Rochelle Dancel: Embedding Design in Large Organisations

Rochelle and I talk about why being a designer is a huge responsibility, why it's important to understand what matters to people outside of the design team, and how to be more transparent about our work.

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Lead Service Designer at Idean

Rochelle Dancel

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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 I’m talking to Rochelle Dancel, an experienced designer, producer, and creative director, currently working for global design studio, Idean. Rochelle and I talk about the responsibility of being a designer, why it’s important to understand what matters to people outside of the design team, and how to be more transparent about our work.  

Rochelle, thanks a lot for joining the podcast. It’s really a pleasure to have you here. I’m looking forward to talk about design and design leadership with you today. I believe you’re the right person to talk about these things with not only from the perspective of the agency world, but also from the perspective of larger organisations, since you’ve got a wealth of experience in both. But first, let’s talk a bit about how much of a fascinating person I think you are outside of design. So tell us a bit about your background, how you got to work with so many incredible brands over the past 15 years, and about your other career as a producer in the film industry? 

Rochelle: Yes, so I think – wow, intro. I think I would probably describe my career as a series of very, very happy accidents. So I started at university in events. I worked for ticketing company, and then when I left, I had my own company off the back of that. So actually I — on a podcast about design and business, I think a lot of us have sort of naturally built in business backgrounds when you look at things retrospectively, because we’ve had other lives. And I think that has definitely sort of fed up and into the things that we’ve ended up did up doing subsequently. 

But yes, I mean I started in events and met a lot of film people. I have a background in theatre, which is what I went to university for. And so my career in production, I guess the things I do on the side, all of the films and whatnot and then the web series that I’ve made subsequently or I’ve become known for. Those were sort of passions that I followed that we thought, “Okay, we just need to take those sort of to the next level.” 

And then off the back of that, I’ve had a kind of massive learning curve having to learn how to make my own websites for the shows that I’ve been making. Because at the time, we didn’t know anyone that was a developer and we didn’t — it wasn’t a skill set, and so we had to do things like YouTube – How to make a website, and YouTube all those sorts of things, and so, software was not what it is now. We didn’t have availability of free kind of software or freemium versions of things that we could try. So a lot of it was kind of putting — I mean, it literally was bootstrapping in many cases.

And then off the back of that, the kind of like main, I’d say kind of turning point, was when I made a website for one of my shows, my very first show which is ended up getting picked up by MTV. So there was all of a sudden, quite a lot of traffic to the site. It became a bit of a showpiece and a talking point. I mean, it was terrible website. It was built in tables, and I had to learn how to do a dropdown menu in Flash. 

Off the back of that, I could say that I could code. And when I was then applying for other jobs, I ended up at the mayor’s office in a charity that was looking after the London domestic violence strategy at the time. And I came on, and I think it was like an administrator or something like that, because I could do things like code newsletters and all of that kind of thing. Then you become the person who’s good with computers, and you become the person that’s good with websites.

And then off the back of that, I got to work on some really cool projects that probably someone at my level would not have done just because it was perceived, I had this particular skillset. And then that blossomed into a really cool online project which was around supporting domestic violence workers who work with children. And it was the very first online space. And so that sort of as a project around sort of designing the pathways into that, around how security protocols work with that. Like all of those sorts of things, I’m sort of suddenly having to think about. So, that was — Yes, so, I mean, that was — Again, I call it a happy accident.

Off the back of that, learn lots sort of nonprofit meet-ups or meets-ups with other charities. Was talking to them about capacity building and then ended up in an agency that worked exclusively with nonprofit organisations, charities things, like that.

So, yes. I call all of these sorts of things, a happy accident. I ended up at PayPoint in the sort of e-commerce part of the business. Again, because I was just like, “Oh, I need like a temp job to fill up some time. “I can code. They were like, “Well, we need someone to do sort of like newsletters, and we got some microsites, we’ve got some things like that.” So then, you know, I’m suddenly kind of accidentally in this environment and then meeting their head of product and meeting developers and then getting a much bigger insight into workflow and how the little bit of what I’m doing fits in with a much, much bigger organisation. And then the other way around having to explain how my little piece of the puzzle fits into the much wider view of the organisation.

