Rafa Prada: Collaboration and Design in Different Organisations

Rafa and I talk about the blind spots of design education, what's the first thing he does when he takes on a new client, and how design is thought of in different organisations and sectors.

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Lead Product Designer

Rafa Prada

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Full transcript

Christian: Welcome to Design Meets Business, a show that inspires designers to think beyond pixels. I’m your host Christian Vasile, and on this podcast, I sit down with creatives to talk about their stories, lessons they’ve learned during their careers, and how you can use design to make a bigger impact in your organisation.

Today, we’re talking to Rafa Prada, a London based product designer, and college lecturer. We’re discussing the blind spots of design education, what’s the first thing he does when he takes on a new client, and how design is thought of in different organisations and sectors.

Rafa, thank you so much for joining the Design Meets Business podcast. Just to let everyone know, you and I used to work together at British Gas more than a year ago, although we were in a different team. So while we didn’t get to work with each other directly, the fact that you were one of the most talented people in there was never a secret. It was very much out there. So we’ll get into what’s your secret sauce today. And before that, like in any other episode, I want to give everyone an understanding of what’s your story and where you’re coming from, and what made would you want to become a designer? All that good stuff. 

Rafa: Yes, absolutely. Thanks. Thanks, man. Thanks for inviting me here. It’s been a pleasure. Well, and again, the thing you say, we have a really good team at British Gas, and I think that we can talk a lot about all the stuff that happens there, but the way to get to that point, I’m coming from a small city in Spain. A lot of people know about it. It’s called Seville, Sevilla, and I studied fine arts, and that was kind of a way to get into proper stages of curiosity. I do believe that the same is all about being curious and try to understand well, and then try and bring a solution into the table very well. 

So then naturally kind of very slowly, kind of moved towards the place that I am now. I run my own company, and I’m doing consultancy for big firms, but they try always to get into the more collaboratively spaces if that’s the case. So I guess that talking about those collaborations and that collaborative space. It’s quite — it’s way a good thing to do in there.

Christian: So looking a bit over your background, you’ve said yourself, you have a background in arts, but someone told me you also have a background in coding and that is a very interesting combination. Usually, you’re very creative, or you’re very logical. You have a bit of both. Tell us a bit about that. How did you get into coding when your background was in arts?

Rafa: So, yes, that’s something that I question myself as well sometimes. Like is the something. I can think of the same way, like, “How does that even happen?” And the only kind of answer I could get to that is that basically when you’re an artist — when you train as an artist, and you create things, you create objects, you have your paintings, you create drawings, you create sculptures, then you have this feeling of ending. You’re going to have to complete something and then set it int he wild. Then when you started to do things more related to design, which are more — I would say that when you’re talking about design, it’s like way more inclusive. When you’re an artist, you produce something; you give it to someone that will buy it or not buy. When you do the same, you design for people or for businesses. So you design for a reason. 

So it gets to a point where being a designer, we will always create bridges. So I will do design, but then maybe someone is going to print. I would do a design that someone is going to then make into a website. And that was a bit of a thing that I was missing. I need to understand how things are made in order to make them properly. And that’s how I slowly kind of got into code and made sure I understand why — and this is talking about — we’re talking like six or ten years ago. We were still having conversation about responsive design. “Oh my God, why is these things from 50 pixels to 1%? What is this?” Those are the kind of the learning points, I guess, that gets you into coding. And I’ve been kind of growing from that. 

Christian: So where was the point where you said, “Okay, enough is enough. Now let’s focus more on design and bridging that gap between businesses and customers and being that pivot point in the middle that acts to, I guess, please everyone’s needs. 

Rafa: Yes. So, I have a personal kind of opinion, that critical thinking is very important. And critical thinking is not really something that people get trained of or maybe kind of being taught in schools or any of that stuff. So there’s something that’s inside of you. You’re either a critical thinker, or you grow into critically look into those things. With this, I mean that at some point you work and you do design based on — someone will tell you to do thing or a creative director will tell you what to do. You kind of — you need more answers. You need to make sure in order to make something that is useful for the user, you need to understand what’s happening. You need to understand what’s happening. 

That’s how you use kind of slowly say, “Look, listen, there is no way that a successful piece, it could be called a product., it could be called a service, there’s no way that this will be successful if someone gathers the information, passed it to someone, then that information goes to me, then on that information I make mock-up and pass it to the developer, and then we go on. That needs to be much more fluid. It needs to be much more connected because otherwise, there obviously the Chinese. How they call it in English? The Chinese phone?

Christian: The Chinese whispers. 

Rafa: The Chinese whispers. And then you always lose information on the line, and people make decisions down the line, which might not be a decision based on what’s the necessary thing for the end product basically.

Christian: So how do you bridge that gap? You join a company, and maybe they don’t have these processes in place. Maybe they do a lot of Chinese whispers. Maybe you’re the first designer. Where do you start from? 

