Many of our most interesting projects start from a common point. The most interesting design briefs we receive are some version of the client asking us to imagine what their future might look like.
Just now we’ve finished one project where the biggest financial services firm in Canada asked us to imagine how they could give every Canadian a financial plan by 2025.
We’re about to finish another where a charity asked how they might use design thinking to improve their efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Meanwhile, the studio is continuing to work with a technology company that’s just been acquired. I found out last week that the product vision and strategy we created for them helped in their acquisition. Post-acquisition they’re continuing to work with us to imagine what their product will look like in the future.
Let me tell you a secret… When we set out, we don’t know what the future might look like any more than the client does. We didn’t start a single one of those projects with the answer. We don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into. We have a process. A very simple, human process.
We watch. We observe. We understand. Truly and deeply understanding the problem inspires us to create ideas for solutions. We create the simplest possible designed artefact that enables us to test those ideas. We watch what happens. If they work, we improve and refine those ideas into solutions. If they don’t, we try something else.
It almost sounds too simple doesn’t it? Big consultancies will sell you complicated design processes and methods. We simply immerse ourselves in the problem. That inspires ideas. We imagine how the future might be different. And invent a solution. Nothing complicated. No bullshit. Just human ingenuity and creativity applied in the right way.
And while it’s simple, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of nuance. We’ve designed dashboards for driverless vehicles, connected home appliances, platforms that power the internet of things, geospatial applications that help conservationists prevent species loss, publishing services that accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, financial services that help every Canadian plan their financial future. 99 world changing projects that are also worth billions of pounds to their respective clients. And, we’ve won a host of design awards along the way.
But, it’s never easy. It takes it toll. We suffer moments of doubt. We suffer anxiety that this might be the project that fails. So we go back to the process.
Nothing complicated. No bullshit. Human ingenuity and creativity stretched to its limits. Every time.
Stay Brave. Keep being disruptive. Never stop believing in a better future. Reach out for help. Let’s imagine what’s next together.
01_ The AI Index Report
The latest edition of Stanford University’s AI Index was published and a number of interesting trends stand out. Patent fillings in AI tech seem to be growing exponentially. The accuracy of AI algorithms for many tasks is approaching perfection (e.g. facial recognition) and machines have become better than humans in others (e.g. question answering). The technology certainly is mature for some of these more basic, underlying applications but general intelligence is still a long way off despite the investment flooding into related technologies.
02_ Urban Indians beat space crunch by investing in digital solar power
Apartment dwellers in India are finding innovative ways to participate in solar power generation, including a tokenised ownership platform called SundayGrids. Participants pay to help fund the installation of large scale solar generation on the rooftops of schools, shopping malls, and other partner sites then token owners are paid back in cash to cover their own energy use. Community energy generation is not a new idea but these models could be instrumental in eventually democratising the energy supply.
03_ A Guide to DeSci, the Latest Web3 Movement
Decentralised Science uses blockchain to enable open science in a bid to scale scientific research, collaboration and funding opportunities. Through our work with universities, publishers and funders we’ve witnessed the acute pain of scientists who spend up to half of their time writing grant proposals when they’d rather be concentrating on the science. It is pretty well understood that the dependence on the impact factor of journals creates the wrong incentive mechanisms and leads to an over emphasis on novelty, underfunding important basic science and contributing to the replicability crisis. Open Access was meant to address many of these issues. We’re immediately suspicious of blockchains claiming to solve old problems with new technology: the answer clearly isn’t that simple. While it’s not yet clear whether DeSci will succeed where Open Access failed, it is currently an interesting area of innovation to keep an eye on:
Future by Andreesen Horowitz ⭢
04_ The Anatomy of Kindness
The BBC has conducted the world largest in-dept study on kindness with Prof Robin Banerjee of the University of Sussex. They share some of the things they learned in this article and associated podcast:
05_ The Human Touch: Making the Most of Human Touchpoints in Service Delivery
Digital self-service has become a dominant mode of service delivery over the past 20 years. As straightforward interactions with customers have moved online, a new, more complex role for contact centres has emerged. The problem solving powers and authentic connection that customer service agents provide is often overlooked though. Primarily viewed as an operational cost, contact centres aren’t being considered as value creators and therefore the role of human contact isn’t being effectively used in the design of services.
