Tom Bradley: An interview with Creative Boom

Our Design Director Tom Bradley recently spoke to Creative Boom – here are the highlights of his interview.

We’ve recently thrown out the rule book at Code to create a new agency operating model – one that moves away from the big campaign approach and more towards ongoing iteration and testing.

The major shift has been in mind-set, away from thinking about delivering ‘projects’ with a ‘big reveal’ towards an ongoing commitment to creating value across a client’s business through the evolution of its digital products.

It’s about working in cycles, starting with research insights and using these to develop a clear vision of the future, then looking for many ways in which we might begin to achieve this. From here, through rapid prototyping, we identify only those ideas that will have the biggest impact and iterate these further with additional rounds of design and testing.

Doing this reduces the risk of building the wrong thing, because throughout, we have prioritised based on measurable outcomes and used the prototypes to ensure every idea has been underpinned with research – often leaving things behind having initially been sure they’d work.

This approach rapidly moves into development, putting products live and measuring straight away so we can learn quickly, make changes, and then move on to the next thing, all the time taking the client closer to the overarching vision.

Prototype

The craft in making beautiful solutions still exists, but the creative process for the origination of new thinking is much more open and collaborative. We’re inclusive in the way we approach and think about things, working in partnership with clients to guide them through various exercises in order to reach the best outcome.

We believe this is the right thing to do because a capability in user-centred design is the thing that sets agencies apart, because the ‘skill’ in terms of build can often be the same. The insight and UX is the business critical piece of the work, getting the ‘experience’ right for users and customers. We have unique processes and industry-leading capability in this area, and this is the capability that so often clients want and need. They might have internal design and engineering teams, but not many companies have the capability to deliver such sophisticated user-centred design. Our job is to support clients in the areas they need it the most.

As part of your agency's recent shakeup, we’ve also developed a Lean Studio Manifesto.

To a certain extent a lean studio looks like any other; the difference is how people think about things. We’re looking for continuous improvement, which in practice means we tend to have more generalists rather than specialists in teams, as handovers often waste time, so our designers have a broad understanding of the whole process and hands-on working relationships with other disciplines. We still have different specialisms, so that we always have people that can deliver the depth of quality that each project needs.

We have a manifesto that summarises the behaviours that help us work smarter, reducing waste along the way, and bringing our output much more in line with today’s client needs – as some traditional agency working practices are now feeling outdated. Here it is in a nutshell…

SOLVE PROBLEMS over Predefined Solutions

EXPERIENCES over Designs

PRODUCT over Project

VALUE over Volume

DATA DRIVEN over Opinion

ITERATIVE over Big Bang

ADAPTABILITY over Constraints

We’re not saying this is completely new, or that our way of doing things is better than any other – rather this is what works for us, so let’s use it as the starting point for each conversation.

We’re able to stay lean and agile as we have cross-disciplinary, autonomous teams all focused on the client’s goals: delivering value.

The teams work closely with each client, making choices on how best to deliver this value. It’s about not letting the organisational chart dictate the way you operate, but creating small teams focused on making the most effective decisions that will ultimately achieve the overarching goal.

Each team works out what works for them, but then also aims to be aligned with the vision of the business, a strong team culture, and access to the tools and methods we use to get things done. This combination of autonomy and alignment helps us move fast, but also roughly in an agreed direction, and can be scaled to match the needs of our clients.

We think the results speak for themselves. The challenge for all teams is always how they maintain an objective outlook at all times and continue iterating with just the right amount of design that’s needed (not too much and not too little) to create business value through beautiful digital experiences that everyone is proud of.

The biggest stumbling block with planning in projects under the new lean mind-set is keeping things up-to-date, as often plans can change faster than you can implement them, but it’s still an essential part of the process.

We try to get around this by talking about high level themes, rather than detailed deliverables, which gives certainty over the direction and focus, but flexibility in terms of how we actually achieve things.