Rafa: It’s interesting because I recently joined another company. Well, one of my clients, and there’s pretty much that, what’s happened. We’re talking about a situation where you get onboarded into a company in the middle of a pandemic. I know that you, Christian, you talk a lot about distributed teams and remote work, so it’s very similar. It’s just that now it feels more real for some people. For people feel like, “Oh, I cannot go to the office, so we need to introduce this person.”

So when I get to places like the one that you describe, I’ll — things that I do is just basically talk to everyone. I spend the first month just talking to everyone. Everyone needs to know there’s someone new here and make very clear that what I’m doing here is help everyone. That we’re in this together and try to bridge that somehow. You go, and then you say, “Well, I’m going to talk to my direct team.” But this team needs to talk to the stakeholders. And the stakeholders have their own teams, and the bubble kind of grows, grows, grows.

So you can spend basically the whole first month trying to make sure that people understand what you do. Why are you there? What is your purpose? What is your role? And then you understand theirs as well, because that’s very important. Sometimes you get to places where I want to do — as a designer, I need to create this particular thing, which could be a piece of content, or it could be a particular feature. And I’ve got my specific needs, which is basically make sure that it’s very user-focused, it’s very user-centric, or is kind of good for the business. It’s important for the business. But then you talk to a project manager, and then you realise that maybe they have another set of needs. 

They may have a bonus, and that bonus is based on a particular outcome. So how could we bridge this? This is important for that person. Like how can we make it that it’s good to work for everyone, really. And this, trying to kind of uncover all those needs, those kinds of unique needs. I feel that a lot of times it takes long. So it’s normally not something that you could flip in a week or two, because you need to get trust. You need to gain trust with everyone, and that’s really tough. 

Christian: Building trust takes a lot of time; you’re right. And it takes even more time when you’re trying to build it as this outsider that comes into a company. Nobody knows you; nobody knows who you are, and you’re trying to build trust. So what are some tips there? How do you approach those conversations? Whether it’s a developer, whether it’s a project manager, whether it’s someone that’s underneath or above you, how do you approach those conversations on your day four or day 21? 

Rafa: I mean, if it was in a kind of a physical space, I just kind of go and talk to the people. I just don’t — I’m shameless on that end. So just go and talk to people really. But honestly, what I normally do is this being very humble. So it seems like I know nothing and I need to know about this company. And it happens to me, I do believe in people, and people are generally generous when they go to work, because they know that someone is new and they come in with a particular purpose. Normally, your line manager or someone that’s above you, could be like I don’t know the VP or something, might do a little bit of an intro to the team, but those have of kind of generic interests. 

What I normally do is send very polite emails saying, “Hey, I do this. I’m now new in the company. Now we’re working in different things, but I really need to have your input and understand what is where you’re working on.” Basically, just try to listen to what the people are working on. And that opens up this kind of very candid conversations where they tell you about stuff, what’s their priorities, or even if they don’t send you the directly what’s their priority, they will tell you — the first thing that they tell you is normally what’s most important for them. And so that’s always going to be a good start. 

Christian: So you’ve joined now a bigger company where it’s maybe as a freelancer, as a vendor, they’re not expecting you to deliver the first minute. They probably understand the fact that you need to take your time and do this the right way, but say you’re joining a startup tomorrow, and you know very well in startups, people are running fast. Would you use the same approach in a startup to say, “Look, I know we’re all running, but I need to take two weeks to talk to everyone, or would you try to balance the two together in a company where you’re expected to deliver fast?”

Rafa: So, that’s a very good question actually, because I did almost — so just before this company, I was almost jumping into another startup, and that’s something that I was thinking about. What would I do? The particular project that they had was a new product, a completely new product, but they have quite fragmented interfaces and quite fragmented pieces of work. And they — I felt that they didn’t know exactly what were the next steps for them. 

So I guess that the point is when you join a startup, and they know that they needed specifically this, you need to deliver. You need to deliver quickly. I’ve every client what they want and what they need, and it makes sense, you need to deliver on that. Now there’s always some kind of a balance, because sometimes you need to push back and some areas where you say, “Look, guys, this is not adding value to anyone.” It will be case by case, really. But if that particular startup has done their homework and they’ve got those needs, cool. We just need to understand that one. 

So it’s a bit of a complicated question, because I also believe that short engagements are very tricky. Like short engagements are very, very tricky. They will be hired as — almost like someone that will turn around something very quickly without context and again, that goes back to the beginning of the problem that they told you when there was — when that kind of breakthrough, this way of working. I think it’s really hard to turn up things very quickly. I don’t know… you have some experience doing bits like that. I don’t know what do you think about it?

Christian: Yes, for me, it’s a balance. So whenever you join a company for longer, I agree with you; you do need to spend the first week doing that, talking to everyone else, making your face visible, making everyone know your name, and also talking to them about what you do there and how you can help them.

