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- 00:15 - Show intro
- 08:30 - From Cineworld to working in Design
- 13:26 - Steering the Design ship in an organisation
- 17:30 - The different skills required in B2B vs. B2C
- 20:41 - How to know what you're good at
- 27:27 - Doing your due diligence before accepting a job offer
- 33:58 - Showing the impact of Design
- 44:05 - Rapid fire questions
Connect with Olivier
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 organization.
Today, we’re talking to Olivier Cottin. Olivier’s a former agency owner and designer with a wealth of experience and together we tackle topics such as designing in B2B versus designing in B2C, and how advocating for designing in organisations is supposed to be a long game.
Olivier, thanks a lot for joining Design Meets Business. Really a pleasure to have you on the podcast. I can’t wait to talk about a lot of interesting design topics today. Just to give everyone a background. You and I, we used to work together at British Gas. And although we were in different product teams, we did have a lot of interesting chats over lunch about how and why design struggles to thrive in larger organisations.
So today, we’ll focus a lot on that, but let’s begin by giving everyone a bit about your background. What’s your story? What brought you where you are today?
Olivier: Sure. Well, first of all, I want to say thank you, Christian, to have me in your podcast. I’ve been listening to the first episodes, and I really liked the direction it’s going. I think it’s a very interesting thing you’re trying to do, creating a safe space for designers to talk about these questions. So thank you for that. A bit on my background. So, my background is noisy.
Christian: Okay. Very noisy… noisy is good.
Olivier: It’s noisy. I wasn’t really planning to be a designer. It has been an accident. So what I mean is that this is — when I went to uni, I was studying accounting. So very different from design, because I always wanted to run my own company. That was the main thing I had in mind. And I felt that if I knew how to manage the books, that will help me to get there. But I got bored. it’s too linear, it’s one way of thinking, and not really who I am.
So By the age of 18, I discovered the Photoshop by accident. I started to play around with, and then I found that it was actually a job. So then I decided to go back to uni, and I studied was is called Media and Communication. So very early days of this. It was back in France, and at the time it was doing a part time education.
So I was working in music, and interesting thing of this was back in 2007. It was when the music industry was in the biggest crisis they ever had because digital just had started, with the illegal downloading and piracy. I worked for a company called Because Music. I was working with the creative director of this record label. And I’d seen how the digital has really impacted and all business model.
So it was an interesting thing for me, and I think this is why it kind of shaped my career. I’ve always been in companies that always trying to find their fit, trying to change business model or adapting, all that kind of stuff.
So after my degree, I started to run my own business. I was 21. I created like a small agency, but it wasn’t a small agency for small companies, but with the knowledge of big companies. So the idea was all the expensive knowledge you can get from WPP, I wanted to bring this into small businesses because I realised a lot of them had potential but didn’t have access to the knowledge and the people.
So that’s what I started to do. I mainly shift to B2B and then B2C. It went really well that we grow the business all the way to maybe — I think it was £1 million revenues, in a couple of years, but the downside of it is I was very inexperienced, and I made a lot of mistakes, and the cashflow just didn’t follow.
So company collapsed. I run this business with my best friend at the time. I want to think that I’ve learned is business and friendship is not meant to be mixed. Because unfortunately, our friendship has fallen out. So that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned is do not do any business with family and friends.
And then that led me to go to London. I’m half French, half Mauritian. So I always been a close contact with the UK because my family — of course, my family is in the UK and I spoke English very early days. So I always wanted to go to London. I didn’t know how and when. The Olympics started in 2012. I came for one weekend and never went back.
That’s my story. I didn’t know anyone in the UX industry. So I applied for, I think, a hundred jobs. I had a lot of rejection and then the first company that risked to hire me because, at the time, my English wasn’t so good. I could do the job, but I wasn’t really fluent. And I realised that UX is all about communication. So I started to work for the House of Fraser.
Christian: Pretty big brand to take a chance on you, not just the company in a corner of Colchester.
Olivier: Very big, very big, established. But the interesting thing is my boss was willing to take a risk because he really liked my approach of how I see UX — and he said to me that’s – you know that they give you like a design task. And he say to me, “That’s the best staff I’ve seen. So I had to hire my team.”
So that’s what I studied, but I want to come back to how I get to working in the UK. So when I moved to the UK, I haven’t had a job. I just called a couple of savings, and my family said, “You need to find a job.” Not because I had to work, but they wanted me to get used to the British system and how things work.
