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Oli Shaw

Creative Director & Design Strategy | Group Service Design Director at Fjord

9 Nov 2015

Oli, what's your background?

I’m originally from Cambridge area but in the past few years I have been travelling a lot – and I’m going to spend some weeks in Portorico, Guatemala, Australia and then Geneva doing workshops and research soon. I've been doing service design for years and years and people have agreed and disagreed whether it was user experience, customer experience, service design.. or something else.

We all know design is in a transitional period. Which major changes did you notice?

What I've seen in the last three/four years is that there is more and more need for business understanding - that doesn't actually mean that as a designer you need to have a full knowledge of business, but at least you have to understand the value that is there. There was a time a few years ago where you can just sell good design and actually do some interesting work; nowadays it is more and more important to understand how design is going to impact business and customers.

Designers of my teams often tell me that they want to impact life of the people they are designing for: how do you know you've been impacting their life? You need to be able to measure it: in order to measure it you need to start getting into what I call business design - which is kind of the numbers behind the graphics, the interactions and the experiences.

The split that I've been looking at more is within Ad agencies, - like AKQA, Wieden + Kennedy - that are moving more towards what service design is doing.

This is happening both among traditional “Above The Line” agencies and branding agencies as well like McCollins. They Recently hired a couple of good people doing more of experience design: they were saying that by doing brand strategy they also do the service that goes into that. And then you have digital agencies and service design agencies like Fjord, IDEO and RDA and they are all combining into this area. There are also consulting companies; more and more of them are buying design agencies. So Fjord used to be in the previous group but is now in the “consulting” group. Oli service design map

As the market is changing, agencies are trying to integrate more skills in their team: some of those agencies hire mostly specialists while others prefer more “hybrid” people. How do you balance the two? Do you think that there's a specific age for becoming an "hybrid"?

Not really. Sometimes it's because of the individuals themselves, sometimes the hybridization happens because of the environment they are working in: some environments don’t want hybrids, they want people to fill a box - other environments stretch people too far. When it comes to putting a team together, to solve a problem, I respect the “product journal” to understand the business, the commercial value and the impact, the technology feasibility, the customers and so on.

So when putting a team together there's always a lead, a visual design component, an interaction, there could be a creative technology component, a business design component. There could be only 3 people or up to 4 - 5 and sometimes there's a need to add even additional components - but there always needs to be a core team that solves the problem - and I blend the skills accordingly to solve it.

At a certain point there's someone that needs to visualise something, to present a flow, or to put an excel behind the business decisions, but up until that point I encourage all the team members to get involved. Technology people to sketch wireframes as much as visual designers, interaction design people to understand business numbers behind the specific stream and so on.

I've been building teams and hiring people for the last 8 years. I always try to find people that are “hybrids”. So they can do interaction, visual, research or whatever it might be.

How did the recent acquisition of Fjord changed the work you do within the company?

Fjord has been acquired by Accenture two years ago: I believe what changed is the scale of the problems and the abilities to create more impact - which are both bigger. I've also worked in other agencies - big and small, before Fjord - and one of the challenges has always been having the right access to the right level within an organization to create impact. At Fjord we’ve got a 15 years of relationship with some of those clients - so if you need to go and see the CEO of the corporate company you're working for, Accenture gives you the ability, for instance, to explain how important that specific part of the project will be – or equally the CEO might come to us in case he needs help framing a specific unknown problem.

How does Fjord relate to service design?

I'd say it's pretty tricky to find a clear line for that. There's only an handful of agencies which actually go out and say they do pure service design, but you find most places will do some sort of service design. It pretty much depends by what do you need to get from that definition, because sometimes you need to have a job title just for corporate reasons: maybe you are an interaction designer but you do a bit of everything, or maybe you are a visual designer and you're equally as good in going out and doing field research. Fjord is one of those places which might not have "pure service designers", but they actually have them and they just have a different corporate title.

Does your company work more within the public or the private sector?

In the UK, the GDS (Government Digital Services) team "swallowed up" a lot of good service designers, and they work within the public sector: only a few agencies do government work. At Fjord we have done some public work but it would be only a 5% compared to a 95% of private clients. The reason why it is that high, is because the Digital Government Services probably had quite a hard line.

Which kind of services are usually requested by your clients?

Normally clients come to us with a business problem – maybe they want to engage new audience or make their business more efficient, or reimagine an existing product-service. It's more fundamental business problem they come to - and from there the job is to put together whatever skills you need to solve the problem.

Where is Fjord located?

London, Milan, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Berlin, Toronto, Seattle, Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki, Istanbul, Sydney, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta.

How many people work in London’s Fjord?

Somewhere between 50 to 80.

How is your team composed by?

The team is composed by three to five people depending on the size of the problem - but that can be timed by two if it's a big problem to solve.

Have you ever heard about Product Service System Design?

We have several people in our Fjord studios around the world that are from PSSD, that’s why I know PSSD as a Master’s course.

However, looking at the academic definition, it seems to me a bit too much academic and not really human, nor engaging.

From my perspective, you either start with a business problem or with a customer problem and there is always a symbiosis between the two. The business problem is going to impact a human need: maybe you are addressing a pain point, so you're looking to delight customers – and that decision is either going to cost money, save money, or make money. There's always a symbiotic relationship between the two things, hence doing PSS design is about understanding and identifying the human need/motivation, describing it and turning that into a strategy that needs to be grounded into business insights.
Oli Shaw service design map 2 What I find more and more is the need to make that strategy more tangible very quickly, through a video, a customer journey or a prototype. Ultimately, you are going to move to the executional phase: release it into market, or scaling.

