If, as a product designer, you’re doing ‘enough’ to satisfy the client, make a profit and get your holidays twice a year, why do more? The short answer is because you are being paid to go the extra mile. That’s what you’re for. With great product design comes great responsibility.
The product development cycle is messed up. Somewhere along the line, our industry’s priority has drifted from ‘Creating Great Things’ into ‘just Create Things and get them out there ASAP’.
Our actions as designers, developers, UX-ers, PMs and marketers shape the world we live in. Just like doctors or engineers, product developers are integral to the cultural and evolutionary direction humanity’s heading in. Everyone is — from the mighty Mark Zuckerberg to the lowliest internet troll.
People usually say, “yeah, OK Scott, but how do we change things?” To answer that, I need to take you back to a sunny spring evening in Camden, to an event kindly hosted by General Assembly, called Inside the Minds of Brilliant Designers. So No Pressure there, then. Myself, Jonty Sharples from Hactar, Chrissy Levett of Creative Conscience and Mark and Briony from the Cause2Create crew came together that night to share our ideas on how design can expand its focus beyond profits — and it was electric. It felt like the start of our own digital underground resistance movement. There were 80 of us gathered together that night — newly-forged and battle-seasoned rebels alike, conspiring against the antiquated corporate systems that crush designers’ and technologists’ aspirations for a better world. These are the guys implementing change within established design and tech companies right now. They are working on projects with meaning and purpose — and elevating the profile of those companies with the cojones to make positive, ethical change in the process.
Collaborate — lose the ego
It was thrilling to hear presentations from the others in that room reinforcing what I had been calling for in my Wake Up blog post.
Cause2Create spoke about creativity for good and how to make it happen. They made some interesting points, particularly about collaboration. “It’s not a competition to see who can save the world first. Creativity for good shouldn’t be an industry; it’s an ethos we build into how we work and not what we work on.” They advised exploring projects, finding your passion, trusting your gut and of course, sharing and collaboration.
Turn the side projects into THE projects
Jonty from Hactar made some great points about pro bono work. “Ask yourself why we as designers do Pro Bono work? Is it purely altruistic? Sadly, most of the time it’s not!” He concluded that most of the time it’s to ride the coattails of a good cause and the work isn’t done properly. This is why the structure for work we’ve put in place at Big Radical is so important. This isn’t a side project that you do when you have five minutes.
Build a network with purpose
“Communities like us have the power to really make change and we see it happening around the world. We have the power!” Chrissy from Creative Conscience
Creative Conscience’s aim is to inspire designers to apply their talents to socially valuable projects, promoting sustainability, freedom, social health and well-being. And they are working on some truly inspiring impact projects. I was lucky enough to be a judge at their most recent awards tackling men’s mental health, gender equality and connecting refugees. Creative Conscience understand the power of the collective and how getting a network on board is the answer.
Don’t ever compromise
I talked at General Assembly about Big RadicaI’s mission to launch products and services that have purpose, meaning and a positive impact. But I also set out to really show how we’re a living, breathing example of how an agency can break away from bureaucracy and all those other niggling things that stop us achieving our dreams.
As creators of products and services we are given huge amounts of responsibility and opportunity to make an impact with our work. Sadly, often our sense of purpose gets compromised. Disruptive Innovation Jedi, Clayton Christensen said, “Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules ‘just this once’. In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.”
I think that’s where we are as an industry.
We’ve really only just started at Big Radical, just recently we ran a hackathon with The National Centre for Universities and Business and the XDs, to tackle youth depression. The results were incredible. But it doesn’t stop there, we don’t just pat ourselves on the back and say “job well done.” We ask, “what’s the next iteration? What happens next?” We’re making sure the results of that hackathon are presented to people that matter. People that can use the information on the ground and help make change.
When I tell people to “stop Marketing and start Truthing”, this isn’t me virtue signalling. It’s intent and it’s purpose…