Interview by Steve MacDevitt who is a designer & director working at the intersection of design, art & technology. Lorna Ross is the Group Design Director at Fjord, Dublin

What is your background briefly?

I come from a traditional craft design background. I studied Fashion and Textile Design at the National College of Art and Design here in Dublin and then went on to do a postgraduate course in Computer Related Design, which is where I really started to work at the intersection of design and technology. My thesis was on wearable technology and I spent more than 10 years of my career in that field.

My career has been fairly varied – I consulted to DARPA, the US government defence research agency; was associate professor of industrial design at Rhode Island School of Design; principal research scientist at MIT Media Lab; and design lead at Motorola Futures Group. Before returning to Ireland to take up my position here in Fjord, I worked in Minnesota in the United States as Design Director of the Mayo Clinic Centre for Innovation, focusing on innovating the experience and delivery of health services for Mayo patients and clinic staff.

What do you do at Fjord & what would a regular day involve?

My role is Group Design Director at our Fjord Studio, based at The Dock, Accenture’s multidisciplinary research and incubation hub – both of which opened this year .

Since joining Accenture earlier this year, my focus has really been on setting up the Fjord Studio here in Dublin. Given that we’re based in an R&D hub, this has presented some really interesting challenges in terms of discovering what design can contribute to in an innovation setting. As a result, we’ve had to challenge some of the orthodoxies around what of we consider ‘good design’.

For example, it used to be the case that you’d be given a very clear design brief to work to and you could go away and develop some beautiful things. We’re now being brought into projects at very early stages when things aren’t so clearly defined, and our contribution becomes more about weaving in the design perspective from the start, so that when people are developing these technologies, the human implications are being considered. We’re working with various disciplines across the business including the likes of artificial intelligence, analytics and another technologies for the shared success of all. It’s hugely challenging as we need to show the success and effect of design in this new environment, but it’s also hugely exciting.

Design is having a bit of a golden age in the 21st century spreading into new areas such as consultancy work with Fjord/Accenture. Why and what it can bring to the party?

There’s no doubt that design is becoming more visible in corporate environments. What we’ve seen of late is that a lot of consultancies have actually bought design firms because they’ve realised that clients want traditional consultancy services but they’re also really interested in how they can leverage design. They’ve realised that consumers are becoming increasingly unpredictable and that they can no longer predict the kind of trajectory they would go on – and that’s where design comes in. It’s is absolutely a real advantage for us to be in the position to advise what enhancements need to be made from a tech perspective, from a strategic perspective and from a design perspective.

Consumers are shaping markets and their behaviours are shaping how markets behave, and this is so unpredictable. As a result, businesses can’t really plan as they used to so it becomes important to try and predict how people are going to act and make choices based on that.

Technology has allowed and encouraged a big increase in collaboration, what’s your thoughts on this and on the role of the specialist / jack of all trades?

Design is really moving out of being a very specialist area, with design process skills now tending to complement the overall skillset. Traditional design thinking is very strong in the analysis of problems and at the diagnostic phase; it helps you bring people together and have creative conversations, but it is weaker in creating and building the robust design solutions to fix these issues. It needs to collaborate with other disciplines to develop that end product.

What type of projects do you get excited about?

The projects that are most interesting to me right now are those that are responding to the impact of human behaviour. What’s really fascinating here is that the impact is not exclusively happening across one industry, so multiple industries are disrupted.

An example of this is how people use digital tools, for instance the adoption of social media, and how people are getting and consuming this information. Decisions are being made much more spontaneously and in real time, and that’s affecting so many industries – retail, public utilities, telcommunications. It’s compelling because it shows the force of human behaviour, when they start doing something at scale, or equally stop doing something at scale, and the ripple effect it has. Businesses often think of themselves as part of a neat segmentation of industries, but when you watch something happening at a social level, which cuts across all that, it’s really fascinating. These projects impact traditional siloes and show that different industries are going to have to align, and maybe even collaborate, and that’s revolutionary. Non-traditional collisions are happening and I think it’s great to see things play out in a way that no-one ever expected. There’s something very refreshing about the realisation that industries are re-inventing themselves to stay relevant, and to see how they are changing to be open and innovative.

What trends or leaps, technological or otherwise, are you most looking forward to in the next few years?

Many of the most challenging issues organisations are facing right now revolve around the relationship between human and machine and how best to navigating the inherent implications these emerging technologies bring.

We’ve just launched our Fjord Trends 2018, which is Fjord’s 11th annual report examining the seven emergent trends expected to impact business, technology and design in the year ahead. It draws upon the collective thinking of Fjord’s 1,000+ designers and developers around the world, including the team based here in Dublin.

One of the trends that stands out to me in particular surrounds blockchain. Trust and transparency are big issues at the moment and with the rise of fake news, the integrity of information is really declining. The traditional idea of trust and those pillars have been reputationally damaged and that’s really challenging in terms of finding a trusted source of information. Blockchain has the potential to bring a lot of transparency to this uncertainty of trust. What’s exciting is that technology is offering a new type of trust, and I’m wondering if, as blockchain gets more and more established, will people trust it? It’s about how do you establish and preserve ideas of trust and what does trust look and feel like. It’s a really exciting design challenge – previously the focus was on ‘design for experience’ and now it’s more about ‘design for the experience of trust.’

Another really interesting trend is around artificial intelligence – the algorithms designed for AI only know what you teach it. Depending on our own inherent biases, we’re ultimately creating algorithms with our own gender or cultural biases. We really have to examine the way we build our algorithms and I think that will be a fascinating challenge for the next few years.

Anything we should have asked or you’d like to add?

Accenture has recently launched the Fjord Trends 2018, which incorporate a lot of the themes I’ve referenced above. You can find the full report at https://trends.fjordnet.com/?/ or https://www.slideshare.net/fjordnet

The seven trends it examines this year are

1. Physical Fights Back: Digital has had the limelight long enough – there are two brand experience headliners now. The time has come to blend the digital with the physical.

2. Computers Have Eyes: As well as comprehending our words, computers now understand images without any help from us. Imagine the exciting possibilities for next-generation digital services.

3. Slaves to the Algorithm: How do you design a marketing strategy to win over the algorithms – immune to conventional branding efforts – that sit between brands and their customers?

4. A Machine’s Search for Meaning: A.I. might change our jobs, but need not eliminate them. We can – and should – design our collaboration with the machines that will help us develop.

5. In Transparency We Trust: Blockchain has the potential to create transparency that will clear the fog of Internet ambiguity, regain lost trust, and repair relationships with the public.

6. The Ethics Economy: Organisations are feeling the heat to take stands on political and societal hot button issues, whether they want to or not. And consumers are speaking with their dollars, choosing brands that align with their core beliefs.

7. Design Outside the Lines: Design’s rapid ascedency and newfound respect within organisations is a win for all. But, in a world in which everyone thinks they’re a designer, today’s practitioners need to evolve – how they work, learn and differentiate themselves – if they are to continue having impact.

To learn more follow @AccentureACTIVE or @fjord and visit www.accentureinteractive.com or www.fjordnet.com.

The importance of upgrading your graphic designer skills. Insights from top digital designer Steve McDevitt


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