Considering what you mentioned about hybrid designers, do you think a formerly PSS designer – which is a “hybrid” by definition - should specialise developing a specific skillset or keep proceeding being hybrid?

You could do both: you have a human need/motivation or - on the other side - a business problem: so you can specialise either in one of this areas. You can lean more and more towards understanding customers, or more towards understanding business - or you can have an overview and have it all together. So you can do both.

Which kind of problem solving process does Fjord respect?

I remember finding online a really good image, a couple of years ago: it actually mapped all of the different design methodologies from pretty much every big studio - and they literally laid into each other. I've seen documents from many agencies showing their process and methodology over the years and there's not much difference among each other. Each one has its own way to describe it or sell it, but the fundamentals are there: identify the problem and do a tangible strategy.

Oli Shaw service design map 3 What's more interesting is client's emotional journey as they go through one of these processes. Maybe they are publishing an app on the app store or releasing a new platform, so they question: "will anyone turn up to me?" or "how do we go from 100 people to 1000 to 10000 to a million?" - because there's a big uncertainty here. They find themselves excited before you start, and then when you show them the double diamond; but then there's a point where clients start to panic, because it gets too complicated.

This is for me where business design becomes very important, because you can start to rationalise, justifying and prioritising things: maybe the technical feasibility, or how much time a specific solution would take compared to another one. Through business lenses you know how you're going to reach specific results.

How do you think service design is going to evolve in the next few years?

I hope it actually moves more towards branding in a different way. So if you consider you have the brand experience - and maybe the service is a part of that - it's how you talk about it, what the identities and the values are. More and more I’m seeing the services we design, based on the business-systems we're transforming and changing, need to be communicated, and someway the experience should be noticed vice-versa.

Oli Shaw service design map 4 So they are integrating: we'll see a lot of change in management, more internally with some of the systems we're re-designing. We need to organise the change management: how are people trained, how we communicate the change, which tools are we going to change. We need to make sure they understand why they're changing, how the culture of the company is going to be effected and then, on the other hand, we do all of that because we're trying to make the customer experience the best possible. The only way to do it is actually by empowering employees to be able to do their job.

From a Fjord perspective we've done our thinking around the topic of “Living Services”, which is the combination of everything becoming more digital and consumers having more of what we call “liquid expectations". So how to move from designing services created from the mass audience to creating services which adapt very quickly, becoming hyper-personalised.

How about the impact on social or environmental sustainability? Is it actually considered in daily-life projects by agencies?

We do quite a few social innovation projects. For instance, my team in Istanbul has recently been working on something called Child Growth Index: in developing country it is very hard to see if children are growing or having any learning difficulties, and there's only a paper-based system to monitor that at the moment.

"we try to integrate social/environmental recommendations - and if we do it right we should be able to make customers happy, do business with a positive impact and also do things on a ethically sustainable level."

So my team actually went out to India - because this is where the pilot is happening before being released around the world – to work on the digitalization and redesign of the service and the processes for monitoring and measuring children in developing markets: how they are growing, identifying any learning difficulties quickly and bringing them all together.

Another way of looking at it social/environmental impact is using service and system design skills: we try to make sure we make things "delighting" customers doing economically sustainable business. But then we try to integrate social/environmental recommendations - and if we do it right we should be able to make customers happy, do business with a positive impact and also do things on a ethically sustainable level. If you look at this kind of matrix around customer happiness, technical feasibility and business impact - you can easily add in a fourth in your prioritisation and it's just a case of balancing those levers.

It seems that there's a gap between commercial projects and charity agencies/projects. A gap in terms of investments, in terms of communication and the way they are presented. Do you see that?

In terms of gap during the years I've seen quite a few agencies just focusing on doing this kind of projects. Mostly survive just two/three years; there's a couple I've worked with during the years, but as long as they remain focused only on those projects they don’t seem to make much money. And again, even for the designers working there, is not as quite as they sort of sacrifice their life in that: as much as they want to do it, they can only sustain a year or two before they actually need to earn some money and have a normal life, like deciding to form a family, for example.

The gap that I see, is in how to help those organisations to actually better get money or free services from other places. There’s a lot of big companies who would happily give some money, or donating, or being part of the brief to collaborate, but I don't think that those organisations by themselves are set up well enough to try to get those investments.

I've seen a lot of designers within Fjord or other organisations finding these companies they want to work with and then securing founds internally within the company to do it. In Fjord we have the ability to prepare a project: for the one that we are carrying out we said to the company: "this is the project plan, we need two designers to work for this period of time” and then, after we signed up the permission, we just went and work on the project.

How do you contribute to the service design community?

I try to take part to a lot of talks, workshops and conferences - part of what I've been doing has been building teams in London or across the world. Part of that is growing them, mentoring them, helping them understanding. I suppose how I help is trying to create more opportunity for people to understand what area they want to fit into, what area they want to develop, transform into. Over the last couple of years I've noticed more and more people wanting the transition from traditional vertical to other disciplines: project managers becoming business designers or visual designers becoming creative technologists.. For me it doesn't make any difference as long as they are able to solve the problem. I suppose that mixing around, creating opportunity for people to do that is a thing. And, generally, I always try to do design work that can actually impact people at scale.


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