Experiment #1

Best-in-class workshop

My colleague, Karwai Ng and I are challenging the current one-size-fits-all agency design process. This is the second part of our five-part series — where we explore and summarise the findings from our first workshop on best-in-class research.

Kar and I often put ‘best-in-class’ presentations together for internal teams and clients — identifying brands, products or services that are performing at a higher level to our clients’ business. Although this is often a useful exercise in identifying new business models and providing inspiration for design, we’ve found that we keep recycling the same examples over and over again. So we started with a couple of initial hypotheses:

Best-in-class research can be misleading and the findings are often not actionable.

Best-in-class research is one of many things perpetuating the Plato’s Cave of digital copycats we live in today.

To improve on how we do best-in-class research, we held a workshop with 10 people from different parts of the agency — UX, visual design, copywriting, client services, design research, technology and design strategy. Read more about our methodology here.


We kicked off the workshop by asking people to brainstorm their current perceptions of best-in-class research: the good and the bad. Together, we synthesised the group’s observations into three themes:

  1. Restricted to digital. In the words of one of our copywriters, “Because we work in digital, our research is restricted to digital.” We tend to use the same examples over and over again (think: Oscar’s form filling; Simple Bank’s visualised spending, etc.), or feel the need to jump on the tech bandwagon: “Let’s use iBeacons!” There’s also the risk that we’ve solutionised before we’ve defined the problem, since many best-in-class examples tend to be interface-driven.
  2. Evolution, not revolution. Best-in-class research is built on a paradox: the examples we use are current, not future-facing. As a client services director pointed out, by the time our client has rolled out a product, service and/or technology identified from best-in-class research — it would already be old news (8–9 months from now). So how do we address this tension?
  3. Inspiration (!!!) — with a triple exclamation mark. Best-in-class research is often praised for its ability to inspire and bring to life ideas. It creates some form of tangibility and gets people excited. However, it can also be a PowerPoint or Keynote dump. How do we break from the current static nature of best-in-class research — usually in a deck format with images, sometimes videos and text calling out the ‘key’ takeaways?


Each group began to ideate on their chosen theme to form tangible ideas.

1. Worst-in-class research

Best-in-class research can often come across quite belittling to a company or brand, i.e. “This is what you should be doing”. Instead of succumbing to #techfomo and building a bot “just because everyone else is doing it”, why not look at examples of failed projects? Google’s had a bunch of ‘failed’ projects, e.g. Google+, Google Hangouts etc. And who knows where Allo’s going to go. Can we learn from these failed examples?

2. Evolution + Revolution

(You can tell this group had a client services director.) The idea was that when we scope projects, we should have two work streams working simultaneously: one focused on ‘evolving’, and the other on ‘innovating’ — creating little labs or initiatives that aren’t afraid to fail and fail fast. This way, we address the inherent tension of best-in-class research, mainly that it’s too focused on the present.

3. Out of the box thinking

Best-in-class research can be much more sensory and experiential. Why not create ‘innovation walls’ or ‘inspiration treasure boxes’, where physical artifacts, sounds and notes can be kept collectively? Not only will this help us re-trace our steps when reflecting on the origin of certain ideas, but also enhance the story we are trying to tell and help people understand the why.

“I want you to feel something. A feeling that you can later articulate.” — Simon, Copywriter

What’s next?

That’s it from the ‘Will-Wai’ experiment for now. Kar and I will be implementing some of the tangible solutions above in the next few months on our client projects in the UK and Asia.

We have our second workshop tomorrow, looking at ideation. As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions, feedback, hate mail or just to say “hello”.