So your job title, according to LinkedIn, is "Future Mobility Experience Catalyst" at Nissan—pretty cool. Tell us, what's up with that? What does this job entail?
My official role in the studio is Project Lead Designer, "Future Mobility Experience design" is our team's expertise. We focus on designing solutions for our customer's future mobility possibilities. It is very rewarding to know, not only that we can fix user's problems, but also have a chance to design experiences that are functional and unique to Nissan. The challenge is to make these experiences into tangible objects that will become part of a real product. We are "catalysts" in that sense.
You've been working at Nissan for over 15 years, what are some of the highlights and milestone in terms of projects you've worked on there over that time? What makes them so memorable?
This is a great question. There are two perspectives, the "personal" side and "company" side. The "personal" side is about directly working with the team on product design. In a project team, each role is different and, depending on what role you play, it affects the way you position yourself and work with others. The end result is the direct reflection of the team's dynamic. The current Nissan Maxima 4-door sports car is a great example of the several successful production and concept car projects that I was able to work with the best talents at Nissan. I am very proud of being part of that. On the "company" side, my role has changed from being part of a very mature design development team to a more exploratory, researching, experiment-type role. Today, mobility experiences are deeply integrated into my everyday tasks.It all starts with users, not innovations nor design. It has been an eye-opening process be part of learning while influencing others. It is an eye-opening journey because it requires a whole different process. It is not very easy to change the way we work and think, but it is very motivating to have the opportunity not only to change the design process, but also influence the mindset of the designers.
Your resume says you're transforming the a concept experience model into a real life model—how exactly is Nissan tackling this and what kinds of features will this model have?
People are changing, so is the economy. In the experiential economy time like today, the traditional way of designing is no longer enough to meet the consumer's expectations. Nowadays, design is so much more integral part of many things. It is part of the holistic experience expectation. With a concept experience model, we test and define our vision with users and, only then, we fully focus with all disciplines on how the vision could be realized in the real products. To get to the real product phase, an experience modeling is surprisingly simple. Bring users early in the process to share the vision, and the team sprints for opportunities that are meaningful and inspiring for the customers. Put those experiences into specs and the team goes to work. Just as simple as that. Our approach is to deliver what matters most to our customers as soon as it could be. Though they may be small and gradual, those changes would be made in a way to be meaningful to our customers and the company as well. In that sense, our products may be the concept experience models in the true sense.
In what ways do you think our concept of transportation will change with future vehicles?
We shifted from horses to cars about a century ago, and that's what I feel it is happening again in the automotive industry, just like the TV has lost its identity and the automotive industry is no exception. The blurring the boundary between cars and services has started. Even though cars and services will be parallel in our life for another while and they will eventually merge. This wave will disrupt so many aspects of our life, just like riding horses to driving cars did - our city infrastructures, rental car companies, passenger/merchandise transportations, cityscape, natural resources, retail, environments, health, post-sale services, well-being, finance, time, space and, most importantly, PEOPLE. Car ownership models will change, too. If you ask a Nissan customer today, "What do you drive?," he or she would say a Rogue or something.But in the future, if asked, "What do you drive?" or even "What do you ride?" They may simply say, "Nissan," because they will say Nissan. I feel very fortunate being a designer now and the excitement that is heading our way. I hope many talents will help redefine what CAR vs MOBILITY is in many ways. Join us if you want to change the world together.
Petrula Vrontikis is a leading influence in graphic design. Her current work includes research, writing, consulting, creating brand communication strategies, training, and coaching. She received an AIGA Fellows Award honoring her as an essential voice raising the understanding of design within the industry and among the business and cultural communities. She is creative director and owner of Vrontikis Design Office (@vrontikis and 35k.com) and a professor at Art Center College of Design, teaching graphic design, career development, and professional practice courses.
For the latest edition of "Core Talk", Vrontikis talks with Core77 about her teaching methods that emphasize the importance of relaying professional knowledge as well as what she hopes to see in the Design Awards submissions.
Sarah is the Co-founder and Managing Director of Snook, an award winning design consultancy working at the forefront of civic, public sector and democratic innovation. Sarah focuses on making social change happen by re-thinking public services from a human perspective.
You worked in government before co-founding your company Snook. Can you tell me more about that and how that led you to the realm of service design? How did you think design could help create change in a different way than mere public policy can?
I was actually studying product design before having a shot at working in government, my background is in making physical things for people. During the middle of this training, we had the opportunity to look at service development for a non-departmental public body focusing on career development for young people. Post art school, I joined the organization working on internal projects and tracking the way policy moves from Scottish Government to the delivery of educational and career services.
