After a year of UX Design in London

Last autumn I moved to London from San Francisco and was thrilled to find an extremely dynamic design culture.

In Silicon Valley, Big Data has become the dominant driver for digital design. Here in London I was pleased to find a community of design-thinkers that welcome qualitative research as well as really trying to put the user at the centre of their work. One thing of particular interest was to see the client as a key element of the process.

Co-Creating in London

In the US and in Europe, I worked in agencies that are advocates for Co-Creation: a process proven to be beneficial to clients and their customers, by fully embracing the User Centred Design approach. It is at Aqueduct, however, that I have had the opportunity to fully embrace and expand a particular strand of Co-Creation: one that brings clients into the journey of really owning their next digital success.

At the end of the day, clients own the outcome of the design process and we, the designers, are here as a helping hand through every step of the journey.

As the UX lead at Aqueduct, I took the opportunity to expand the concept of Co-Creation, defining the four phases that a Client needs to go through to really own the project: Kick-Off, Discover and Define, Develop and Deliver, and finally Cultivate.

This is an adaptation of the double-diamond framework, inspired by the revamped version crafted by Dan Nessler.

My adaptation keeps the divergent and convergent stages of the design process, but also sees the Agency involving the Client in the details of the project.

Co-Creation mapped on the Double Diamond Framework

This framework brings the relationship with the Client to the next level: the Client absorbs enough of the design culture and the Agency absorbs enough of the Client knowledge, to be able to mutually share goals and direction. 
It also has the extraordinary effect to spread the design culture beyond its professionals.

How does the Client fit into each phase?

The Kick-Off Phase is key and needs to cover three core areas:

  1. Exploring the brief, the initial definition of the problem, and the desired outcome.
  2. Defining roles and ownership among the team members. Particularly, it is fundamental to identify the Decision Maker on the Client side that will be involved in each phase as Project Owner.
  3. Setting business desires and goals against budget and resources in the most efficient way.

The next phase is Discover and Define.

The Agency helps the Client to break down the initial problem definition and to identify specific areas with the most appealing design opportunities. To do so, I usually suggest to do a wide research to assess technological capabilities, stakeholder expectations and users needs. Client and Agency discuss the findings and agree on a set of needs, priorities and metrics to be met by the new design.

The most suitable design strategy for the Client is now defined and the Develop and Deliver Phase can start.

An example of Design and Develop Sprint. Drop me a line or leave a comment for more details.

In my experience, two-week sprint cycles accommodate well design and develop activities, covering from Sprint Planning to Client Review. The Client Decision Maker is an essential part of the team and participates to the activities as much as possible. This facilitates the approval process that speeds up with the Sprint.

In the Cultivate Phase, Agency and Client make sure that all the expectations are actually met by monitoring the new design performances.

The Client now has all the tools and the knowledge to be able to spot new opportunities and involve the Agency anytime it’s needed.

The Elephant in the Room: “how much does it cost?”

It’s not a cost. It’s an investment.

When it comes to Digital Design, the definition of the problem and its assessment are crucial to define the actual scope of a project. Therefore, estimating the Design and Develop phase before that assessment can be tricky and risky. It often ends up with a wild guess. As a client, it’s even harder to commit for an investment without knowing at least the scope of it.

The Kick-Off and the Discover and Define phases are easier to estimate and they really help to flash out a plan for the next actions. Also, the breadth of information gathered in the first two phases is always outstanding expectations. The Client will be given a precise definition of the problem, including customer needs and technological opportunities, from which an actionable design strategy can be defined. 
The benefit of this approach is also to lower the risk of unforeseen issues, leaving all available resources to work as planned.

What I suggest in most cases is to go through the Kick-Off and Discover and Define phases and then plan for the Develop and Deliver phase. Participating to these phases, then, will make the Client part of the solution as much as the Agency.

This is implementing a design centric approach. At the end of the journey, Clients will have a more design-oriented mindset and more tools to make the best out of their digital assets.

Return of Investment of design centric businesses.

Let me say that again: it’s not a cost. It’s an investment.

In 2015 the Design Management Institute with Motiv Strategy published the Design Value Index showing that design-centric companies beat the S&P 500 by 228%.

More recently, in 2017 the Digital Intelligence Briefing reports that 86% of survey respondents agree that design-driven companies outperform other businesses that are not design driven.

That’s why there are no costs when implementing design thinking in a digital project: the price is only one of many factors to determine the value of the investment.

In conclusion

Following the Kick off — Discover and Define — Design and Develop — Cultivate process truly means implementing a design centric approach.

At the end of the journey, Clients will have absorbed a profitable design-oriented mindset and tools to make the best out of their digital assets. Agencies will have explored their true potential and gained the trust of the Client.

Forward to the next project.

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