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The pandemic has propelled a broader view of design

The crisis has meant everyone has needed to adopt a more design-led mindset.

Andrew Barraclough, GlaxoSmithKline

Vice President of Design

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Amid the general uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, a few things very quickly became very certain. One was that being fleet of foot was essential for business survival and another was that thinking in a human-centred way was no longer just marketing-speak but rather fundamental business practice.

So, I would argue that the pandemic has meant everyone has needed to adopt a more design thinking mindset – by which I mean being nimble, human-centred, building prototypes and iterating as needed to find fast and unique answers to the challenges being faced.

We saw this in action in many different fields, but the highest profile centred on specific pandemic problems such as teams working to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, which would normally take years but instead was achieved in months, to others building respirators in weeks and facemasks overnight on 3D printers. Indeed, multiple companies – from high end fashion houses to fast fashion chains – jumped on board to turn their manufacturing processes over to the production of PPE. They were all employing design thinking to problem solve the situation.

There are clear steps in play with design thinking: create, test, learn, use, improve, iterate.

People-focused design

Design is often thought about only in terms of building physical products, but this definition is far too narrow. Hopefully one positive to come out of the past year is a better understanding that design is more than that, that design thinking can help all businesses and that being ‘people obsessed’ is the best way to solve any problems. Because rather than being about building things or choosing a pleasing colour palette, design is all about people and thinking your way through a dilemma to get to the most useful outcome for the user or customer.

If a designer doesn’t understand people, then they won’t be a good designer. And to understand people you must observe – when you watch them, you discover that they don’t always do what they say they do. I like to call this ‘listening with your eyes’ and it’s one of the most valuable tools in a designer’s toolkit. At the start of any design process, you need to watch, not just listen. And that gets repeated throughout the process – the iteration stage is about going back time and time again as the design evolves to make sure it’s getting closer to what the user wants and needs.

Prototyping takes out some of the risk and cost. As you get closer to the final design you can improve the quality. Design has no end, there may be a point where you deem it finished and put it to market – but once out in the world and being used at scale you will continue to learn how to tweak it and improve it. Look at how often the apps on your phone are updated – constant improvements are being made to make the experience for the user better as developers work in the background seeing how customers use the app. It may be easier for software developers to update their products than it is for a car manufacturer, but all businesses can learn to apply agile design.

Design is often thought about only in terms of building physical products, but this definition is far too narrow. Hopefully one positive to come out of the past year is a better understanding that design is more than that, that design thinking can help all businesses and that being ‘people obsessed’ is the best way to solve any problems.

Andrew Barraclough, vice-president of design, GSK

As the world moved increasingly online in the pandemic this further elevated the role of agile design as people came to expect the speed, simplicity and levels of service long adopted by digital-native brands. Brands that had to quickly adapt to ecommerce needed to do so meeting people’s high expectation of the level of customer service and interaction. User manuals are archaic – if it’s not intuitive, it’s not good enough – and this thinking covers most sectors and products and services. The precedent has been set and everyone must meet it. We need a broad-cast view of design, not a narrow-cast one for good design strategy to be employed by a business.

But even while we can learn so much from the tech-sector in terms of agile design, I’d add a note of caution that it must all still revolve around the user and to avoid being pushed by what the tech is capable of rather than being pulled by what the customer actually wants.

Guest Author

Andrew Barraclough, GlaxoSmithKline

Vice President of Design,

About

With 30 years’ experience working across all aspects of Design and Innovation, Andrew’s roles have spanned the Novartis Consumer Health, Reckitt Benckiser, a NED of the Design Business Association and currently GlaxoSmithKline. He also founded and ran his own Design and Innovation agency, Pure Realisation, for several years. His experience covers: Marketing, Product & Packaging Development, R&D, Design Management, Design Leadership, Design Research, Design Thinking and Innovation process and pipeline development, working across all areas of a business at a board level, strategically, tactically and operationally. Andrew has built multi award winning design teams with Design awards from Design Management Europe Award to Transform, Effie, Design Effectiveness including the Grand Prix, Packaging world Star and Red Dot with awards across a range of categories and sectors. As a designer, he believes passionately in holistic customer experiences that bring together world class design and fearless innovation. In his current role as Vice President of Design, Andrew has pushed the boundaries of perception of design across 146+ markets for more than 25 global brands with world renowned brands including Panadol, Sensodyne, Theraflu, Centrum, Voltaren, Tums, and Advil. Creativity is at the heart of business growth and Andrew’s passion to make ‘Humanity Better By Design’ with Design Thinking and Design Linking bring both shareholder value and exceptional consumer and customer experiences which are both distinctive and memorable.

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