We are in that era where design is at the forefront of innovation. Bridging design, technology and business has led to innovation in some of the world’s leading companies. To learn more about this, we visited the Tokyo office of Designit, a leading design and innovation firm that uses a human-centric approach to help ambitious companies invent their future. Our group had 6 students (4 from the University of Tokyo and 2 from Tokyo Institute of Technology).
The first thing that struck us upon entering the office of Designit Tokyo was its creative workspace with glass walls and post-its. Mr.Raphael Hodé, Service Designer at Designit Tokyo, welcomed us. Raphael started his career in advertising in Paris, working on brand and digital strategies for some of the biggest brands in the world. He quickly moved away from traditional advertising methods to specialize in creating engaging and innovative digital experiences for its clients. This led him to endorse varied roles between strategy, user experience design and service design, learning Design Thinking methods on the go. He joined the Tokyo office of Designit in early 2015 as a designer, handling various tasks relating to service design, user experience design, strategic design, innovation strategies or digital design projects
We then had an hour of interactive discussion with Raphael. Raphael talked to us about the intuition behind Design Thinking, the various processes involved, and how Designit Tokyo leverages the power of design to create value for its clients. He gave us interesting insights about the world of product design, service design, digital design, etc. Raphael answered our questions related to his career transition from advertising to strategic design, the attitude and approach that one should adopt to be a designer, applying design thinking to everyday life and also gave valuable words of career advice to design enthusiasts.
Question by Active connector (from below, “Q”): We would first like to know what led you to be a designer
Mr.Raphael: How i got here is very unconventional. I studied advertising in France. I specialized quickly in Digital Advertising which led me to UX/UI design. From there I started understanding the notion of “user experience” form a broader perspective, not just the design of digital interfaces but of an end-to-end experience provided by a brand to people – and that eventually led me to Service Design. I operated that switch by realizing that some of my clients’ problems couldn’t be solved by marketing but required a change in the core of the business.
Q: Any particular reasons you came to Japan?
Mr.Raphael: It is a combination of many things. I wanted to travel, and did not want to work in France because i felt that it was more exciting to work in a different culture. I was pretty young and thought now is the time to move to the other side of the word. Also in Paris, the use of design as a strategic asset is very under-developed, even less than in Japan. Therefore, there was nothing professionally keeping me there. Then why Japan especially, was mainly due to personal reasons.
Q: What made you move from traditional advertising methods to creating engaging and innovating digital experience? How would you analyse the two, and which has more impact?
Mr.Raphael:There is not good or bad. Different companies need different things, so each method has it’s own place. I shifted because i wanted to do something that would touch to the core of the business and to the experience that the company provides to its customers, not only taking a product or service and building a story around it order to sell it.
Q . Adding on to that question, to business design, application of design thinking in business would mean the company have to be flexible to adapt to change quickly. But a typical Japanese firm would have resistance to it. How do you tackle that situation.
Mr.Raphael: Not necessarily actually. Japanese companies might be seen as more reluctant to change, especially when you consider the hierarchical system that rules many of them. But I also feel that there is always a strong will to initiate and learn new things. In a certain way I feel that sometimes Japanese companies can be more impulsive than western ones and give a try to things more easily. The way things are done and decisions are made is just very different, and we need to adapt to that. Maybe gathering people in a room for a workshop, trying to align all participants towards a common decision like we do in the west isn’t the best way to do here since meetings in Japan are not made for making decisions. This is what’s fascinating about working in such a different culture like Japan; we need to take the existing design methodologies and adapt them so they fit and become natural in this very different environment.
Q:How does Japanese companies approach you, and how long does it take to attend to those problems?
Mr.Raphael: Business is very personal in Japan. You have to build trust with people before starting working together, and that can take more time than in the West.. Projects at Designit scale from very tactical ones, which can go really fast like 3-4 weeks, to more strategic ones that require to take into account a lot of stakeholders and parts of the business; and that can take up to a year. But in my experience here, I would say that the average project at Designit Tokyo will last 1 to 4 months.