So for me, having such experience was very difficult to go back to a very low paid job, but I did it. So I worked for Cineworld. I did that for about nine months, and it has helped me to understand pure user experience and service, because this company is really around customer service. So I did many small jobs. So I was a cashier. I was also the cleaning team, also helped the supervisors with cashing and I things.
So I’ve learned quite a lot, but the main thing is I’ve learned about how customer experience impact the staff. So what I mean that this is the way round. So we care about the customer experience that’s feasible, but we don’t see how the employee experiences has real impact on customer experience. That is an interesting thing for me. I’ve realised that I was also part of the problem because not being well paid, long hours, you get tired of hearing the same thing and same thing, so you start to become a bit like a machine. And that’s why I think I’ve started to develop this sense of empathy because, at the time, people were paid 15, 20 pounds for a seat. And I was thinking, it’s a lot of money to go to cinema, and you don’t deserve to have such a bad experience because I’m not in good mood or I’m tired.
Christian: This reminds me of when I was younger, I used to work in the service industry as a bartender. You learn so much about a service-driven business when you work behind a bar or at a cashier or at Cineworld, as you said. It really gives you a lot for later on.
Olivier: I think you learn a lot when you work in entertainment and leisure industry, because when people are coming to relax, some people have to work, and it’s a very different dynamic. If people want to understand where I came from, I’m earning in one day what I used to earn in one month. It’s a big difference, and to me, it’s just — when people say, “Things are difficult.” Yes, they are, but there’s a way — always a way. And I think I want to tell to people, if they have a dream or they want to chase something, they have to try. You can’t live in regrets. And I think for me, the best thing I have done is trying.
Christian: So how did you get from Cineworld to starting your own VC fund? Let’s talk about that because it sounds like such a big difference.
Olivier: Sounds like a crazy project. So through my career I started with House of Fraser, then I went to work with Selfridges, and then I did a couple of consulting. Then I worked and joined a company called POQ. So it was a – it’s still running by the way. It’s very successful, but they have the biggest retailers in the UK on their platform. So it’s a native retail platform where retailers can launch within three months. What I’ve learned about startup is at this company, because they were in a process of raising the second and third round. And when I joined, it was slightly before series A.
So I’ve seen the change where they had the first injection of cash, and they’re trying to raise — get more customers and improve the product. But once series A has kicked in, dynamic has really changed. The company, in terms of size, has grown massively. It was a very engineering-led company. So quite a challenging for me because they brought me in to bring design, but I was the only one designer. And that was a very, very, very special experience.
What was very interesting is, they knew user experience has value, but how do you make it work in a very engineer-led company in terms of culture and how they think? I think that’s one of the greatest challenges that I had in my career.
Christian: So how did that work? Is that something you helped with, or did they bring someone external to help or…?
Olivier: No. So, I started. What I realise it’s getting closer to the engineer’s team. So we just started very small. So things I explained to them that user experience start with look and feel; if something is good, you can trust it. So we had some couple of issues and when it comes to implementation, not because they were lazy or they couldn’t do it. Because the tool they were working with had a lot of implementation restrictions.
So we try to work around it. So we found very simple process. Do you remember Zeplin at the time when they created the first tool where you could compare your iOS simulator versus your design?
Olivier: That’s where we started to work. So that’s how we fixed it. But the interesting thing is the guys at the company started to like working in this way, and they’ve also seen the impact on the user experience and also the reviews we had. So it was just the beginning.
And then I did a bit more further education when it comes to user experience. I explained to them that it’s not just the app itself, but it’s understanding the whole customer journey from end to end. And I was trying to explain to them that when people use the app, it’s just one touch point in their journey. Because we used to have a lot of good reviews and bad reviews. And most of the bad reviews were about the delivery service, long lead times or expensive, they really cost. And it didn’t understand why people were complaining, and it was impacting the app ratings.
So I explained to them that for them, when the deal — when they use the app with X brands, they don’t know behind its POQ. So they complained because, for them, it feels like the interacting the brand. So that was a very interesting thing to try to get them to understand.
The very, very, very big change I had to face was I knew the management believed in UX, but they went not really focused on bringing more resources, because it wasn’t part of the business model. So for me, it was a very hard and harsh experience because I knew what I could bring, but it’s only a couple of years later, stepping back, that I realised is not really their competitive advantage. Because their competitive advantage was to be able to launch a product in six months or three to six months and start generating that revenue through a digital channel.