So I don’t think I’ve ever done anything deliberately. I don’t think I’ve ever gone. I want to — if you’d have said to me then, I want to be a service designer, even though that’s exactly what I was doing, I don’t think that I would have had that sort of like cognisance or even known how to foresee how to build a career path into the awesome things I’m doing now. I’ve been very, very lucky and incredibly grateful to work on all of the things I’ve managed to work on. And as much as possible, I mean, my big ethos in life is that I follow people. I don’t really follow brands and products and things like that.

I think after I got past the first year of — because agency world is very small. And agency world it is incredibly nepotistic still. Nepotism is still a massive thing. It is all about the network, and I was very lucky in that I met a great recruiter who we clicked right away, got on with really well. And when I was thinking, “You know what? Let’s go freelance.” So let’s basically just see whether or not this is something that I want to do.

The very first agency I got to work with was Sapient. And in London, if you work for Sapient, everyone knows who they are. I mean, everyone’s got their own opinion about every agency, organisation, you name it. But the minute that was on my CV, it was a massive kind of door opener. Once I had that first project, is a name that a lot of people in the industry recognised, obviously. It was just a lot easier to get recommendations or to have people immediately go, “Okay, she’s worked there. Fine. They’ve had her, she didn’t blow anything up, we can have her on our project.” And I’ve met lots and lots of people. I’ve been very grateful and very lucky that they’ve recommended me to other people and so on and so forth. 

So I tend to follow people rather than the brands now. A lot of times, recruiters that don’t know me will come to me and say, “We’ve got this brand. It is going to look amazing. It’s a great project. You go to travel to this place.” And I’m like, “Yes, no, it’s fine”. But recruiters that I work with, they know who I want to work with, or what type of person they want to work with, or what kind of organisation I want to work with. And so they’re very much, “You should join this project because I think you and this person would really get along.” And I take recommendations from people that I know about people that they know very, very like to heart, especially if they’re people that know me.

And I just think that — especially if you’re on a project for — maybe be six weeks, 12 weeks, whatever, six months down the line it’s that sort of classic airport test, in that, you have to be with people that you wouldn’t mind spending 12 hours on an overlay unexpectedly with. Yes, it’s – again I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky, and I’m really hoping that this kind of just continues for the rest of my career. 

Christian: Yes. There’s a similar story I keep hearing from everyone who’s on the show. There are small particulars that are different, but the pattern is the same. Most people I’ve spoken to until now started out by doing something totally different than design. Maybe they started coding. Maybe they started with a totally different career, and they ended up in design by chance.

But another thing that I’m noticing is how most of these people have started design by already having a lot of skills that help them in their design career. So as you said, if you’ve worked in other areas of the business before and you become a designer, then you’re going to have those skills to aid you as a designer. And I’m wondering, it sounds like it’s such a high barrier of starting in design today. There’s so much required of you even when you’re just a junior because there are all these prodigies coming in knowing how to do everything. So how do you start considering the barrier is so high?

Rochelle: I think it’s to not perceive the barrier as being high. I think — like you have to like — I’ve been designing in various guises for the last sort of 15 plus years. And the world of design, I believe now is completely different to what it was back in the day. If you think about — I would perceive the barrier to entry 15 years ago was a lot higher or a lot more difficult than it is today. So I find that kind of perspective very, very interesting. And I say this because 15 years ago, we didn’t have things like social media like there’s an entire ecosystem that goes around being a designer. So there’s meeting people, there’s talking to people about your work, there’s being able to have those conversations publicly and openly about issues and concepts that are important to you. 

I didn’t go to a design school. I didn’t even go to school for design, and I grew up at a time when design was so conflated with art that if you were terrible at art at school, the idea of a design career, like in my head, was completely “No”. And now I work with people who are designers, who, for example, I’ve maybe only been experienced in design is for the last sort of two or three years, but had massive careers previously as business analysts or as marketing managers or as something else in another field, and I think are better designers for it.

My kind of superpower or when people always ask, “What is your kind of like key skill or whatever as a designer, or what should I cultivate about myself in order to be successful?” And I’m like, “I’m super curious about people, endlessly curious about people and how they live. Like different cultures, different subcultures which makes me then much better about going or poking about when I’m trying to figure out what they might need to help them live better or to help them deliver faster or more efficient.” I’m also really good at telling a story about why something should matter to someone. Once you really get to know people, you get to know what is important them, and then you can tailor your story to them accordingly. It’s almost like a pitch sort of situation in business.