Q What kind of corporate clients do you have?
Mr.Raphael: IT, retail, communication (carriers), banking, insurance, etc. Generally service industry and retail.
Mr.Raphael: Some people present design thinking as a proven step-by-step process for generating creativity – which is not wrong but not entirely true. Most of the time, the reality is much messier than that; you don’t follow a linear process but rather, the steps within are all jumbled up. You often have to go back and forth in this process, get lost, do extra research, get back to the design table and then ideate again… Design Thinking should maybe be thought as a set of tools to help defining the right problems and apt solutions, rather than a really linear journey. And in that sense, it is a very flexible way of working.
Q:In the whole design process how do you setup up a standard for evaluating the final solution? Do you decide by yourselves or the client decides?
Mr.Raphael: We involve clients as much as possible. The problems we usually have to tackle are strategic, meaning that they have a significant impact on the business of our clients; that requires a lot of involvement from their part. But end products and services are dedicated to users, who might have different priorities. You don’t want design something that goes against their needs either, and as designers we need to be advocates of that. The hardest part is that everybody agrees on a same direction.
Q: While working on the solution, multiple ideas keep coming in the mind, how do you select one over another as it is difficult to guess the quality of solution early? What if the client doesn’t have expertise in the area?
Mr.Rapahel: We have a lot of tools and methods to guide us towards the most relevant solution. As said previously, there are two parts to combine: the business side – what is interesting for the company – and user part – what is interesting for the people who are going to use that product or service. Then, prototyping early and often helps to validate solutions from many different perspective, pivot if necessary and move forward “safely”.
Q: What is the difference between service design, UX design, strategic design, design thinking, digital design? There is lots of confusion among the regular readers.
Mr.Raphael: It can be really fuzzy indeed… And many different designers will give you many different kind of answers! I will just speak for myself. I think that design is the process of finding what to make, based on studying people’s needs, the feasibility of things and the impact of the outcome in the real world. You can apply that to many things; products, services, digital things, organizations…
Then, define more precisely each one of these terms, I believe that Design Thinking is a creative technique inspired from this process for non-designers to generate innovative solutions to many kind of problems. UX design usually refers to the conception of digital products and services, focusing on one touch-point (the UX of an app, of a website…) whereas Service Design considers a system in its holistic dimension – taking into account many touch-points and considering the front side (user facing) as well as the back-side (staff, systems, IT, organizational challenges, etc.).
Q: Is the application of design thinking in different fields possible? Can they be applied to solve social problems in different countries?
Mr.Raphael: Yes of course you can apply design thinking in many different fields. It’s an innovation methodology based on the design process to be applied to solve all kinds of complex problems, including social issues, which we see more and more.
Q: When we try to ideate, it is possible to generate out of the box ideas only when people build up on the ideas of others, they try to debate. How do you do it?
Mr.Raphael: Designers should never work alone. Building up on other’s ideas is great and the use of co-creation is fundamental in what we do everyday at Designit. But very often, co-creation is a great way to gather information and insights from different people rather than really creating finalized solutions together. For example, during an ideation session, a client or partner might bring up a great idea but that isn’t necessarily the best one for the user’s needs. Even though that one idea won’t be taken further, it tells a lot about what that stakeholder had in mind and what are his/her priorities for this challenge – and that’s going to help us inform our judgment when we do design the final outcome.
Q: For the initial stages of the design process, how do you collect the data/information to work on?
Mr.Raphael: There are many types of techniques you can use to kick-start your design project, it really depends on the topic and problem. Sometimes the client has done a good background research and we use it. Sometimes you don’t have the budget and time to do it and you need to be more agile. In most cases I would say that you eventually have to go on the field and talk to the people; observe their behaviour – what they think of the problem, how they perceive the situation, etc. But in some cases, observing and talking to people isn’t enough or adapted; for projects relating to personal or private matters for instance. In those cases, we can get people to express their feelings with actions not words, by letting them create artifact rather than just speaking.