It was clear from the outset that design could help organizations and governments understand their user needs beyond consultations and test ideas safely and cheaply before implementation or procuring 'solutions'. That was 2007-2010, and it was tough, the actual implementation of design practice to these political and policy driven environments is a design challenge in itself. Our work was landmark at the time because it was a kind of precursor to a lot of the innovative work I've documented going on in the UK across the past 5-10 years. Organizations like government digital service, the Scottish (Government) approach to Service Design, policy labs utilizing design methods are opening across the globe, and at the time, we had nothing to refer to where it had been done before.
I always thought that being inside the environment of Government and actually living it on a daily basis, seeing how it works (and doesn't) made it easy to spot where there were quick wins as well as larger, more long term strategic wins. Being on the inside taught me to identify problems, frame them and solve them. It made complete sense that taking an approach of design (making things better) could help fix problems for both internal users (staff) and service users (citizens). Going further, embedding design for me was about ensuring that policy ended up in usable and valuable services. Standing up for service users and staff to build processes and systems that worked for us, not against us. Often public policy can pre-define the solution or be taken directly into 'operations' without much thought to what works for users. More open policy making to allow design to bend and shape it into the right proposition and deliver tangible benefits for the public.
My past experiences were formative in the first days of Snook. We always said we wanted to help organizations to design and deliver better services but ensure we built the in-house capacity to do that themselves. I was sold on service design then and I still am now. Seeing it rise in the industry, within public services, within government, within commercial services and moving in-house has been an exciting new phase of design becoming, once again, a process for thinking usability first.
What do you think is the greatest misunderstanding about service design?
That it is just about social good. Also that making money is bad. Don't get me wrong, I love [designing for social good] - it is a core body of our work and I believe in doing good with design, but Service Design isn't all about that. It's about making money, improving manufacturing processes, selling more handbags. It's about delivering value to a customer and helping them do something. Papanek and many writers in the 60s/70s charted the idea of spending time as designers doing good, even the UK's Design Council mission that stands today from the 50s is about improving lives through design. But we shouldn't mix up that Service Design is a fetishization of user needs and 'saving the world', really it's about making things work better for users.
The second common misconception I see often is that [service design is] 'everything'. What I mean by that is it's often seen as an organizational change process, business development, culture change, systems thinking. Yes, it skirts around the edges of these practices and rightfully so, but without a good business proposition, a culture ready to work collaboratively it is difficult to achieve as an internal process at scale. However, Service Designers should be working with developers, product owners, business analysts, organizational experts to champion the users through a process to complete something.
What [service design has done] for a lot of people is open up a range of tools and approaches which allow us to focus on the user and allow us to actually bring form to ideas and quite intangible ideas before they're scaled. The clarity of service design for me is that it's about designing services, and it's about helping people to do something better.
In order to create a truly intuitive and beneficial service, what are three things a designer must do or keep or mind during the design process?
Firstly, you should always remember that your research isn't about asking people what they want; it's about understanding what they need. There's a really clear distinction between researching to understand the user's needs as opposed to a consultation, which is asking people what they would like to see. You could do research paying attention to what people say they would like to see, but really it's about understanding what people need to do, the tasks they need to do, how they like to do them, and [thinking about how] you can help them to do it better.
I think the second thing that designers must keep in mind is test ideas early. Even if you're testing out design principles for how a service might operate, whether you're testing out a mockup of a website or a full service experience, get it out there early so that you don't hold onto an idea or a service concept for a really long time, build it up, spend lots of money on it and then realize that, actually, it fails when you put it in the hands of users. That's really really important.
The third thing is that services don't happen in a vacuum, they happen as part of a wider system of organizations, stakeholders, invisible matter that exists from unwritten rules to databases we can't see. Sometimes services ask users to navigate different organizations and different systems where their data will be held by different institutions. This is often where problems are mostly found, when services aren't interoperable with both front and back of house. Services need to be designed so they work for users, not the other way around.
Therefore, as a good service designer, you need to be mindful of this. The hard work is in digging up how data works behind the scenes, who is responsible for gated stages of a process and matching this to solid user research around what people need. You can dream up the ideal scenario for users, but in reality, the hard work is in the implementation and making this work. So be mindful when designing a user experience that you consider the reality of what can be achieved; I think that's a key thing that a lot of early design education misses out. That's not a criticism of design education but it's a provocation to ask how we can actually train people to design services in the real world. So having that sense of realism about the possibilities, what you can achieve on the allocated budget, the strategic targets for that service, the long term maintenance and what the organization can actually deliver should be considered.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
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