I think back then there were only sort of very rigid, very formal ways into being a designer. You had to probably have gone to specific schools. You had to have been on certain tracks into, for example, the bigger agencies and ironically agencies only started talking to me when absolutely no sort of formal design portfolio that they knew of because I have the show that I made with a friend that was — and then YouTube was suddenly going to be this thing and so what was online video?

So, yes, I think now, because there’s so many tools out there to newer designers, or there’s so many tools out there to people who want to start. There are so many tutorials out there that are telling you how to do things around any subject that you would want to know about. There’s much more of an impetus, or there are many more resources if you want to self-start, which I think is a quality that you honestly have to have if this is a world that you want to get into. But then on the flip side of it, because there are so many things, so many resources available, anyone can, in theory, do it. So you have the flip side of it, which is then the pressure to be able to stand out amongst everyone that is doing all of these things.

So I think we’re at a kind of a really exciting time now. I think it’s as much about how you get someone’s attention as much as what it is that you do from a portfolio or talent standard in order to get someone’s attention to start a career in design. I’m kind of — I’m continuously excited and continuously surprised whenever I meet new designers, and by new, I don’t just mean young. I mean designers who are just kind of fresh into the industry, the game, whatever you want to call it. 

Christian: So because there are so many paths into design, so many different ways you can enter your career, hiring must be a bit harder, because then you’re not looking for specific patterns, I guess. When you’re trying to hire a lawyer, there are two, three things. You’re looking for very specific things, because they kind of all have the same background with law school etc etc. With design, with there being so many paths you can enter the career through, how does that affect hiring, and what makes a candidate stand out when you look at a portfolio, for example? 

Rochelle: So I can obviously only speak to my experience on this, in terms of what I look for or how I look for things when I look to have someone new join my team. So the portfolio is the portfolio. I think, how — what good portfolios should look like? I think those sorts of things are very well documented elsewhere. Depending on what kind of skillset or where I think a person’s going to sit within my team, I’ll obviously just look to see there’ll be sort of evidence of the work.

The same things I look for in the portfolio, what I look for in the person when I come to meet them, whether that’s like online or whether or not that’s in a face to face interview, I guess, pre-COVID. And that is — it’s an ability to tell a story about something, why you did something and why it mattered. Whether or not that’s in person or whether that’s in the portfolio, those sorts of things really kind of need to come out.

And then depending on the sort of level of seniority. I guess when you’re — when I’m looking at someone who has already kind of quite sort of set in terms of their career, two, three, four years down the line. Basically, they’re not just sort of fresh in. I look at the work, and I’m like, “I know that you can do the job.” Because the actual skills, if I’m hiring for a UX designer for example, the actual skills of it should be already demonstrated in the work that they’ve already done. 

So what I’m looking to have a conversation with you about is, do our ethics and ethos align around certain subjects? What do you like to speak to as a person? What else are you bringing to my team beyond the things that were in a job description or in a brief or something like that?

So I tend to have very kind of natural conversations with people about what they’re interested in. If it’s kind of around design, I’m interested to see what else they’re doing within the community. What other areas affect them? Are there any issues that they kind of like feel strongly or sort of passionately about it? It’s all those sorts of things I’m kind of looking for over and above a portfolio or a CV or anything like that.

Christian: How have you seen the role as a designer change throughout your career? Now, obviously, you have gained more seniority over time, that brings different responsibilities to your role, but the role as a designer in general, have you seen that change over the past years you’ve been a designer?

Rochelle: So I’d say maybe three to five years ago, you — well, I was an experienced designer and the conversations we were having were around UX versus UI. So it was like UX versus UI, to what extent do UI designers have to do UX? To what extent a UI designer is just basically putting a skin over what UX is doing? To what extent does UX have to be cognisant of like the visual designers? There was that kind of like back and forth. How do we split that out? And now, at least in the direction that my career is moving, there’s a lot more around like product design versus service design. Is experienced design physical — Like is experience design only on screen? And then what is the physical design — to what extent do they bleed together?