So it took me a lot of maturity and reflection to think of it. But at the time, it was really difficult because I wanted to create my team or just — I wanted to have like a much bigger say in the business or at least have some influence. Didn’t happen, but they let me to create like a small team. I had two designers working for me. And then what we realised is all of a sudden that what we really needed to do was to help closing business. So when they had prospects to talk to, that’s where design came very handy.
So we used to do some previews of the app. So we found a way in early stage, early days of Sketch to streamline everything with components. So we could create like an app preview within two hours, sending across to clients so they can have like a preview of what they buy.
Christian: Right. That’s so interesting. I’ve never heard about this, but it just goes to show that design in organisations can take different forms. You mentioned at the beginning, and I really liked what you said in this process of trying to educate everyone, you started very small. You started just with the look and feel, and then you said, well, actually, this is more of a service design. There are more touchpoints.
So I always like to say that, about life in general, that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s exactly the approach you’ve had, which is, “I’m going in. I’m going to be there for a long time, or at least that’s the plan. And I can take my time to do this right.” Because I feel that oftentimes we go into companies and we care. We’re passionate about what we do, but the downside of that is that we want to do everything yesterday, if possible. And in bigger organisations, that’s just not — that’s just not possible all the time. So how have you, throughout the roles you’ve had in the past, managed to steer the ship over time, and now I’m referring mostly to your day to day tasks?
Olivier: So I think one thing I realise is if I look at myself back in the days as a designer, I think there was an anxiety inside of me. I needed you to produce things that impact and scale, so then I could become much more comfortable with the things I do. And what I’m trying to explain is I used to judge myself and look at things for what I can produce, if that makes sense. So if I couldn’t produce, I couldn’t roll out big projects or big features, then I wasn’t feeling confident. And I thought if I cannot do this, then other company wouldn’t hire me. And then I wouldn’t be able to climb up the ladder going from senior design to lead to UX manager.
So that was my biggest, biggest, biggest fear, and anxiety. But what has helped me to realise why I was wrong; it was looking at other companies and talking to other people. And what I realised is when you’re part of the company, whether it’s big or small, you have a role to play. And unfortunately, this role would have a cap.
So what I’ve learned is try to control what you have control over. And the things you cannot control, try to influence it, but do not have expectations to change it because you’re not responsible for it. And that’s what I’m the biggest principle when I look at user experience. When I design solutions, is what do I control? What can I not control?
The shift has happened when I’ve realized that I need to understand how design is enabled in every company I’m going to work for. When I worked in retail, I knew design was to generate sales and increase conversion. It’s very easy to quantify.
When I worked in B2B SaaS, for example, because it was retail, the metrics were simple, but the execution was very difficult. Because when you don’t work for the end-user, you work for — the client has brought your solution, and it’s very different. So what I was thinking, we can have the best user experience for consumers, but the reality is, how can you do everything to make more money, increase the downloads? So it’s a very different design. And this is what I also realised is designing for B2B and designing for B2C are two different things, very different. And I do — and I’ve realised myself, working with other designers and hiring other designers, not a lot of them have this exposure to B2B and B2C.
A lot of designers think of things from a B2C point of view because they want to simplify things and make things look good and pretty. But when you work B2B, for example, it’s an environment where people are used to frictions because business process and operation are all made a friction to reduce the risk.
It’s a very different way of designing. In B2B, design will be enabled to either increased sales, increase customers base, or reducing the costs to produce, for example. Rather than B2C, you know it’s to increase conversion, is increasing the people going through the door, and it’s to reach as many as possible, but you don’t really think maybe of reducing the cost. So those are very different dynamics.
Christian: So would you say that there are different skills required for designers to be good at B2B versus B2C? Would you say there are different skills required, or it’s the same skills, it’s just the implementation or the thinking around them?
Olivier: I think there’s different designers within design. Not everybody is going to be a unicorn. It’s not possible. You can strive to be, but you’re not going to be, because you can become a thousand times better at what you’re good at rather than trying to be good at something you’re mediocre at. So it’s knowing your strength and your weaknesses. But the reason why I’m saying there are different designers within design is because design is a very complex field and is touching everything from the surface all the way to the deepest level. I believe in design you have people that are really good at designing things and making visually pretty aesthetics so you can engage and connect with people. I think that’s one set of skills.
The second thing is you have people that are much more focused on how’d you make things much more streamlined and easy to use. For me, that’s more product design / user experience, but I think there’s a bigger picture, which is how design is mapping out to the business model and the company strategy. What I mean by this is, if you understand, for example, what are the strategy the company has to go through in order to hit certain milestones, if design is aligned, then it can help with it.
