Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?
John Jones: I am a global design strategy lead at Fjord, so I work with our clients and teams across the world. As a design consultancy, we are always striving to develop new ways of thinking and working with our clients, which can then be translated into elevated service design for their customers or employees.
E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
JJ: I report to Olof Schybergson, Fjord’s co-founder and CEO. It’s a flexible role, so I am able to focus on projects and new strategic initiatives to help Fjord continue to evolve.
E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
JJ: For me, it’s being comfortable with ambiguity – not knowing exactly what we’ll find, but diving in to problem solving right is the right mind-set to make progress quickly.
We often talk about “connecting the dots” but often don’t know where all of the dots are. This is where more immersive research with users and employees is an invaluable starting point – living the experience while we are designing for it. Finding more dots to work with helps us find typical and atypical answers to a problem. By being open to employing a diverse set of methods and people, you are most likely to get a diverse and interesting range of solutions.
I have found writing to be a key skill in my role. The art of telling a good story is essential when we’re trying to communicate new ideas to clients – being able to break down complex thinking into easily digestible stories is invaluable. Writing a simple story is also key to working out the ideas – we find if we name services and features correctly, they move forward more quickly.
John Jones, Fjord
E: Tell us about a typical working day…
JJ: The one point of consistency across any working day is a cup of coffee – it doesn’t even have to be good coffee.
After that, there is no “typical” day. While I spend most of my time in New York, I also often travel to other global studios to work with local teams on specific projects. I divide my time roughly in half between client work and internal projects, such as Design Studies – an initiative which helps Fjord constantly evolve, improve our thinking and stay in front of where design is headed.
Design Studies is one of the most impactful activities I started at Fjord. The aim is to find out more about how people behave so we can design the best services for them– we’re trying to get to the heart of complex issues in a way which will easily cut through to live projects we’re working on for clients and positively impact consumers.
If we can better understand patterns of behaviour, we can then intelligently design a relationship between people and the world or services around them. We based one Design Study on how to communicate to people without screens. As our ability to use screens changes in different circumstances, non-visual design becomes much more important – like riding a bike or wayfinding in darkness.
After experimenting with a variety of materials and techniques to establish how we interact without screens, we focused on haptics (touches and vibrations) to communicate and ended up inventing a product worn in a lanyard, which can extend the users awareness. A tap while cycling can help pinpoint where potential traffic problems may arise, for example. It’s translating these Design Study insights into practical design solutions that result in truly differentiated services.
E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?
JJ: We are exploring new ways to look at human interaction every day – studying behaviour, connections, intent and decision-making. This is a constant curiosity for me personally and I am fortunate that it is at the center of my work as well.
I think we all have a love / hate relationship with the New York City Subway. It is a packed, often frustrating experience, but you see every kind of person on the subway in New York. It helps us keep in touch with who we are really designing for – and there are so many problems to solve. I find that’s a good mind set to walk into the office with, no matter what the commute has been like.
E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
JJ: One of my primary goals is to challenge my own ways of thinking when I’m working. If a day goes by where someone or something hasn’t helped me to see the world in a different way, then that’s a slow day.
E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
JJ: I still find pen and paper the most useful tools to use – that combined with some of the collaborative applications like Google Docs and Dropbox means I can work with anyone, anywhere.
E: How did you get into design strategy, and where might you go from here?
JJ: I spent ten years working at an interactive agency, and the decade before that running my own business. One thread that has run throughout everything I’ve done is writing. When I started out, I was writing user journeys and doing game design and development. Today, my writing is focused on clearly communicating new methods and emerging digital services.
The critical thinking that comes from writing is very useful as we move into areas like artificial intelligence. In many cases AI is developed in isolation by coders with little understand of behaviour and context. To make real progress, we have to truly understand the problem we are solving and then apply AI.
In the Fjord Makeshop, we have a process we describe as “technology last” where we do as much human problem solving up front before we select a technology platform. In this way, by the time we get the platform, we can be sure we have really understood the needs.
E: Which brands do you think are using design well?
JJ: I do love classic cars – as a designer, it’s good to ground yourself in the physical and every year I try to go to the New York Auto show with my kids. The Volvo P1800 is a particular favourite; it comes from an era of beautiful design which has withstood the rise of new car technologies.
E: Do you have any advice for people who want to work in a design consultancy?
JJ: We need people from more diverse backgrounds in design. People who have studied philosophy, writing, theatre, music and other areas who are trying to understand behaviour and intent will be invaluable, especially as areas like voice and AI become more prevalent.
We have to be learning new things all the time, question how things work, taking them apart and putting them back together. If we understand more about people, make things as quickly as possible, work in iterations and find new ways to collaborate, there are so many more problems we can solve.
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