And so those conversations now I look at them, and I’m like, they don’t interest me at all anymore. I’m like designers, designers, design. Honestly, these labels — the context of these labels are just to do with where you work or in recruitment area you’re pitching, it’s like the — how people can label you, how they can pick out keywords on your CV and things like that. Which is why I’m as likely to have products and service designers and experience designers come in to see me all for the same role, because it’s only when you talk to people about what they actually did or what they actually do that you’re like, “Okay, your CV tells me this, but actually I can hear that or I can take from what you’re saying that these are the skills that you have. And this is actually what you’re interested in. So yes, come in and be a UX researcher.” It’s that kind of back and forth around what labels should be, what people’s job title should be, what people’s job descriptions should be.

I think with seniority comes an expectation that you will be more involved with a project at a level of strategically where this is set in the business. And this is regardless of your discipline. So it’s like strategically, where does this sit within the business? Who are you fighting with or who are you competing with for budget, things like that. Who is the sponsor or the stakeholder within a particular business for your project? And so on a very personal level you have just to kind of make the decision as to whether or not you want to be more involved in that, or if you want to stay in the trenches with the wireframing, with the prototyping doing the kind of — the practical and all the practice parts of design which is why now I just tend to be drawn to projects where I still have seniority. I’m still involved in those conversations, but there is still a level of being able to kind of do the practical practice part of it. And I get super frustrated when I can’t do that. 

So yes, I don’t know. From my own perspective and from my own journey, becoming more cognisant of conversations around funding the work and commissioning the work and prioritising the work. Those sorts of conversations, I’m much more aware of and have definitely had experience of having an increasingly seeing more and more designers in the room when people have been hammering those sorts of things out. I think it is still a massive frustration point. And this is just anecdotally — I’ll say anecdotally universally, that designers are often brought in when briefs or solutions or basically a way to solve a problem has already been agreed and or sold. And then we were just brought in to kind of execute how that’s going to be happened. And we’re like, “Well, you sold a car. So I’m going to — I have to give you a car, even though the best way from A to B might be a catapult, something like that” do you know what I mean?

Yes. I think that those sorts of conversations in a much more kind of like rounded room, not just all business people, not just all finance people, not just all tech people, for example. I’m seeing much more sort of come together to make those sorts of decisions.

Christian: So how do designers get there? In the industry, we talk a lot about getting that seat at the table. I guess that’s what you were referring to as well. So how do we, as an industry, get seen, or what do we need to do as an industry to be seen as someone who needs to be brought in early at that strategic decision-making time in the process versus coming in just to execute? What is it we need to do to get there? 

Rochelle: I think it’s always going to be a challenge. And I think if you’re in a new organisation, you don’t know anyone within the organisation, I think is even harder. Ultimately this goes back to my previous point about being curious about people and what is important to them.

I like to make myself known or at least. By myself known, at least I mean going introduce myself and say hi to people so that they know who I am. I remember being in this one company and no one ever got to speak to the CEO, and they were the person who were — there was so many sorts of gatekeepers between that person and everyone else within the organisation. But they wrote an article, and it was on LinkedIn, and I made some comments on that and then started a conversation about that. I found them on Twitter and started tweeting them stuff that they were interested in until one day they were just like, “Look, you should come in and talk to me about this.”

And so we had those conversations, and this was in a very large sort of corporate organisation where the C suite sat in an entirely different floor to everyone else sort of surrounded by assistant and all of that kind of thing. But people are people, and people have interests. People are interested in other people who might be able to add value to their interests, very naturally. 

On a practical kind of like day to day level, I love working with like developers. And so whenever I have a question about something I’m working on in flight, I can kind of go to them. And because of it, I’ve completely exposed the process to them. I think every organisational person within an organisation, if they’re not used to working with designers they will have their own idea of what designers do and don’t do.

And the second part I think is the more dangerous part. So actually, kind of adding value to what they might be working on or adding value within the process or actually saying, “Look, I can help you with this, or this is something that we already do.” They might — I don’t think people willingly shot designers out. I just don’t think that they know what designers can do within the context of their own organisation. And so it is almost kind of incumbent on the designer to figure that out and basically then go, “Okay, who can I speak to? How can I make those connections? And then who do I need to get in front of to demonstrate the value that our practice or our team can have on a particular project or in this particular organisation?”