If a company is going through a period of growth, you need to have an easier to experience that allows growth, but you’re not — And what I realised is depending on the stage the company is at, your user experience is going to be very different. When you’re going to design for early adopters, things are going to be very much simplified, easier, no friction whatsoever, because you want them to use.
But think about right now, if you want to design something for Uber, it’s going to be very complex. You got to think about systems. You’ve got to think about regulation. You got to think about legal sort of consultancy. So it’s going to become very much more complicated. And I think there’s different designers for different stages.
That’s why I believe in, and that’s what I’ve seen so far. In my experience, I know that I’m much more comfortable and better at taking things off the ground rather than taking things and helping them to improve and — what is it called? The incremental
Christian: Iterations over time.
Olivier: Iterations — it’s not something that I’m good at, because I really love going to somewhere where it’s kind of blind and you know there’s a need, but you’re not really sure. That’s what I love. I love to take something from zero, take it off the ground and changing perspective and perception, or have something that can be seen and working.
Christian: This is similar to that anecdote of a CEO that starts a company and brings it to, I don’t know, $10 million in revenue, whatever, and then steps aside for someone to take over that company and bring it to $100 million. Very different skills are required to start a company and bring it to $1, versus $10, versus $100 million revenue.
Olivier: Absolutely. Like scaling is very different from starting.
Christian: So what — how do you know what you’re good at? How can a designer reflect over what they’re good at? Is it just what they enjoy doing? Is it trying to work in different types of companies and seeing where they fit best? How do you think someone figures out which ones of these types of designers one is?
Olivier: I think it’s a tough one, especially as you start. I do think, as individuals, there are things we tend to love more than others. So some people like, for example, to ask questions and getting to the bottom of things. So you’re probably more likely to like running research.
Some people like to visualise ideas and coming up with concepts. They might be a better at product design or even visual design. Some people like to think. They actually think of the bigger picture. They like to think about the single details of how an interaction is going to work or how the business is going to work with design.
So I think at the beginning, it’s very hard. But this is why I think we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to design education. And that’s one topic you like to talk about it, right?
Christian: Yes. Yes, totally. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. What’s your take on it?
Olivier: I think it’s a tough one because I do realise something. There is this, I don’t know if it’s a bias, but because it’s a creative industry, or it started as a the creative industry. There’s always this thing of you have to go through the small steps in order to get to the biggest steps because you have the creative leadership. So then you can inspire people.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But let’s say, for example, if we had some sort of program that helps you to understand what you’re good at, then maybe as you come out straight from school, you could be diving straight into strategy rather than going to the usual junior UX designer doing a bit of research, touching about UI and that kind of stuff. Because I think it’s good to have an understanding of how things all work together, but why would you have to… not waste, but why would you have to wait a few years in order to make a decision on where you want to go, if that make sense?
Christian: So, I partially agree. And let me give you my view on that. I think the way — just to answer my own question earlier, my own take on it, the way you find out what you’re good at is by trying a lot of things.
So I believe that when you’re early in your career, you need to go and work for someone in-house, go and work for an agency, go and work for an NGO if you want. You don’t learn to play basketball by reading a book you need to play. I think that’s super important. And the reason I also think it’s important to do everything is because unless you do everything, you can never really put your hand on your heart and say, “This is what I truly like the most.”
And I think it’s also super necessary because as designers, we need to collaborate with each other, we need to collaborate cross-departments, whether that’s developers, product managers, whoever. And I think you need to have an overall understanding of design and every step of the design process in order to be able to confidently collaborate with other people.
However, because now I’m going to contract myself. What I like about what you said is how cool would it be that school would actually help you find out what you’re good at? That’s great, because then you need to know, “Oh, I want to end up being a design strategist.” But still, how do you get there? And helping you get there, taking you through all these steps that I, again, believe, I believe you need to be a pixel pusher for a bit in order to understand what design strategy is.
So I think that’d be awesome if design education, if there would be a program that could do that. Unfortunately, it’s not. Would you — talking about design education, would you say that’s the best way to start now if you want to become a designer, or are you more on the other bandwagon of self-learner?
Olivier: I don’t know. I don’t think I can answer this question because I’m self-taught. I didn’t go to school to learn. I’ve done many courses and stuff, but it’s not having a proper degree or education. But I also think that not being from a design school, for example, has given me a different way of thinking. But it’s bit of a complex one to answer, because like I said, you need to do a bit of everything to understand what is design as a field, and then you can specialise.