Sometimes you’re going into a six-week engagement where you need to design a whole new product in six weeks. That is, you’re really up against it. So in that case, I think as a matter of how much of these discussions I can have with people without damaging the chances of me delivering on time. And it depends from project to project. I always say the more you’re able to talk to people and understand their points of view, the better the work is going to be. And I try to bake that into engagements. I try to make it clear to my — when I put timelines together for clients, I say, “Look, actually don’t expect anything the first week or two, because here’s what’s going to happen in the first week or two. There won’t be any deliverables.” And sometimes they really need you to deliver something very fast. And frankly, in that case, we might not be a good fit.

I do need to talk to everyone in the business. I need to do my due diligence, and the things that I know are right in order for my work to be good. So skipping that part is putting myself at risk and my work at risk. So sometimes I just say, “Look, if you don’t have two weeks for me to do my due diligence or however long I need for that project, we might not be a good fit.” And then I send them to someone else. 

Rafa: I think it’s really important. It’s maturity as well. That’s maturity in the design that we do, because somebody said it’s really interesting is this caring about the work that you’re going to deliver. You understand that if you don’t do this, you’re not going to deliver a piece — like a critical piece of work and it’s not going to be a good work. And that’s very important. And again, it depends on the company.

But one of my previous cases as well, I was brought as a product designer. You know the product designer is a bit of a catch-all these days. But hey, a lot of people think about product designers as purely interfaces. So I’ve been brought as that, and then very quickly, everything flipped because it was like, “Oh, the UI is not important anymore. Rafa, we need to do what you said, which is basically do the right thing first.” They didn’t understand what was the right thing to do.

So it’s like, “Well, I can give an interface, but I don’t care if it’s a table, if it’s a button, I don’t care about these things. What I do care is, are we doing this particular journey right for the users so then we can get value into the business? If we don’t do that, why are we going to even do it? There’s no point to it.

Christian: I think it’s great you mentioned this. If people have listened to the previous episodes, on episode one, Austin is talking about how this happens a bit because of ourselves as well. It’s a bit our fault that we, as an industry, we haven’t necessarily explained well enough what we do. And we’ve kind of left it. It’s kind of like when you leave something at sea, it ends up on a shore somewhere else. Like it goes like the wind, and this is — what you said right now is exactly what we should do as designers, which is speak up and explain what we do, not because we’re these great unicorns, whatever you call them, but simply because that’s the right thing to do so that we can help our clients and the companies we work for get better results through the powers we have as designers. 

So sometimes it’s — you’re right. It’s about educating people. People just don’t know, because all they’ve heard left and right is that design is only about the UI and creativity. So I totally agree with you. Sometimes it’s just about saying, “Hey look, this is how – this is what I recommend you do. And what you do with that information is up to you.“

And I think this segways really well into what I want to talk next, which is transparency. Because when you join a company, what you said that you do, which is you go around and talk to people, that’s transparency in a way. You’re transparent regarding what your role is. And you’re transparent regarding the fact that you’re there to help everyone reach their goals if you can, and bridge that gap between customers and the business. 

And then you’ve been with that company for three years and nobody has any clue of what you’re doing. And I love talking to designers about how they talk about their work in their companies and about how they are more transparent with what happens. If you have a usability testing session, you want to be transparent with everyone in the company about what happened in that testing session. Not only use it to inform the next product decision. So throughout your career, how have you tried to make yourself and your work more transparent in your organisations?

Rafa: So this is great. I love what you’re saying because it’s true. There’s few things that happen on that journey that you just described. One of them is that sometimes we’ve got doubts. We question ourselves, and it’s like, “Oh Gosh, am I a designer now?” I’m doing stuff that is not what a designer does like by the book. But you are designer, and I’ve realised that what I do often actually is democratise these things.

So what I mean with democratising is that I stopped talking about design terms. I stopped talking about tech terms. I stopped taking about any of this stuff. I’m not going to talk — I’m not going to talk to you about what is the — how is the backlog built. I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about what’s the problems that we try to solve? What’s happening here? Why are we doing this?

And then try to remove these terminologies, always quite powerful. What takes you there is the transparency that you said. Everyone understands. If you tell them, “Look, what we’ve built in now, it’s not allowing the users to download the form, because we don’t have that.” So it’s very clear. We’re not talking about KPIs; we’re not talking about features. We’re talking about just pure needs.

So what I’ll do is normally kind of blend myself, and I love what you said about the user testing. I believe that user testing adds so much value at so many levels. And when we talk about user testing, we generally talk about user research, like talking to users in a need-finding interview. It’s like, “I just need to know because I’ve been told that all of these things are problems for you. Can you tell me that? Are these really your problems?” And you have the conversation that you invite PMs, you invite developers, you invite everyone. And everyone is like, “Oh my God, what is this person saying?”

