Tips from IAG on how to craft human-centred design

Looking to provide great customer experience? Harriet Wakelam urges businesses to ‘help people connect things’

Innovation happens in the space within the mess, according to IAG’s director of human-centred design.

“You don’t get to beautiful and simple without mess and discomfort,” said Harriet Wakelam, speaking to a crowd of business and IT professionals about human-centred design at Forrester’s CX event in Sydney.

“It requires space to do things. If you take away all of the opportunity for things to collide randomly, then you restrict the architectures, you restrict the objects and you restrict the meaning that people can make."

Does this make improvement 'lean' or 'design'? Is it innovation or is it six sigma? "I would argue it is all of them, but the system that is missing is us connecting across the business - because that requires a really hard thing: It requires us to change the utility model in which we deliver business and services,” Wakelam said.

IAG's Harriet Wakelam
IAG's Harriet Wakelam

According to Wakelam, it's time for businesses to focus on the “connection of objects with each other” rather than the process of “design and think” in order to successfully craft a meaningful customer experience.

“If you think about innovation labs, we’re designing lots and lots of discrete objects. And in their own right they are great, but we’re spending very little time identifying the connector points of those objects. So when we put them out into the universe, our customers are going to think they are great, but they might not be able to connect them,” she explained.

“All Uber wanted was a way to pay for transport in a new way. It wasn’t that innovative, but it was a connecting point. And from that connecting point, they generated a set of objects: You can order your pizza, you can order your wine, you can get your cat picked up, you can get your child delivered to football, but each of those special services are just objects within an architecture which individual customers are creating their own meaning from. And that’s quite scary because it says: ‘What have we all been doing?’”

What’s needed, Wakelam said, are tools that make the bad difficult and the good easy, and a recognition that design is about creating objects with purpose.

“I would argue we’ve made things way too complicated - and that’s because we’ve been trying to look at how we take our big business and turn it into simple personalised experiences," she continued. "One of the most fundamental things we need to do is stop doing bad stuff, and make good stuff easy. That requires us not to come up with the most brilliant ideas on the universe, but actually help people connect things.”

While many industries are being disrupted by a “this massive explosion of innovation,” where “innovation is going to save everything and delivers us", Wakelam argued the vast majority of companies aren’t cutting it in terms of innovation.

Citing economic modelling research that analysed 100 companies globally in the post-financial crisis, she suggested only 5 per cent of companies, dubbed ‘frontier companies’ (including Tesla and Google), are increasing productivity at six per cent annually. In contrast, 60 per cent of companies had been stagnant in terms of productivity for the last 10-15 years.

“We have incubators and innovator labs that are producing ideas. We have architectures. We have objects that we’re creating. We’ve got designers, customer experience people, marketers, product people. We have all of the components," she said. "So what’s stopping that 5 per cent of frontier companies helping the other 60 per cent move? What’s going on?

"What seems to be happening is not a problem with innovation, but a problem of diffusion.”

Wakelam called on companies to rethink the way they design, and ensure they focus on providing “human-centred collaborative problem solving". She claimed too many worry about whether a company is a startup or an end-up, and forget to focus on how companies can combine and recombine resources differently.

“If you work for a large organisation, you have this massive body of knowledge - a massive amount of knowledge, resources and capability. And what if it was actually being combined differently?” she asked.

IAG has been experimenting with building a human-centred design community over the last two years, and determining a better way of working.

“What we’ve been looking at are: What are the core skills that we need to investigate and validate customer experiences? How do we help share the SME knowledge that our business has in new ways? And how do we help design different things? How do we also build a design practice,” Wakelam said.

Recently, the insurance giant combined all design resources into a single practice. “If we have professional designers and a community of practice, what is their role? Is there role to find new ways to combine and recombine resources so that we can build that engine, so we can bring things together, and so that we can exponentially leap forward in maturity,” Wakelam said.

Companies need to not only change the utility models of the business, but also focus more on people, she said. “People are an important component in the design of experiences - and yet we’ve locked our people away inside our design centres, or in our customer experience departments, or in our call centres.”

Wakelam's advice was to create a design practice that recognises that good design is both practice and theory (praxis). “If we look at continuous improvement meeting innovation, then the praxis, this ability to bring together practice and therapy is the thing we need to grow.”

‘Uncomfortable spaces’

Additionally, Wakelam suggested companies need to realise that human data (the knowledge that sits inside a customer’s head) is as equally important as big data (the data of the organisation) when recognising patterns that can help design customer experiences.

“We have been generating masses and masses of data. That data is a set of stories, patterns and triggers. It has been very easy as we’ve moved into the world of big data to look at that data as the ‘be-all and end-all’" she commented. "But I would argue that in terms of the journey we’re on - in terms of customer experience and design - it is purely the beginning.”

Five years ago, customer experience wasn’t a wildly embedded approach across business. “We’re starting to get to a point where customer experience is now in all organisations," Wakelam said. "But unless we continue to challenge ourselves and sit in uncomfortable spaces, then we’re not going to change the way we need to move.”

Over the last few years, she said the industry has been building architectures, customer journey maps, new types of teams, and new ways of measuring.

“But it is about the orchestration and reconfiguring of things as much as it is about the design of things. So no matter how good our applications, our objects, our data, our journey maps, how great our design is, and no matter how good our processes for taking costs out, unless we start to combine those in new ways, we’re going to get lots of internet fridges.”

One of the problems is that businesses have been trying to deliver a customer experience from a manufacturing perspective. “We talk about heart, soul and purpose, but our businesses have been trying to deliver that out as if it were a manufacturing process line. But we need to look at it as an ecological system, which allows for mess,” Wakelam said.

“We may need to make all sorts of mistakes. If we are really going to make a change in the way we design things for our customers, then what’s required is for us to take that courageous look over the edge and be the dinosaur with the feathers.”

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