Christian: Let’s talk a bit about one of the common experiences we have, which is digital transformation programs. I mean, we’ve both been in those types of programs. Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. I was thinking the other day, do you think it’s possible to go into a company that doesn’t have ‘digital’ in its DNA and actually successfully perform a digital transformation program?
Olivier: Not an easy one…
Christian: No, I know. That’s why I’m asking you because I don’t have an answer.
Olivier: I think I’m going to be controversial here. I don’t believe in digital transformations, because you don’t just change a channel. You change a business. So we’ll call it business transformation first. Playing with the words, but words important, and they mean things.
I think the hardest question to answer is, what’s the reason why they need to transform, first of all? Do we need to transform because they are losing customers, and there’s an urgency to get more sales, or do we need to transform because the long-term strategy of your company has changed, and they need to take baby steps to get there?
Those are two different things. And I think business transformation starts at a much higher level. It starts at a shareholders level, which is not something as designers — if you work in a company, you don’t even necessarily have the chance to be part of these conversations, but that’s where things are really happening.
So it’s really understanding what is the aim or objective of this transformation, because if it’s just, for example, modernising, so playing catch up, having a much more like easy way to interact online with like some sort of transaction and portal, whatsoever, it’s one thing. But if it’s like changing your business model completely, it’s not going to be an easy journey, because when you have a balance sheet, you have obligations or you can’t really take risks, if that makes sense.
So when you have, for example, a massive employee to pay you, can’t just say, “Look, we’re going to change the business model. And even if we not breaking even, we’re going to try it.” It’s very different. And plus, I think the hardest thing is, because you have shareholders, they took the risk 7-10 years ago. Now they are reaping the rewards. They’re not necessarily ready to take the risk and wait another seven years to get returns. And I think that’s probably the biggest journey you’ve got going to have in a digital business transformation is, how do you convince the shareholders to wait? We’ll make more investment in way to get more returns. That’s the biggest, biggest challenge, I think.
Christian: Okay. So let’s say there’s — I see two different paths here for someone interested in working in one of those organisations. So one is the one you’re saying is, look, as a designer, you’re going to come into one of these companies that wants to do a digital transformation, and you might not necessarily have a lot of impact because the decision starts at the top. So you will — more or less, you’ll be part of the team that executes the change. You won’t necessarily be the brains behind it. So that’s one.
There’s the other one, which is if I, as a designer, want to have impact in an organization, I need to make sure that the organization I work for is fit for my ambitions. And that’s where I think we could talk a bit about doing your due diligence as a designer before saying yes to offer from a specific company or no. How do you do that? What is — what are some key important aspects that someone listening to this could learn? Maybe they have — they’re sitting on two offers, and they’re not sure whichever one to choose. How do you do your due diligence?
Olivier: It’s not an easy one, this one…
Christian: This is the podcast with all the hard questions.
Olivier: Yes, that’s a very hard one. I think the main thing is, does this company align with your personal values? So the whole company business, does it fit with one of your values as an individual? I think that’s the first one. Are you behind the mission of business, because you think that something is aligned with who you are as a person?
I think the second thing is due diligence: you can look at the external perception of company. So you look at, for example, how customers think of it. So any articles, PRs, whatsoever. Reviews are a good way to look at this. LinkedIn, Glassdoor, you can see how people are internally treated, and you know how the senior management is looking after people. But I’ve been in this industry for like 13, 14 years now.
I’ve been through many interviews. It’s very difficult to find out, because people want to show the best when doing interviews. It’s only when you going to work with them, you’re going to see who they really are; you’re going to find out about their character flows and qualities and weaknesses and stuff. So, I think the hard one, but if should have the chance to find people who are working in a company, for example, that could give you an indication of this. If you go to meet-ups, you might be able to meet people. So I think there’s a way, but a there’s always a risk.
Christian: There’s always a risk. I think there are ways of trying to minimise the risk, but the risk will always be there. I agree with you. I think one of the things that I’ve always tried to do is to ask specific questions during the interview process. You can ask some questions that people have rehearsed for, and you can ask some questions that people cannot rehearse for because you’re taking them by surprise.
So, for example, an interesting one to answer is why this role exists. A lot of people don’t necessarily — have necessarily thought of that. So what — why is this role a thing now? It’s either because someone got fired, in which case you want to find out what happened there, as much as you can find out. Maybe it’s a new role because they have a digital transformation project or whatever it is, or expanding, yeah.