Well, is saying what everyone is saying, because they are the end-users, and it’s what you have to understand. So that’s basically is a very long-winded answer, but when you talked about transparency, I see a lot of blending and a lot of demystifying who does what, and then just kind of go and do it. Just trying to make sure that we we’ve got our own remixes. So we have our own kind of things that we stand for. 

So if I’m a designer, I’ll make sure that I will stand for consistency and make sure that the user is being heard. And a tech developer or an engineer will stand for, “Well, I don’t mind how we do this, but we do this in a very structure way to protect my schema.” Great, those are things that are important. “Do I understand what schema means?” No. But do I understand that this is really important for you? I do understand that. I now obviously understand what schema means, but you get my point — I don’t really — same way I don’t really care how my button looks. I do care, obviously, but it’s an end product. It’s the end of the journey.

Christian: There’s this discussion, and I think what we’ve talked about until now, segways really well into this. There’s this discussion that design people, mostly design leaders, but the more senior you are in design as well, the more you’re transitioning towards or should be transitioning towards becoming a business person, because understanding business it’s what’s going to allow you as a designer to be effective. Because as designers, we tend to talk a lot about how we work for the customers and how we meet their needs with our designs and all that. But there’s the other side as well. If we don’t design for the business, the customers are not going to have a business in five years cause it’s going to go down.

So we need to marry the needs of the customers with the needs of the business. And I believe that what’s required for that to happen is for design people to understand how businesses work and to be more transparent about their work, which we’ve talked about. And I really like what you said earlier, which was, I don’t talk about technical jargon and UX. I talk about things everyone can relate to. And I think that is a big key of transitioning from a design leader to a business leader. And it doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of knowledge. There’s a lot of experience you need for that, but it has to happen for you to become a good designer, a great designer. Design is moving from that creative industry more towards the business world, I think. 

Rafa: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. And we can relate back to the very beginning of the conversation; I want to make the things that are real. I want to make them real. And in reality, customers are crucial because obviously, they are kind of why we do things. They are the kind of — we do the things for them and then try to have a revenue and stuff. But if we don’t understand what’s happening in the business side of things, like why decisions are made in this particular way or why we cannot do XYZ now, but we will do that later. 

They may have their arguments. They may have their kind of their particular needs. The business has needs as well, like how can we make sure that as designers, in order to create these things or support the creation of this thing, we understand all of those requirements. And sometimes we influence them. And this is where it becomes really important. Because at some point, you will be confronted with certain things. And because you have a really broad view of what’s happening, you are — you’re a problem solver. You’re not someone that makes XYZ. You’re a problem solver.

So understanding that comes from business something that they always done in this way. Just to talk about clichés, talk about the Blockbuster one. When Blockbuster, they’re just gone because they couldn’t put anything into streaming. And that was like a massive problem. Someone — they should have listened to the designers more, probably and I say, “Hey guys, this was coming from — this is what’s happening in the ground. This is what’s happening in the people in the streets. You need to be able to adjust to this change because this is really important.”

And again, coming from the designers and we know change is important. We live in change. We decided, today we’re graphic designers, tomorrow we’re product designers, the day after tomorrow we’re producers. And you’re like, “How does it even happen?” We have to acknowledge that and make sure — I’ve always, I was talking to a friend yesterday actually when she basically point to a company that was really a young company. And she said, “Well, is this normal that they have issues because they’re really young, and they don’t have the experience.” So I’m like, “Well, I understand what you’re saying, but they, like young people and our generations, have a really big skill, which is the — it’s easy for them to change, to make sure to adapt.”

And that is something that I have to say business needs to keep up with. They need to make sure that they’re more flexible, that they adapt to change, because what is true today, and we see them more often really with COVID than all the staff. What is true today, tomorrow is not true anymore. And so how your business can do this is the question that you’d need to always ask them all the time.

Christian: So transitioning — Well, let’s take a step back. What business people really love doing is to talk numbers. That’s what business people, that’s what salespeople, that’s what marketing people, that’s what executives talk in. They talk in numbers. We, as designers, we have a gap there. We don’t always measure our work. So what I want to talk about now is how have you, throughout your career, measured the impact of your work?

Rafa: So I do a little bit of measuring here and there, but to be honest, I try to make it real once, again, like I tried to explain very clear why I’m here and why I do the things I do. So I do a lot of collaboration, as you know. Like collaboration, as I have mentioned before, in terms of transparency. Collaboration is a practice. Is something that you need to foster. Is something that is a thing. Is not something that kind of comes out of the blue, “Oh, we’re collaborating.” You need to actually massage that. 

So collaboration is something that helps measuring very well. You can talk about the speed even if you want to, and you put it in a very business kind of a terminology to talk about speed. Well, why it’s worth doing this three-hour workshop. Or why is it worth that you, a designer, sit next to a developer? And what I can tell you very easily, if a developer — if I design something and then send it to the developer, there’s a time gap happening there. The development we’ll look into that. Will try to fix it, probably in the next sprint. And then, when they are in the next sprint, they will be back to us and say, “Hey, Rafa, this design doesn’t work.”

