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22nd November 2018 6 min read

Design Leaders Conference 2018, Dublin

Categories — Events

The Design Leaders Conference is an inspiring and thought-provoking one-day event put together by Design Enterprise Skillnet. The venue is perfect, the speakers are high caliber and the topics are interesting.

On 08 November, 180 Irish design leaders settled into the comfortably tall, blue seats of Smithfield’s Lighthouse cinema for a day of talks specifically tailored to the needs of our sector. We were reminded how challenging it can be to consciously remove ourselves from the ever-present pressure to compete, sell and deliver. This conference was our opportunity to diversify our network, abandon the past and start designing our future.

Here are some of the most notable takeaways for us:

Designing Culture – Imogen Puddock and Carla Cringle – FizzPopBANG

  1. A whistling employee = a happy employee
    Whistling on the way to work is the perfect measure of an engaged employee who loves their job. Such a simple concept and a really smart mission statement for a company that specialises in brand employee engagement. It resonated so strongly that I noticed someone whistling the next morning as I was heading into work and I immediately thought “he must love his job”.

  2. Marketing and HR are more closely related than you might think
    To nurture culture, we need to “act like marketeers”. A lot of the approaches we take in how we market ourselves externally should also be applied internally to engage, surprise and delight the people who choose to work for us.

  3. Company values should be a starting point and not the end goal
    Defining values as one-word attributes is an easy trap to fall into. Many of these values are shared by so many other companies that they become generic and meaningless. Rather than assembling a list of words, Carla and Imogen advised us to create value statements that inspire action and act as a mantra to unite and drive the team.

What Clients think – Jonathan Kirk, Up to the Light

Jonathan presented the findings of his “What Clients Think” 2018 report based on 500 client interviews conducted on behalf of design agencies. Out of the many interesting slides presented, here’s a couple that gave us food for thought:

  1. Focus more on the value you bring rather than what your competitors are doing
    A surprising statistic, especially when Jonathan also mentioned that clients are fielding an average of 17 new business approaches every day from agencies of different disciplines.

  2. Clients are more interested in what we think, not what we’ve done.
    Jonathan: “fundamentally clients come to design agencies seeking the answer to a strategic question, not just a desire to see some great creative work and meet good people.” They want to hear about commercial results and measurable impact.

  3. Work harder to differentiate more
    According to the report, “52% of clients believe that most agency websites fail to communicate the agency’s difference.” He hammered this home with a slide showing a collection of stock phrases commonly seen on design agencies’ websites.

Designing Differentiation – Rhonda Page

  1. “How is that working for you? “
    Rhonda reserves this very effective question for clients who are precious about a poor brand name or logo. Rather than having to express how awful you think it is, simply ask how the brand is performing. 9 times out of 10, it’s not performing well and the owner will reluctantly admit as such. Perfect opening for “well let’s take a closer look at your brand identity..”
  2. Stakeholder interviews often back up your own views
    The insights that can be gained from your client’s customers can provide (a) invaluable insights or (b) less positive views that you may also hold. The client is more inclined to believe their clients rather than you. Use this to your advantage.

The Intersection of Design & Business – Kwame Nanning, McKinsey & Company

  1. We need to push ourselves to think bigger and think deeper.
    Rely on your #craft to enable you to collaborate with those who are different, and to communicate your value.

  2. Solutions can’t be developed until the problem is properly researched, understood and defined.
    Kwame refers to the red outline in the image below as the “butterfly of death” for those who like to get straight into solving an assumed problem without spending too much time exploring and defining the actual problem.

Designing Demand – Charlie Warwick, Kantar Consulting

  1. Challenges of capacity are defining the third age of consumption
    Charlie explained how maxed out we are – cognitively, economically and resource-wise. It presented a pretty bleak picture. Thankfully this was followed by a more positive take on how we can find a way through this self-inflicted challenge of capacity. 

    • The amount of data a US consumer faces each day has increased sevenfold since 1980 (cognitive capacity)
    • Declining population growth means a 40% drop in annual GDP growth over the next half-century for G19 markets and Nigeria (economic capacity)
    • Climate change is putting significant change on the biosphere.  We’ve reached 4 out of the 9 planetary limits and 60% of all species of life have disappeared in the past 50 years (resource capacity)
  2. Defining a new E.R.A. (experiences, relationships & algorithms) is the way to find growth in the context of capacity

    • 90% of people believe that prioritising experiences over material possessions is important in their personal life
    • 92% of people believe that taking time to nurture one-to-one relationships is important in their personal life
    • 87% of people believe that having products and services that can anticipate your needs is important in personal life. (algorithms)

  3. Live large, Carry Little
    We are moving in a direction where it’s more about experiences without the baggage or ownership (ie streaming music – Spotify, getting the ride without the car – Uber)

Panel Debate – AI and design, who’s winning?

Human intelligence is not the same as artificial intelligence
Kevin McCullagh from Plan, reminded us that what humans find really easy, machines find very hard. And what machines find easy, humans find hard. According to Kevin, “new technology .. takes on the mundane tasks, as humans tend to move onto more complex and often more meaningful work”.

Sounds like a mix of machines and humans in a creative agency could be quite the dream team. I put this question to the panel. They seemed amused but didn’t knock it.

Designing a Creative Agency – Thierry Brunfaut, Base Design

  1.  You attract the client that wants the same thing you want
    Interesting to ask this question. It reminded me of a blog post we wrote around this very theme.

  2. A good creative director nurtures leaders and has no ego
    Having been the kind of creative director that expected his design team to continually deliver on his ideas, Thierry realised a much more effective approach was to empower his designers to lead projects. Motivation and quality of ideas significantly improved as a result of this shift in mindset.

  3. Set weekly challenges/outcomes to start the week with focus and purpose
    Each person writes three personal challenges for the week on a post-it, puts it on the wall and reads it aloud it to the group, starting with “I commit to achieving…” To keep everyone motivated, the post-its remain on the wall the entire week. If goals from the previous week haven’t been achieved, explanations must be provided to act as useful learning.
  4. The inclusion method
    This approach can be used at the start of any meeting to include everybody and give each participant’s voice and presence the same sense of importance. Every team member, from the senior leaders to the interns must openly share how they are feeling, what they expect from the meeting and what they hope to contribute to the meeting.

The day finished up with a complimentary Sausage Tree vodka & tonic. Hats off to the Design Enterprise Skillnet for a thoughtfully-curated, high-quality and forward-focused event.

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