Christian: I think design is challenging in different ways, in different types of organisations. So in a smaller, more nimble startup, you would expect the lines of communications to be much shorter. You can get to speak to anyone you want to within minutes if you want to. Everyone is in the same office and all that. It’s very different in a large organisation, especially in an organisation that has different offices. So what are some of these challenges that you’ve experienced in your career that design has in bigger companies? 

Rochelle: So I think one of the challenges we have and — definitely, it’s the big one that sort of affects the work from a downstream perspective, is not being able to get into identify or to see, or to refine a problem at the beginning. And of course, that problem or how it’s defined leads to someone else coming up with a proposed solution, which then leads to a sort of brief of sorts being written up and then just kind of chucked over the fence to designers who are then going to execute, I guess. So then Figure out how to do this.

Let me caveat, though, by saying that designers are not the only ones who can define problems. There are lots and lots of other disciplines. There are BAs and all kinds of other sort of strategic people who are really great at doing these things. So I’m not knocking these other practices. As a designer, of course, though, I have a bias towards my own. And so on my wish list, I’m just — I often find myself several weeks down the line going, “Well, if we had been involved in looking at this, then this might not have happened.”

So ironically, one of the skills that we’ve had to get better at is actually pushing back and actually kind of mitigating a lot of things. So, it’s being able to say, “We can deliver an MVP that is this way, which is somewhere close to what you thought it was going to be.” It’s to take your view of a problem as a hypothesis and actually go, “Right. We will deploy the MVP of this so that it’s cost-efficient, time-efficient, etc. And then we will test it. And then actually, this is the iteration path if it’s a product or a service.

I think within a large organisation, like knowing all of the different pieces that going to deciding not only whether or not your project is going to be sort of green-lit but also who’s paying for it. Who has a stake in it, all of those sorts of things? Like often, you’ll find departments and teams that you’ve never heard of before suddenly show up to your kickoff session. And you’re like, “Who are you? They’re like, “Yes, we’re this team that is based in this part of the business.” And there’ll be something that you’ve never heard of before, regulatory or something like that. But because they hadn’t on the spend in their budget, they’re the main stakeholder in your project, all of a sudden.

So I think having — being able to have a context of the landscape in which your project is going to sit, whether that’s from a customer perspective or whether it’s from a business perspective, it has always been a challenge. Especially when people think you only need to set or see this little part of a pilot that you’re working on. And where that happens, you end up from a customer perspective, with a very fragmented experience of an organisation. You only need to the look on the home page of — if you try and log onto the homepage of a website on your mobile and you see like all — like a bajillion popups, or it’s just like cookies and then the newsletter and then referral links. And then you’re like, “Okay, this is what happens.” It’s like, I always say that the politics of an organisation make themselves visible on a mobile screen experience. And you’re like, it’s everyone just fighting, and no one has oversight. And that’s basically what happens. 

Christian: I see the role of a designer as being a connector between all these parts of the business and being able to alleviate some of these pain points that you just mentioned. To give you an example, I don’t know if this has happened to you. I was working for a company where we did some usability testing, and it became very clear that the choice of design that we’ve made was validated very quickly by the people we were testing with. They really loved it. Obviously, you take that as a green light to implement it. And then we showed it to basically our stakeholders, people who are paying for it, and they were totally against it. 

So you, as a designer then, you’re sitting in the middle between the people who are going to use the product who are telling you “This is good, let’s make this happen”, and the people who are paying for the product who have a lot of other interests who are telling you, “Nah, we’re not going to do this.” And I think that’s where — that’s what separates a good designer from a great designer is that you need to understand why are they saying no to you? What are the reasons behind their ‘no,’ that you can play on to overturn their decision if you will. Have you ever experienced that? 

Rochelle: Well, here’s the thing. I think in that scenario, what I would do is I would explain all of the good stuff that came out of user testing. I’d make the business case for — if we went down this road, this is the key indicator that says we will be successful. Now, if the business has decided, “We’re going to do something else.” And you don’t know why, at some point, I don’t think it behooves you to try and shift the needle on it.

I mean, it might sound kind of controversial, but like at the end of the day I’m not your parent. I’m not going to tell you or force you that you should do something. I’m like, what I can do is present why I think that this particular direction is the right one based on data and testing. And if you decide that you’re going to go down another road, well, then that’s your issue.