So we’re talking about a lifespan of three weeks already, and I would include this, and I will look into that and then make another change that maybe works, maybe doesn’t work. And they will go, not in this sprint, in the next sprint again. So you very quickly quantify this. It’s like, “Look, we need to have a designer in each development team, because this decision making is something that designers have the background and has the knowledge to respond very quickly, but they need to be part of it.” If they’re not part of it, you’re losing three weeks, five weeks, six weeks, and then almost you’re eating up all the time that you hired someone, and that translate into money directly? 

Christian: Yes. And I think communicating that back to the business is important as well, because they might not be aware that what you just said costs money, or they might be aware, but they might not know it’s happening. I also think that something that we should be better at doing is actually measuring the value of, if you want, user experience if you want to call that. And I know it’s hard, and I know we have some metrics that some design leaders like and some don’t, but I like to avoid getting involved in the politics of that. And more objectively, try to see if a metric that we could use could be useful to measure design or not.

And I think that it’s becoming more and more of a conversation of how can we measure design? And I think it’s important to talk about this because the moment we can measure design, that’s when we can actually bring something tangible to the business. That’s when we can become those business leaders.

In e-commerce it’s easier because we have conversion rate. Everything is about the conversion rate, but what if it’s not e-commerce? In everything else, we don’t have a metric. And I think the moment we manage to find that metric, we can much easier advocate for doing the work we want to do, or we know it’s best to do, because we can go to the business and say, “Look, give me two weeks, and I’ll improve this number, and if I don’t I’ll know why I haven’t because I’ve measured it. And then I can — then the second time or third time around, I can do it.”

And then the business, on the other hand, can also come and say, “Look, we as a business, want to achieve X. Can you, or how can you, as a design team, help us do that?” But right now, it feels like we’re in a place where we’re not measuring our work; the business side doesn’t know we can measure our work. So there’s this limbo where people still think that design is about colours and all of that, and it bothers me all the time. But again, as I said earlier, it’s down to us not doing a good job at talking about the value that we add, which is why, when you go into organisations like British Gas, we have that common experience.

What I really liked about it, you can’t say British Gas is the most mature organisation in terms of design, but what they are doing right is the fact that every product team there has to test once a month or whatever the timing was. And then it has to give back the details and the information or the results of that research to the product team and to the wider business. So other designers in other teams can also learn from their learning. 

So that is the first step towards trying to put numbers or at least specific different metrics on design. I really liked — it’s one of the – One of the things that I really enjoyed there is being able to do that. And I think a lot more companies could learn from it.

Rafa: Absolutely. Absolutely, totally getting that. And I think it’s interesting because I keep bringing that example as well. Exactly in the same way that you put it. They’re not the most mature one, and it’s kind of complicated. They are mature, much more mature than other companies, really, but that’s the fact of having like almost every day you could do testing is fascinating.

And they also, again, managed to create a bit of a conversation among the designers as well. So we will be facilitating user testing. Sometimes we will run them, sometimes someone else would run it, and they would feed back. It’s interesting, because then you have a lot of designers that are at least in the loop of what’s going on, and you can refer back to it. And the interesting thing is, once again, talking about change, is that you need to revisit those things again. What is valid today is not valid tomorrow. People keep thinking that we’ve tested this four years ago. Four years ago, man, a lot of things have changed since. 

Christian: Yes

Rafa: So we need to go back to the lab. And also, something you mentioned is mega interesting. I definitely think that there is no standards for measuring just yet, and in a way, I don’t think that standardising those measures is a good thing to have because they’re very different. You mentioned now, one. You said about e-commerce is like the clicks or whatever. I haven’t had a lot of experience with e-commerce, but that is a very clear, standardised way of measuring if your work is good or is not good. 

Now we can talk a lot about Amazon. I’m not too sure if Amazon is a good product or not, but that’s another thing. It’s really good for business. It’s absolutely really good for business, but because they’ve got a business — that the business having at Amazon is very well designed, far more than the interface is. But then you’ve got all the type of companies where you might have an assignment for internal tools.

People don’t really pay enough attention to intern on tools. That’s what people in the back end or people in operation is doing. And I’m like, “Well, hold on a second. What if this job that you have an individual to do, they need to be doing that through the week several times. We make sure that they can do the job in one day, and they have four days to support all the areas of the other work.” Oh, wow. That’s winning. That’s reach. It’s like, how can we measure you, Operations, to perform on a particular task. What are the problems that you have through this?

Give me a task end to end. Don’t tell me; I do this every day. No, no. Just tell me a task and to end and tell me how long it takes you. “Well, it will take me two, three, four, five minutes, 10 minutes.” And oh my God, how’s it taking you 10 minutes to perform this simple task. We need to reduce this, and then you start to kind of highlight those measurements. And then you go back to the business, and you’re like, “Well, we need to spend time in this because these people — one thing is painful, the work they do is absolutely painful, and secondly, they’re really talented people that could bring much more value to the business if we alleviate those four days.” 