Yes. So there are a few questions you can ask to try to figure out if you would be a good fit in your company, but I’d like to say that I think these questions are not standard for all of us. I think everyone needs to look into the mirror and decide what’s really important and then ask questions based off of that.
So I wouldn’t want to put a standard set of questions there, but always figure out what is important to you. And then ask questions to try to understand whether that company aligns with your values, as you said in the beginning. I think that’s super important.
Okay. So, in the past, you just said 13, 14 years, I can imagine you’ve seen the design industry change quite a lot. And I’m thinking, especially from the perspective of your own role. So what a designer was asked to do 15 years ago is very different than what a designer is being asked to do today. How have you seen that shift happen over the last 15 years?
Olivier: It’s been quite progressive. So just give you an idea: when I left France in 2012, there was 50 – 100 people doing UX.
Christian: 15 or 50?
Olivier: 50 – 100
Christian: 50 – 100. Wow. That’s it?
Olivier: Very small, very small. And it wasn’t called user experience. It was called strategic planning and for me to get a job was very difficult. The way it has evolved, I think it’s big companies such as Facebook, Amazon, have shown how user experience has a big impact on companies. And how much impact design can make. So I’m not talking about as an individual; I’m talking about as a group.
So I think it went from very aesthetic driven first, so pixel-pushing and UI and style guide and all that kind of thing, to a much more like solving problems approach kind of thing. So I’m not saying problem-solving, but more solving problems, as in we think there’s a problem there and that’s how we should solve it. And as how, as they want designers to come in and have few to explore solutions. So much more, I would say like I’m a bridge between the classic UX/UI. I think that’s where we are right now.
I still think there’s still some challenges to sell the whole user-centred design approach or even say human-centred approach. With research, it’s always seen as it’s going to slow down things, we’re not going to go to market faster or, there’s people skeptical about the sample, they say five years is not enough, they’re not representative of the market. So there’s all those things, but I do think that now the more and more I speak to different companies and founders and CEOs, they know design has a huge impact, but how to enable it? I think this is where the big question is right now.
Yes, I think it’s progressing, definitely progressing. There’s much more of us on the market than before, but you still have companies with terrible user experience. So there’s an awareness we need designers, but maybe the next step is how do we enable them to deliver value for business?
Christian: So I think that a lot of this transition that you’re talking about, that you’ve seen over the past many years happened because at a wider scale, as you said earlier, companies like Facebook and Amazon and all that have shown how design, again, as a wider concept can impact the organization. And I think there’s a precursor to that, and that is designers on the ground, the ones that are doing the work, every single day, as much as possible, showing the impact of their work to the organization.
You briefly touched upon it earlier, in retail and eCommerce, you have a very specific, a very well-defined metric we’re going for, and that is the conversion rate, or how much are we selling versus how much effort we’re putting into this. But if you look at any other industry, as designers we don’t really have a way of showing the impact of our work. It’s very blurry. So how do we do that?
Olivier: It’s difficult because what we’re doing is very abstract. It’s not something you can touch. You can touch an app and interact with, but you can’t really touch something, like when you produce like an industrial product, for example, you can touch it. You have a feel. I think it’s difficult because design on his own cannot operate. Design on its own cannot run the company. I still think a lot of people have misconceptions and misunderstandings of what design is.
So me and you, we know that most of the people understanding from a UI level, branding, style guide, and how things look and feel, but it’s missing the element of design is business. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing we have to work on. Is yes, design is core business, and want to say this is, I’ve seen him myself. If you have the right business model, you can design the right business. Or, if you have identified the right customer needs, then you will find a business model at some point. But if something is flawed, so whether the need you’re solving is not big enough, or it’s not viable, or nobody’s interested in that, then you can do whatever you want. People don’t want it; they don’t want it.
Christian: I think there are ways of doing that, but they are not very well defined, and they are different from industry to industry, so just like eCommerce has that conversion rate. You were talking earlier about B2B SaaS companies. One of the interesting parts of our working B2B, where I have most of my experience actually, is that the end-user is not the one that’s in charge of procurement, like in B2C. There’s an operation manager or whatever, buying a piece of software, and then everyone else in the company has to use it, whether it’s good or bad.
But one thing that I’ve learned is that you can actually dig deeper into what some of these people are using the products for, how much time and effort it takes them to do that now, and then see, “Well, with this new product that we have, it takes them half of the time.” And now suddenly, someone in some sort of a spreadsheet can actually put a number to what’s the value of that product. So there are ways, but I think what we’re struggling with as an industry is finding one way that works across every industry. I don’t think we’ll ever find it. And I think that’s a good thing.
