The art of making things people want

My journey from making people want things to making things people want, through advertising, retail & brand design, to digital product studio.

Jo San Diego, Unsplash

Why do I work for a digital product studio? Well to start with, I didn’t set out to work in one – I’m not even sure they existed when I started back in 2003. My career started in advertising, at one of the biggest agencies in the world, in a temporary position which ended up lasting a decade. From there, I moved into retail and brand experience design – a purposeful move to work with some fantastic brands, widen my experience, and work with businesses all around the world.

Through both of those roles, I could see the strong and lasting impact creativity has on business. I don’t watch TV with ad breaks anymore, but to this day adore the best in class advertising, past and present, as when it is at its best, it can be amazing. Think Volvo Trucks, The Guardian’s Point of View, or Tango Blackcurrant). Also, I warn you never to go shopping with me, or I will bore you about store design and use of materials, lighting, flooring, layout…

But throughout all of this something didn’t feel right. It felt like the briefs we worked on were prescriptive and defined. They would ask us to find a ‘truth’ in an already defined product or service, and communicate that truth to their current and future customers. All in a way that had never been done before, in order to change the way people felt about a product and influence future purchase behaviour.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that just wasn’t doing it for me.

I loved saying I worked for the agency in Mad Men, or that I’d defined a new retail experience for McDonald’s in Manhattan, but was conflicted with the feeling of just making people want things. We were not involved in the upstream decision making process to define and understand the innate human need that the product would solve. Do humans need another can of carbonated sugar, or another set of wireless headphones…? I felt the sands were shifting – or at least, my sands were.

I knew the team at 383, and in all truth, I decided to come and work here for a whole variety of reasons. But, if I had to distil it down to one thing, it is our belief in making things people want, over making people want things.

So, if you love the mix of creativity and business, you are contemplating a career move, or trying to start one, I have written this for you, using my experience to help you navigate a little easier.

This is not a tribute to the product design world – there are some absolute atrocities of design out there, such as the continuous scroll on your social news feed, or the dreadful like button… – but my take on the role I play at a digital product studio, why I feel it is the right place to be, and the view it affords me at the intersection of creativity, business strategy and customer insight.

So. Why 383, and why now?

Simply put, I am at 383 because it enables me to make a difference to the actual product or service that people experience – not merely making them aware of it, or making them recall it better.

It’s about building something from scratch that didn’t exist, based on a known need or friction, then testing, validating, sometimes starting again, and scaling it to become a digital solution to a real-world problem – adding business value at the same time. It’s about making things people want, not making them want things.

At 383 we don’t generally work in FMCG, creating products you physically touch. We work within financial services, utilities, childcare, transport and mobility, hospitality and insurance.

You cannot own these things. They are services you ‘hire’ to satisfy a need, as and when required. Some of these services are not tangible, so require digital products to help deliver the desired experience and outcome. Those products also reassure customers of the quality of the service before they need to use them. For example, a great digital onboarding for an insurance brand can reassure you they will be easy to deal with in the unfortunate event of you having to claim (although this is often, sadly, not the case when dealing with the majority of insurance claims investigators…).

The products we build have to make the customer experience better, reduce friction, and account for the broad variances in the people that will be using them.

We need to understand how specific groups of people interact with the digital world, the enormous plethora of devices, voice, security, personalisation, and data sensitivity. Often, we have to integrate our products into archaic business infrastructures, whilst delivering cutting edge experiences, and making them a pleasure for people to use.

The products we build have to make the customer experience better. It’s about making things people want, not making them want things.

There is nothing better for us than helping a business understand more about their customers, surfacing unmet needs, then imagining, defining and building a proposition and solution hand-in-hand with those customers, and finally launching the output as a value-creating business tool that can grow and evolve. Too many businesses focus on what they can supply, rather than what they should deliver to serve their customer’s needs best.

To do all this, we need a vast range of skills, personalities and attitudes to help us navigate these environments. That means I get to work with a massive array of different people to help get the job done. I honestly never knew what a Business Analyst, DevOps, QA or a Service Designer did before joining 383.

It’s not all great, of course. It is hard. You have to be your most demanding critic, continually challenging yourself to see if you are adding as much value as you can, and often holding your clients’, and their procurement departments’, hands through new ways of working when you can’t categorically tell them what the output will look like.

In most cases, we are selling trust; trust in our skills, experience, process and partnership.

Too many businesses focus on what they can supply, rather than what they should deliver to serve their customer’s needs best.

Setting the trends

If you are still unsure of the influence of digital product design on the world of business, how many times have you heard the words agile, lean, scrum, UX, MVP, human-centred design, sprint, etc., in established companies recently? Although often misused, terms like these are becoming more commonplace. They started in the design world. Innovation has been a buzzword for a long time, along with digital transformation. They both use methodologies and approaches rooted in the world of product design, and later digital product design – essentially, putting the customer at the centre of the business, prioritising decisions on what they want and need, then testing, validating and scaling new ideas quickly.

Or, in other words, making things people want.

Do I have any regrets about not getting into this world earlier? Yes, and no. I love it now I am here, but my previous experience is an advantage when understanding our clients’ worlds from different angles. There is nowhere else I’d rather be and I am learning skills and gaining perspectives that are only going to grow in their significance as time goes on.

So, if you read this and it has helped you a little then my work here is done. And if it has piqued your interest in working for 383 then check out our careers page.

And finally, if you are embarking on a new career, or career change during these turbulent times I am very happy to chat and open my network to you. Get in touch!

 

Like the sound of working at 383? We’re always looking for superstars to join our team. View our open roles here and drop us your CV.

 

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