind-set or or a tool and it all depends by what you do with it. To give you an example, typing used to be a job, there was people who called themselves Typists. Today, everyone types, and it is considered a soft skill that all who work in a certain kind of work should learn.

How did you see PSSD being translated to real life scenarios?

I’ve finished PSSD almost 5 years ago. My feeling was, since it was a very young discipline, it lacked a sort of unifying theory that would have link all the courses and that forced us to reinvent ourselves every time. That is the good and the bad of the course, as I thing the most important thing we learn there is the capability of being flexible, taking risks and keep learning from every projects and every team mate.

It’s always quite hard to explain to people PSSD actually is. Among the three core aspects – UX research, business innovation and design – there’s a strong focus on sustainability: service design and social innovation have been often strongly related and this is still an important aspect at PSSD.

Well this is all a naming problem since there’s a very specific thing called product service system, linked to product cycle development and many of the courses being taught at PSSD are not necessarily related to it. Despite this I’m still very satisfied of my experience within PSSD.


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