Olivier: I don’t think. Well, I think it’s a good thing. Yes. For me, when I work with companies and my clients, I define B2B and B2C very differently. So B2C, for me, the way I define it is, it’s a way to digitalise your business. So you’re basically breaking it down every single step or your business process for someone to buy.
So it’s simplifying the experience from outside. So remove the frictions, you offer, for example, the best payment method they are used to. You make it very easy to find a product they want. The experience is very simple, so you don’t have to think too much about where to find things whatsoever.
So this is what I have seen. B2C it’s a — from an outside perspective, how do I make things so much easier that I can get sales. When it comes to B2B, it’s very different, especially if it’s like an employee software, because you also think a lot of things due to the nature of the work, which is collaboration most of the time. I need an information from someone. If I don’t have it, I can’t carry on, or I need to solve this task, but there’s many steps in a business process because we need to manage risk.
And so what I realised with B2B or what B2B/ employee experience is all about how’d you cut down the time for people to do their job the fastest as possible. And it’s a very interesting, sort of interesting thing when it comes to design. So I currently work for a maritime shipping company, so very, very traditional business, and it’s using quite a lot of time to jump on a digital transformation bandwagon, but it’s happening.
And one of the things, for example, for me, which was very kind of difficult to understand at the beginning was, when we design interfaces, we like to simplify things with like the main CTA so people can focus on this. While I realise in B2B, it’s not that. It’s all about how can you show me as many controls as possible, so I don’t have to think about. And it’s a very different design. And again, the way you measure it and quantify is very different. Like for me, my company, what we sold to other companies, is the fact that we are centralising all operations into one platform. And everyone’s got access to everything. So it’s like, this whole thing about single source of truth, communication and internal operations, all in one place, but it’s also cutting down the time, removing the friction with the current software they have.
So it’s a very different thing. And for me, I really enjoy it because it’s actually a much more problem solving/human-centred rather than commercially driven if that makes sense. Like for us, we don’t make money by selling stuff, we make money because we solve problem on daily basis. And that’s the value we create. That’s what we can sell to other companies rather than, like a consumer goods company, I need to sell stuff as many I can sell. That’s how the company becomes valuable.
Christian: Yes, totally. It comes down to the business goals because design needs to be linked to the business goals. In B2C, if the goal is to sell a product or a service, the metrics are going to be different than in B2B where the value you’re adding is maybe improving efficiency in a company or cutting down the time it takes an employee to perform a task five times a week.
So design needs to be linked to that business goal. And when we track design, obviously, it needs to be tracked based on those business goals. It requires a bit of a different way of thinking when you design in B2C versus B2B. So staying on the topic of thinking differently, you’re about to go on an adventure and start your own VC fund that does things a bit differently. So tell us a bit about that and tell us why?
Olivier: Something that was thought, I’ve worked in many companies, diversity wasn’t there at all. I’ve worked in company that I was the only like diverse person in the room. That’s the main reason why I want to go on that journey and create this, the venture capital that we mentioned. I’ve realised diversity will only change or start to change if more of us take the risk to give back.
What I also realised is, all those problems we have, they would only change if wealth is created on those — in those communities. Because when you have wealth, you have access to network, you have access to influence; you have access to some people that can change and balance the world. And that’s what I want to try to — not to achieve, but that’s why I want to try to do.
So the venture capital I’m going to create is going to be targeted, not necessarily at just underrepresented founders, but it’s more people coming from poor backgrounds, but a lot of people have a lot of ideas. But they don’t evolve within those, the same crowd as me and you. They don’t know people that are paid for designing products. They don’t know all of this.
So what I want to bring, I want to make it more accessible. The knowledge that’s already existing there, so when it comes to design, business, finances and all of that, because I believe a lot of them have ideas and they don’t even try because they’re afraid to fail because being the background — Sorry, being the ethnic background they are, it’s going to be even much harder. Because we know if, for example, if you’re not Caucasian, it’s going to be two times harder. Let’s be real.
So I want to create a shift, which is doable because I’ve seen someone looking like me trying to do it. If we allow people to fail, we’re going to learn more about things we actually don’t necessarily understand or even heard of. So for me, the one thing I think of is all these underrepresented communities. There’s a lot of data we don’t have on them. We don’t know how they consume. We don’t know how much they spend. We don’t know why and how. And I think there’s a lot of opportunities there for investors. Those, that kind of want to invest in things, are different, and I want to create this room for everyone.
