GRINtroducing: Daniel Harris, cxpartners

cxpartners design and build services and digital products that deliver what people need. We were lucky enough to get the insight from their very own Experience Strategy Director, Daniel Harris.

What was it that drew you towards Service Design?

It was 2006. I was broke after finishing a Masters in Environment design at Central Saint Martins. I applied for a job as a UX architect at a large agency in London, thinking that it would be all about creating spaces and environments, but I quickly realised that it was all about digital interfaces only! Which was fine, but to me, they were just interfaces to a more foundational system. My work seemed to get stuck at this point – when I tried to dabble in the system logic. I realised that agencies were not cut out for delving into the depths of business systems; they simply made these systems ok to use and not ugly. But this didn’t sit right as a designer! I realised I wanted to be deep in making the system better! It was at a time where digital startups were emerging again after the 2000 crash. They had the opportunity to invent all kinds of business models such as ‘Freemium’ and ‘Network effect’ which allowed them to acquire users at a massive rate. I found this completely fascinating. I saw that these models were being actually designed by designer founders and I desperately wanted to do the same with all my clients. Service Design allowed me to define every aspect of a business in a methodical way. I started to develop it as a practice with the team at Fjord and Accenture in London and I met Shelley Evenson of Service Design Network who taught me that service design was all about creating value… by simply connecting people’s capabilities and needs together. This blew my mind and has powered me ever since!

What would you consider the most difficult challenge in terms of meetings a client’s aims, especially within such a diversified discipline?

We’re in the business of creating new futures for our clients. The easy part is to research and envision and design that future. The challenge is always taking it to market; to realise value or simply test it and learn, as soon as possible. Why is this? Just working this way (re-thinking, iterating, learning, operating in collaboration with customers) is a tough change for most organisations in terms of capability, infrastructure and culture. But to be in a state of continual disruption represents a different level of change for how they operate. Fortunately at cxpartners our proposition deals with this head-on. We deploy a workstream of product management and leadership coaching at the same time as developing our work – which operates at much greater levels of collaboration with our clients than it used to.

The goal is simple – to facilitate our clients in being the healthy organisations they need to be for the future.

What has been your most rewarding project to be involved in?

I’ve recently been lucky enough to gather the most incredible myth-busting data about the state of employee experience around the world. Back in October, on behalf of our global software client, we deployed two incredible ethnographic field research teams in Japan, Brazil, US, UK and India to study multiple retail, restaurant and sales employees. And they returned with so many insights. Like just how stress-based absenteeism comes as a result of managing retail assistant teams… or exactly how much costly time is spent on manual workarounds for systems that are unfit for the purpose of timetabling staff into rotas.  It’s been the start of a real investigation into how we can help companies properly get ‘work’ right for their staff. We know that in doing so lies so many opportunities to radically improve their performance as organisations.

You value ‘learning by doing and failing’ – has this approach ever landed you into trouble?

Never! (I don’t think…!) I actually think the ‘failure’ part of this is simply about learning what’s right. When you’re a child you only develop by trying things out and being curious. You make mistakes and that’s just brilliant for learning. In fact learning from accidents is what the aviation industry has been built on. A designer would never dream of not prototyping a chair, a car. So what’s crazy is how alien this approach is to the rest of the world’s industries. Somehow we’ve developed a culture that teaches you that experimenting could lead to waste, failure and demise. And yet we’re seeing just how powerful and needed the learning by doing approach is in tackling the ‘wicked’ problems of climate change, recycling or social inequality. I’m hopeful that as a species we’re able to unlock ourselves from the old way and embrace curiosity, creativity, making and learning in all aspects of our lives.

Is there a particular client you’d love to work with?

You know, I simply love working with ambitious clients who have an opportunity to change their industry. For these customers of these companies, they want to know that they’re buying into investment for a healthy, happy planet. In fact employees want to contribute to this too. We help companies use new technologies and creative thinking to present this as a difference in the market. But we have to show that this approach is making a bottom line impact. It’s why we specifically focus on helping our clients prove value super quickly, gain trust within their organisation and scale up little by little.

At what point do you consider your design’s successful, and how do you prove this?

Impact is what I’m after! I’ve only recently got into OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). The simple idea is that if you make key results, you’ve reached your objective. We have tons of results in terms of uplifting revenues by addressing the real needs of customers, like improving credit card sales (by 90%!) for Cooperative Bank – by simply making the terms and conditions easier to consume. It’s also critical that organisation can do this continually, with their own teams. This increasingly looks like measuring culture, capability, collaboration as ‘leading indicators’ of impact.

What is the most unsuccessful UX you have encountered in your day-to-day life?

Recycling. Education. Social care! There are large parts of society that all of a sudden seem unfit for purpose. And perhaps it’s the UX, perhaps its the systems. Perhaps it’s policies. I’m interested in strategies and examples that can address these key challenges of our time. 

On the other hand, what do you think works so efficiently that it is unlikely to require any change for the foreseeable future?

This a great question! And at the risk of sounding whimsical, beauty for me lies in the system. The Circular Economy attempts to describe this beauty. For me, it comes back to Service Design – facilitating the exchange of assets and value between human stakeholders. It sounds benign but it is what the most successful modern organisations are founded on. After that, it’s all about how organisation are able to continually flex to change. AirBnB – one of the original service design examples (exchange homes for holidays for cash) are a great example of this flex. They recognise the influence (sometimes not so positive) they have in local economies and are continually flexing their proposition to address this. 

If you could give a piece of advice to some starting in the design sector, what would you say?

Start by learning and practicing the craft really deeply. Learn the rules so you know how to break the rules. Keep an eye on what others are doing; learn to collaborate widely. Become what’s known as T-shaped (deep discipline expertise, yet really conversant in everything else that’s needed – technology, business design, management, stakeholder relationships)
“Notice more, Let go, and Use Everything”. These words from Robert Poynton in his do lectures book about the use of improvisation have been another great help to me.
“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” Is another useful way of framing the practice of being aware of more than just the task at hand. A quote from architect Eliel Saarinen.
Above all, learn to be a creative professional. To be a helpful collaborator. To be trustworthy. To understand a situation and generously contribute in a way that moves everyone forward. 
Finally, develop a ‘design consciousness’. What I mean by this is to know what it is you want to change; some would describe it as your purpose. As designers, we are in a great position to design the world forward. Like doctors, we should ‘do no harm’. What’s your own version of the Hippocratic oath? 

Plan B – If you wasn’t working in Service Design, What job would you be doing?

Oh man, from the age of 9, I have been obsessed with the making of media. Music production (just how do great songwriters come up with great songs?!), fine art, TV, film… I got into editing short films for festival producers a number of years ago and I would have built on that I guess. I love the idea of acting (I actually think it’s one of the best ways to develop empathy) but I’ve never tried it properly. But ultimately, I’d love to be a film director!

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