Another challenge is dealing with the perception of waste in the design process. We have to communicate up front why it’s so important to test lots of designs, and not just pick ‘the best’ one because we all ‘think’ it will work. The cost of fixing poor decisions goes up the longer we live with them, so our early stage process is about validating designs to benefit products in the long run, which ultimately helps us go faster. This is still about being lean, but can appear wasteful in the early days as you’re abandoning concepts that had sounded promising.

In line with this, because we work in a highly collaborative way with our clients, the methods we apply are open to more scrutiny than with less hands-on method. We help our clients make the best design decisions in the early stages and we’re very inclusive in these processes, so this requires a shift in expectation from the client as they’re involved in probably the design when it’s at its messiest.

We believe if you’re not doing human-centred design, what exactly are you doing!?

Laurie

But it really is the centre of all of our thinking and processes. The reason we follow it is because of the financial value that clients get from it, because if you can’t make the case that a design works effectively for the people intended, then you risk building something that nobody needs.

There are so many examples of this in practice, as every piece of design research we do teaches us something new about our products. There are always ideas that we all ‘think’ are right, but then prove less effective than we hoped in research. It’s not an exact science, but it helps us mitigate the risk of building the wrong thing, plus ensures that the end user is always at the centre of our conversations.

I’ve only been at Code for six months, so I’m still getting into it, but I would say our current work for Centre Parcs is a great example of our way of thinking.

I can’t say too much at this stage but we’re making use of design research in a really progressive way. This is a new way of working for the client, but the process suits the size and scale of the project because the outcome has to be right for Center Parcs guests.

BusyRoom

On a much smaller scale, we’ve also developed a new product that we developed within Code before releasing it to the business community. It’s called ‘BusyRoom’ and is designed to make the booking of meeting spaces much easier as it takes any friction out of double booking. The necessary simplicity of an app that you only glance at is something I loved working out from a craft perspective, but also the ‘one less thing to worry about’ sentiment is something that I think is cool too.

We recently went through a rebrand, including the launch of a new website.

The new look coincided with our move to new offices and was born out of a desire to create an identity that was more confident, more grown up and bold; something that would fit with our new surroundings and the direction of the business.

We began by defining a few creative themes to explore and ‘Modern Industrialism’ felt like the perfect term to describe our new direction, taking learnings from the past and the industrious history of Manchester and combining that with modern technology and creative thinking.

We collaborated with Dave Sedgwick (studio DBD) on this project; he was instrumental in the development of our new identity. We explored the theme of ‘Modern Industrialism’ looking at everything from the logo, typography and colours to the photography.

The decision to abbreviate ‘Computerlove’ to a TM style trademark (CL) was one that we thought about long and hard. Code Computerlove is still our full business name and Computerlove will always be a big part of who we are and what we do. However, to many (including ourselves) we’ve often referred to as ‘Code’ and so it made perfect sense to mirror this with our new logo.

With regards to the website, this is very much about practicing what we preach in terms of launching with a minimum viable product and the evolving it while live based on the insights we can gather. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the volume of new business wins and client work we have going through the studio, our own website inevitably has been taking a little bit of a back seat over the past few month and we’re not 100 per cent satisfied in terms of the speed at which we’re introducing new features. But watch this space – developments are underway!

One of the attributes we look for in potential Code employees is an ability to leave preconceived ideas of “what your job is” at the door.

Being a designer goes beyond ‘doing design’ and is about attitude, curiosity and optimism.

Having the self-confidence and self-awareness to allow yourself to question whether your design is right for users and not just something you think a client would like is a skill that never gets easier, but is essential if you are going to overcome your natural biases towards the things you’ve made. This is why collaboration works, as a contrasting perspective from someone else is usually the signal that you might be missing something.

I have three pieces of advice for designers looking to get ahead:

  1. Be able to describe the impact your work has made – what changes in the world have happened as a result of the work you did?

  2. Realise leadership is part of your role – so describe the value of design and be open to including others in your process.

  3. Don’t let the grass grow under your feet; look at how you can deploy your skills in different contexts and in new ways. Get involved outside your comfort zone. Volunteer. Run towards trouble.


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