Also, one thing I realised myself working with many startups is there’s nothing more dangerous than giving money to someone as a first-time founder. What I mean by this is you can give only to someone, but if they don’t have the experience, the knowledge, the people, they’re going to burn through your cash. Simple, because they don’t know. And what I want to bring is I want to bring on this more hands-on approach. So you dedicate a team that’s helping those founders to get to a milestone turnover.
The reason why I’m saying this is much more important is because I would say 90 or 80% of the time, every startup or first-time founders always make the same mistakes. And then if you think as an investor, it’s very risky. But imagine now you can have a team behind; I’m not saying we’re securing your money, but we’re taking more steps to reduce the risk. I think that can create a very different dynamic.
Christian: Olivier, a couple more questions for the end. Everyone gets asked this. So you, you don’t get to run away before it. First one is how do you recon the future of design looks like?
Olivier: I think we’re living in them more and more in a complex world. Everything is intertwined. I think it’s all going to be about mapping ecosystems together. That’s what I believe. And I think we’re going to move toward things that are a bit more — Well, definitely more personalised, first of all, automated, even proactive, AI machine learning.
So learning from people and even how to identify the next patterns of behaviours, I think. But I’ve seen something very interesting, and I think we are going back to — it’s a cycle, and I think people are needing much more attention. What I mean by this is I think we okay to interact with machines, but I think we crave for human interaction. Digital can help, but we still need people involved in the process if that make sense.
I can’t really predict, but I do believe we’re going to see, I think an interesting decade, I think, especially in a pandemic. There’s much more industries that have not been disrupted are going to be disrupted, for example, healthcare, lots of disruption in healthcare, logistics has been heavily disrupted, shipping as well. So the oil industry has been disrupted too. So there’s — I think there’s a lot of things are going to. Aviation is another one. I think it’s a very interesting one.
It’s interesting. I think I believe in much more ethical companies. What I mean by this is we’ve all seen the big companies, multi-billion companies being wealthy, but down on the human side of things. So I think it’s bringing more ethics back into business and then money is one driver, but it’s not the only driver, I think. That’s what I can think of.
Christian: Do you think design has a place in all of these because these are a lot around business. But do you think design is going to be the driver?
Olivier: Yes, that’d be tough because, as designers, we have this ability to design a better world. We can design a better world. So if you see something is broken, we can try to find some pieces of answers to try to fix it.
Christian: All right. Last one, what’s one thing you wish more designers would know?
Olivier: About business, much more.
Christian: Oh, business.
Olivier: Yes. The simple one.
Christian: That’s what the podcast is about, isn’t it?
Olivier: Yes, one of this one-on-one is sales versus losses, so P&L. I think is much more around how business really works. So what’s the triggers that bring customers? All the things around customer acquisition, lead generation, onboarding, how you convert them and boarding then the whole post-purchase experience, upgrading, upsetting. All of this, I think, should be taught from the very beginning and then helping them to map out how design can actually help. So if you know you need to increase your conversion rates, then you also need to spend more money in customer acquisition. Or, maybe there’s a way to decrease it and get more customers. So that’s how I see.
I think it’s those basic one on one. So Jared Spool is someone that I learned a lot from. And one thing he said is when you speak to an exec, they care about five things. How much money they will make? How much can we save? How many more customers can we get? Can we diversify? And the fifth one is, can you diversify? So can you upsell? Sorry. So how much more can you make for each customer? So, and I think this is the five thing that every designer should be taught of. So then, they will understand that you can still be creative, but you need to be able to create this bridge between the business or management.
Christian: Awesome. Olivier, where can people find you, read about you, connect with you, keep an eye on when that fund is coming out, etc?
Olivier: Yes. So just LinkedIn for now.
Christian: Your LinkedIn for now?
Olivier: Yes, but I will. I will update you when it’s happening.
Christian: Cool. We’ll put that in the show notes so everyone can find you with one click.
Olivier: Yes. If anyone is interested to join, please feel free. Not everybody has to bring money, but I need skills. I need people with different background stuff. And yes, let’s make it happen. It’s not just money.
Christian: Fantastic. Olivier, thanks so much, once again, for being part of Design Meets Business. I really, really appreciate you taking the time, and hopefully, we’ll catch up soon again.
Olivier: Thanks for having me, Christian
Christian: 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.