I don’t normally talk about, which happens in many digital transformation programs where they basically when they get rid of the call centre, that’s pretty much what everyone wants to do. Just get rid of the call centre. That’s not the point. They’re trying to find a way where the call centre, with their knowledge, could support all the areas of the business better, because they would bring value. And they have knowledge that no one else has in the business. How can we recycle that knowledge? How can we make it shine again without being the call centre? And there’s many ways of doing that.

Christian: I work a lot in enterprise software. And one thing that I’ve noticed throughout the years is that there is very little incentive or motivation to improve enterprise software. And that’s because the procurement doesn’t happen with the end-user. The procurement happens with someone in operations. They buy a piece of software, and then everyone in that company has to use that piece of software, whether it’s good or not. So then there’s no incentive to actually work on improving those. 

But I think that right now, the differentiator or in the future very soon, the differentiator will be more and more — the emphasis will be more and more on what you just said. It takes me 10 minutes to do this with one tool. It takes me two minutes with this other tool, and we do this task 50 times a week. So I want my employees to spend less time doing this and more time doing something else. And therefore, I think in enterprise software very soon, if it’s not already happening, the experience of software becomes important, just like it’s in consumer products.

And talking about enterprise and consumer, you have a lot of experience across a lot of different brands, across government work, across public companies. And I’m just curious how is design thought of and applied in these different types of companies?

Rafa: So there are very different ways. The first thing to mention on that end is that the definition of Design is very different. So like last year, I was working mainly with UK governments. And then we have this meeting where we were trying to — again, try to understand who was a designer there, like where’s the tribe. Where are the designers in this particular a department? And then we have a call, and then some people help us to make sure that everyone is in the table. 

We got there, and then it’s like about ten people. And everyone started to introduce themselves. So “Oh, I’m X, Y. I’m whoever from architecture. I’m whoever from process mapping. I’m whoever from whatever company.” And I’m like “No one here is a designer.” Why, what, how had this happened that someone has said that you guys are designers, that you consider yourselves designers, which honestly I’ve got nothing against this, but your role is to maintain a tool. It’s a process tool. It’s not even — you don’t even kind of create an input into that one. 

So, there is a bubble where the definition of design is really complicated to start with. And then there’s the whole thing about roles and responsibilities. Some people might understand that what you do is one thing. For instance, what I mentioned before like they thought that would go and then do the interfaces. But then, to your point actually, being able to articulate what’s happening, like where are you adding the value as a designer. It takes you to a point where “Maybe Rafa doesn’t do interfaces only,” but far more than that, they understood that the interface that we might create is the end thing. Like there’s a lot of work to do before that happens. 

So different companies work in different ways. In public sector, a lot of times budget constraints, and we have to make sure that obviously, the money that is at hand is public money. So we’re taking about taxpayers. So it’s really important that you measure against those things, actually talking about measuring again. You make sure that anything you do has a direct impact into the people that live in a particular country. 

I have to vouch once again, everyone has done it many times. I have to vouch once again, the UK government have this, GDS, the Government Digital Service, I think, I believe, manual, where they talk about service design in a detail way. You can say — a lot of people have said this boring design or this very constrained design. Hey, they go from A to B very well. They reduce costs really rapidly, and they make sure that they solve a problem from the people industries very quickly. 

And so, you have to vouch them. You have to make sure that — that’s really important all the times. As you said, you would have talked about, I don’t know, investment firms, or we may have a particular idea of what investment firm do or doesn’t do. So then the way you do design, it might be completely different. Like suddenly you’re working – you’re working in the government, your end users are the most important thing when the money comes, you’re working in investment firm, your customers are maybe someone that you need to take the money from. 

Which is sad, but I’m not just talking about all the businesses, though, but it’s like different focuses require different things. And I really like what you mentioned before about maybe it’s time to walk away; sometimes you need to make a decision. It’s like, I don’t want to design in this particular environment because I don’t believe in what’s happening and need to move away.

Christian: When you are interviewing for a company, what is a sign that that company is taking design seriously, and it’s a place where you could really make an impact versus it being a place where you’re just seen as a pixel pusher?

Rafa: Gosh, that is a good question. And I have a problem. Christian, I have a problem, which is that I get really excited very quickly. So I’m very quickly like, “Oh my God, this is going to be the best thing ever in the world.” So normally kind of I have to say that it’s hard to me to pick up that. To make sure that what’s happening there may or might not have an impact. 

What I would say that kind of my example of something is who are you talking when you’re interviewing. Are you talking to someone very low; low the chain or value that they might need just a pixel pusher to put into there, or you’re talking with a program manager that understands that you need to — it’s about who you’re talking to and the responsibilities of the people that you’re talking to, to make sure that it comes from a bit of a leadership kind of point of view that that is happening. 