In the first of a new series of Modernity Seminars, Nina, our own Director of Service Design, will explore how we might more thoughtfully approach the design of services to better realise the unique value of contact centres and how we can change the conversation to highlight the importance of human contact in CX in an organisation that just wants to talk cost.
The big projects we started in January have entertained us through winter and into the beginning of spring and these projects are coming to their conclusion.
One of Canada’s biggest financial services firms asked Modern Human to help them create a 3-year vision of their customer experience. Their goal was audacious - to create a financial plan for every Canadian. This month we delivered an ecosystem of concepts that radically transforms financial planning into a dynamic, exciting and engaging activity complete with real-life rewards.
Our work with Map Action is also drawing to a close. Map Action are a fantastic charity that apply geospatial expertise to humanitarian situations to greatly improve the outcomes for people affected. They are increasingly working on prevention rather than emergency humanitarian response and their work is more and more focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change. Our final concepts are being delivered today along with a design toolkit that will help them and their volunteers apply design thinking to one of the greatest challenges that humanity faces.
Finally, we’ve been continuing to design a new feature for our leading EduTech’s client’s flagship product. Design is never straightforward and it’s taken a lot of iteration with their product team and with teachers and educators to get it completely right. It’s exciting because we think it’s unique in the market (which is why we can’t tell you more about it). It’s also a rare occurrence of a single insight from ethnography leading to a single design intervention. We can’t claim that it’s been easy but as designers we accept that we do the hard work so that the user doesn’t have to.
With so many projects finishing in March we’re going to be starting a plethora of new projects in April.
We’re returning to the world of UK Politics to continue our examination of the impact of news & social media on democracy. We’ll be using ethnography to build on insights from our 2019 General Election research to understand engagement and decision making in the Local Elections.
We’ll be working with a startup that is setting up clinics for Women and Children in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a really interesting service design project designing a differentiated patient experience for their very first clinic.
We’ll also be heading into schools and universities to shadow teachers and understand how teaching practices have changed after the pandemic. Our ethnography is looking for emerging practices in educational settings across Europe.
I’m sure there’ll be a lot more about these projects in future editions.
We’re hosting our first live and in-person event in March. Director of Service Design, Nina, will be presenting our insights on the value of human contact in services. Digital self-service has moved straightforward interactions online, which has created a new, more complex role for contact centres. We find that the problem solving powers and authentic connection that customer service agents provide is often overlooked. Primarily viewed as an operational cost, contact centres aren’t being considered as value creators and therefore the role of human contact isn’t being effectively used in the design of services. With an exclusive, hand-picked audience Nina is going to explore how we might more thoughtfully approach the design of services to better realise the unique value of contact centres and how we can change the conversation to highlight the importance of human contact in CX in organisations that might just want to talk cost. You can find out more about the event at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/modernity-seminarsmaking-the-most-of-human-touchpoints-in-service-delivery-tickets-295316237817
If you’d like to join us though, you’re going to need the secret code. Drop Ruth an email (email@example.com) and she’ll be able to hook you up.
Chief Creative Officer, PJH has been confirmed as a speaker at this years Design Ops Conference. The topic of the conference is ‘Designing for the Metaverse, Web 3.0 & Circular Futures’. You can find out about his talk and book a place at the virtual conference at: https://designops-conference.com/paul-jervis-heath/
Ruth is also reaching out to potential new clients that we’d like to work with in the year ahead. We only do 12 projects a year, so we’re often booked well in advance. We’re always looking to start conversations with interesting companies who might need our help though. She is trying to find projects that will make a genuine difference to companies, their customers and the world but we’re not in any rush. If you think you’d like our help in the year ahead then now is the time to start that conversation. Drop Ruth (firstname.lastname@example.org) an email and she’ll set up a conversation.