Design Means Business 2017: Conference Highlights

I’m dying to tell you about my first experience at a ‘Design Means Business’ Conference. #DMB2017 (a hashtag I made the most of throughout the day) was the fifth of its National, One Day Conferences. Spread over 4 hours, featuring 6 guest speakers and resulting in approximately 85 Lego ducks (details to follow). The conference is held at Design Network North, regular host to Rise and Design networking events. But, I’d consider myself a networking novice. And an all-day conference is quite an event to tackle by yourself. Or so I thought.

Dr Nicola Millard - BT Global Services

Dr Nicola Millard, head of Customer Insight & Futures at BT Global Services - and crystal-ball enthusiast - kicked off proceedings. Nicola’s talk centred around the ‘collaboration conundrum’. Collaboration is a key ingredient at most design agencies. But, she asks, is it actually important? Here are some things to consider. There will be 5 generations at work by 2020. How do we take these different personality types into account? While many collaborate with the wider team in mind, others will crave individual recognition. This will raise the issue of collaboration vs competition.

There isn't a 1-size-fits-all office. We need to embrace diversity to create a collaborative culture. So, BT classifies people based on their working style. Allowing them the freedom to work in a way that suits them. Yet, while choice increases wellbeing, distance can decrease trust and cohesion. Further, at what point are we allowed to switch off? In the words of Kevin Kelly (Wired Exec Editor): "The problem of the future will not be that we cannot connect - it will be that we cannot disconnect." So, with all these questions in mind, Nicola asks: If collaboration is so important, who owns it? Would your company benefit from a Chief Collaboration Officer?

Michel Cloosterman - LEGO Serious Play

I've never noted such a rustle of anticipation as when Michel Cloosterman approached the stage to give his talk on LEGO Serious Play. Only heightened when we were each passed a small plastic bag of assorted LEGO bricks. To exemplify the fact that we all think differently, we were instructed to make a duck from the same 6 pieces of LEGO. Once finished, they sat proudly on the table at the side of the stage. The concentration levels were palpable. The results were evident. We all have very different approaches to solving creative problems. Who would've thought that there could be so many LEGO duck variations? Mine resembled a tortoise and I tucked him away discreetly to avoid ridicule. See if you can spot him. 

Mark Catchlove - Herman Miller

Mark Catchlove, Director of the Insight Group for Herman Miller, opened his talk with one of the best quotes I've heard in a while. "Some people are so poor, all they have is money." His witty insights and inspirational quotes continued throughout. Herman Miller have created the ‘Living Office', as a solution to the changing workplace. Mark painted the picture of a tiresome, stressful morning commute. Spilt coffee, crowded tube, Mrs Smelly standing that bit too close. How wonderful would it be when you eventually arrived at work to breathe a sigh of relief? Rather than an internal groan.

But, he stresses, it's not about the next big thing, it's about the next best thing. In other words, what's right for you. "Who here works for Google?" He asks. "No one? Then you can't have a Google office!" Exactly. Create an office environment that reflects your people and your culture. Allow people to be individuals and make a beautiful mess. Create an environment that delights. After all, your employees can be your biggest advocates, or your biggest critics. And the best tip I brought away from Mark's talk: don't design to people, design with them.

Amanda Jennings - Mamas & Papas

As a design thinking advocate, I found Amanda Jennings' talk fascinating. Amanda oversees the development and integration of innovations at Mamas & Papas. She told the story of how – after a period of financial loss – empathy and user-centricity revived the business. By re-connecting with their customers and deepening consumer insight, a new venture was born: Loved For Life. Amanda described what I recognised as key design thinking principles. Empathy, ideation, testing and willingness to fail early and learn quickly. "Don't accept uncertainties as true" she states, "You need to test them!" She recommends asking your customers the big questions and creating internal ambassadors. Ultimately fostering a culture of curiosity and compassion. Her parting words were memorable: "Don't wait for a crisis before taking action."

Each talk was insightful in its own way and there was an inadvertent, but overriding theme of the day. Collaboration and empathy. Whether it’s your working culture; your office environment or your business strategy. A human-centred approach to design of any sort is vital.

I would really like to thank Design Means Business for a fantastic day. And allowing me to meet some friendly, inspirational people. Who didn't judge me - or my duck. See you next year.

To chat about how we can help you get to the heart of your business, drop me an e-mail or pop in for a drink of your choice. We love what we do and we’d love to meet you.

Written by:

Natasha Kapur

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