A lot of times, you might have conversations or interviews with people that might not be the leaders. At least in the first one, which is normally — it’s normally the case. The leaders might not be involved in first interviews, but it’s important that you get to that point.

Christian: So let’s change gears a little bit and talk about education. You’re closely tied to the academic environment, because you’re mentoring and you’re a guest lecturer at the London College of Communication. You studied design as well. What’s your take on how designers should start their careers? Should it be self-taught, should it be through education?

Rafa: Oh, man. You’re touching a pain point there. I don’t — It’s interesting. So I’m a lecturer, and I work in few universities. But put in completely blunt, I don’t believe in education, in higher education as such. I think there’s a lot of holes. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to change. So the interesting point is that when I teach and when I’m lecturing in these universities, I don’t really lecture to creatives. So I normally go and then talk about design and creativity mainly to photographers and architects and people that works in buildings like creating buildings and asset management.

And you talk about these things because you bring — again, this collaboration initiatives that come really closely to empathy and to design itself. And that becomes really interesting when you start to open up their minds to make sure that when they’re learning, they learn the things that make sense to them and they don’t just kind of get it into the box and then try to kind of learn anything they want.

I do talk to a few — the few initiatives with the designers as well at the London College of Communication. And it’s interesting because when I talk to designers, I would put the hat of developer on. So now, I’m just talking to you as a developer. I’m talking to you as someone that works with code and not as a creative. Because they are creative. They gain this information, but what really university need is having this broader spectrum and understanding how things are connected.

My biggest learnings have always been with developers Like I’ve learned collaboration with developers. And this is a funny statement because everyone thinks that engineers that in that room they don’t talk to anyone. They talk to everyone.

Christian: Yes, yes

Rafa: They talk to everyone in the global scale. But they don’t talk to the rest of the team. They’re in GitHub, and they’re in public forums where they converse about all of this stuff that’s happening. They’re massive collaborators. You need to acknowledge that, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

Christian: I think, just to talk a bit about that. The reason that developers get this bad rap of them being in a corner, not talking to everyone because that’s how their brains work. They need uninterrupted hours of focus time to be able to produce work. 

Rafa: Absolutely. 

Christian: So then, of course, they’re not talking to anyone because talking to everyone would mean they couldn’t do their work at the highest quality, but actually if you go out after work with them, or if you catch them at lunch, sit them at the same table as they are, they are not these nerds in the corner that everyone thinks they are. They are actually great people and very social as well. Last question on education, what do you think is a blind spot that designers have when they get out of school? 

Rafa: I would say collaboration, definitely collaboration. That’s the blind spot that — they don’t understand that they’re part of a chain. And this is really important.

Christian: But would you say that that’s because you don’t learn collaboration at school or it’s because you learn a bit, but it’s not enough, or you don’t get to try it out?

Rafa: That’s very interesting kind of think thing, because you’re right. They learn about collaboration among designers. But they don’t talk about cross-collaboration, like how do you collaborate with old people? How do you understand that your designs — once again, went back to the idea of the business, your design is a piece in the parcel. Well, maybe it’s the code.

It’s the code that makes the whole parcel beautiful. And that’s absolutely great. You put it on top of the parcel, shiny and nice, but you need to understand that when you go out in the wild, you have a responsibility towards certain areas that you’re good at. As a designer, you’ve been trained for this. You’ve been training a lot of stuff you have to put in practice in order to achieve a collective goal.

Christian: Right. So we’re approaching the end. Just before we go into the standard end questions that I ask everyone, I just want to talk a little bit, or I want you to talk a little bit about your digital rights, because it’s a subject that I’m deeply passionate about; privacy, online digital privacy. And tell us the story of how that started. Tell us the story of the UK Government’s answer to you trying to incorporate that and tell us a bit what your digital rights is and why it’s important.

Rafa: Sure. That’s a great story. I always love it. And so we’ve launched Your Digital Rights two years ago, right after GDPR legislation was in place. We quickly understood the GDPR, to start with, it’s really hard to even think about what does it mean? So what does it mean the GDPR? How do I get involved with any of this stuffs? Is really dark or really kind of obscure how an individual that you meet, anyone that have any connection with Europe, in this particular case, they could action those laws.

So we’ve understood very quickly that we need to give the power to the users or to the people. “Why is this important for me?” Because when GDPR came onboard, I don’t know if you remember that, that we got absolutely bombarded with every company that we ever touched with. That was ridiculous. People didn’t know what was going on. Like, “What is this? Why are you telling me this? Why are you asking me this?” They don’t understand. They don’t have a clear understanding of why is that happening, and how can they action these things? 

You own your rights; you own your data and it’s yours. You need to remember that who you are and where you sit is really important. It could change the way a government kind of functions, and we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen it in different cases in the States, we’ve seen in the UK. Like having that data could change the course of history, it will change it.

So we need to make sure that we understand that we, as citizens, we could reclaim those rights. We can say, “Hey, these are my rights. I don’t want to be part of anything that you’re doing.” We’re talking about specific companies. So we talking about what they call data brokers, which is basically companies that deal with like big chunks of data, and they sell and buy this data.

So what we did with these digital rights is make a very simple application – very simple test where we give them the option – to users to find a company that they maybe been bothered with, or they don’t want to be part of them anymore. And we provide them with the legal jargon and the legal kind of points for them to opt-out of the data in a safely manner and really easily.

But then we realised that obviously, we need to get — and this is the story that you want to hear. So we realised that we need to go into the next level and trying to make this a bit more official.

So we thought that maybe having a charity would be the most interesting part of this. And then we applied for this charity body, and then we have this answer back saying, technically, that the right of privacy is not a right in the UK. So it’s not a real right. It’s absolutely nuts.

Christian: Oh my God.

Rafa: It’s absolutely nuts, So we were like, “What did you mean? It’s not a right as in our papers? So which means that if you’re doing something as a charity for rights of privacy, you are lobbying to have that right into the government. So we can’t give you a charity body because you’re lobbying, you’re making politics.” And I’m like, “What is this?” It’s really crazy. So it was a bit of a mind-blowing situation, and we’re just trying to deal with that. And actually, in fact, this is the first time I’ve talked about this publicly. So it’s good to kind of start to put it out there. What can we do next? 

Christian: Yes. Nice. And just to let everyone know this is all free. Anyone can use this for free. You’re not charging anyone to opt-out from the different companies. You’re just providing them with a template and an easy way to submit their data requests. And if I’m not mistaken, people can find this at yourdigitalrights.org. Right?

Rafa: Absolutely. 

Christian: Great. Awesome. Let’s ask you the last — the two standard questions. So first one is, what is one thing you wish more designers would know?

Rafa: It might sound cliché, but yes knowing about business is really important. The understanding of the designs into broader picture, they need to know more about. This is something that they need to learn and I’m trying to learn more and more. And that’s definitely the one thing that I will look for and like how anything that happens around me will impact my designs. So then you do designs better, basically. 

Christian: Great. And how do you reckon the future of design looks like? 

Rafa: I love this question. That’s my favourite — that’s my favourite question ever. So I don’t know how it will look, obviously, because maybe tomorrow something happen and it goes all over the place. But what I’d like it to be is, and this is a very specific kind of intake that I have for this, what I really want this to be is that we think about interfaces, not as a visual interface only. I know there’s a bunch of initiatives. We know we’ve got Alexa, we’ve got phones, but they’re quite evil, quite intrusive, sometimes even quite complicated to manage. But my take is that the future will be more like less visual. And we will live visual for all the things. I love enjoying visual.

I love to go into a website that is photography-led, and then I get lost in there, and I’ve got my own experience and love it. It’s great. I’ve worked — I do things for that as well, but if I want to — going back to our BG background, if I want to know my next bill, Guys just, just tell me how much it is. I don’t even care. It’s just; I want to say to Alexa, “Hey Alexa, how much is my next bill?” And that’s it. They tell you, and that’s gone. 

And those are things and services and interfaces that needs to go. So hopefully, in the future, we will be in a place that no one collects our data from anywhere ideally. No one records everything from us, and try to predict us. But we also make it much easier to do the services, hopefully, by not using visuals.

Christian: The best interface is no interface. Isn’t that what they say? 

Rafa: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the one.

Christian: Rafa, where can people find you? 

Rafa: The best place to find me is madeabroad.io. This is the company where I’ve got, or where I can produce my stuff. I do a lot of work as a consultant that you guys know, but I’ve also partnered with my wife, she’s an animator. And you can see all our work in there, madeabroad.io, as well as a few links from Instagram and LinkedIn. LinkedIn, I would say I was such a — I don’t want to LinkedIn in my life, but now I actually think that LinkedIn is the social media of the future. So yes, LinkedIn is definitely the place. If you want to reach me quickly, go to LinkedIn. I’ll be there.

Christian: Right, we’re going to put all the notes, all your links in the show notes of the episode, so everyone can easily find you. Rafa, this has been an hour that passed very, very fast. This has been a learning experience. Hopefully, everyone listening thinks the same. Really appreciate you being on Design Meets Business, and I hope we’ll catch up soon. 

Rafa: Yes. Thank you very much for having me. Nice to see you. Bye.

Christian: Cheers, man. You too. 

That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening to the show. Since you’ve made it this far, I hope you found this useful. And if you did, you should know there’s much more content just like this on the way. So if you want to learn more about how designers can impact businesses, please consider subscribing, and maybe sharing the episode with others. And before I say goodbye, remember that you can find show notes and links for this episode and others on our website, designmeetsbusiness.co. Catch you in the next one.