There is a level of responsibility from all disciplines and all people in an organisation as to how something moves and grows and develops. And I think, yes, if you can find out and/or if you know why the businesses may be decided that they’re going to chase another priority or move another direction from the one that you clearly demonstrated would be successful, then you need to understand that. Once you’ve understood that, and you’ve been decided what you’re going to do about that, whether it’s to have a conversation with them or see whether or not there’s something from the direction they’re chasing that could actually align with what it is that you’re doing. And then is there another route that you can test to prove that?

Once you’ve done all of those things, if they still decide that they don’t want to move into the direction that you’re pitching for, then that is completely up to them. It’s not your business; it’s their business. It’s their product. It’s their design. You’ve done your job. I think so long as you’ve done your job as a designer the best way that you know how to, you’ve presented the options very clearly to them, you’ve defended a direction that you think will be successful, it is completely up to them what they decide and how they decide that they want to move forward.

I used to get really in knots about this. And I guess because I started from a much more kind of like creative and into — In industry, I think like once you’re first new, you get really attached to the things that you design that you’re really attached to because they’re like your babies. And so there’s like kind of like cliche, you need to learn how to kill your darlings. And that’s the thing. 

Everything I do, yes, I can love it or not, but that tends to be secondary to how disposable it is. Like, it’s an idea, and it’s a concept. I’m doing this to solve a problem somewhere, if someone decides that they don’t like it, or someone doesn’t want it, or for whatever reason, things that are beyond my knowledge, that’s not up to me. I’m just like — I’ve got to like, get rid of it, move on to whatever’s next or iterate it with someone else’s feedback and figure out how that’s going to work out afterward. 

But yes, I think you really need to learn how to quickly move on from something if you can see that it’s a dead-end, because it does not behoove you to stay in that dead-end, but you need to keep the momentum going.

Christian: I think this also comes down to putting your ego to the side because you, as a designer, you’re just serving just like any other employee of the organisation, you’re serving your organisation. As you said, it’s not your business; it’s a business you work for. Unless it is your business, in which case, that’s a whole different discussion. But putting your ego to the side and saying, “I’ve done my best. I’ve tried. I’ve made the facts clear. And at the end of the day, whichever decision they go with, I’ll just have to accept that.” Instead of — because otherwise, it comes from an egotistical place, “I said, we should do this. Why are we not doing it?” And keeping pushing for that, even when it’s obviously a dead end. I think that comes from an ego perspective. 

You’ve said earlier that you go into organisations, and sometimes people don’t know what you’re doing or what you’re doing or what you’re not doing. And I think that comes oftentimes down to making design more transparent in organisations. So how do we become better at talking about the work we do? 

Rochelle: I think we just need to show it off. A lot of people who — especially if your role does not necessarily involve design and by involve design involve designers. You won’t necessarily know what a designer comes in to do, and much less what an experienced designer versus a product designer versus a service designer versus a solutions architect. You’re not going to know each of those people does and the same way that we wouldn’t know what various kinds of business people — transformation lead, analytical, they’re all of these job titles. I don’t know — I’m just like, “But what do you actually do? What do you do successfully, quickly?”

So we’ve been really successful in larger organisations, in fact, in any organisations is when you’ve gone, “Okay, we’ve done this, I’m inviting everyone to come and see a presentation of this work, and then we’ll talk — and in that presentation, we’ll talk you through what the problem was, how we’ve gone about solving things. What we think the impact of this is going to be if it’s a project that’s in-flight and why it should matter to you.” 

So you kind of go through those things, and you’re suddenly then inviting people into your world. You’re exposing a lot of your methods, and you’re making it very easy for them to then get in touch with you and have a conversation with you about whatever it is that you’re working on and actually how you want to add value. And when people get — when people receive an invitation — people can get excited about how it might start to connect with a problem that they’re also having. They suddenly want to work with you. They suddenly want to have those conversations with you. And then the kind of you end up with something that is greater than the sum of its parts, and I always find that sort of super, super exciting.

But I think so much — even if it’s a project that is only like four weeks or six weeks, you’re going to be in an organisation. Like the thing that I think you should do before you kind of arrive like a charging bull is to really just listen and get the lay of the land and be humble about how design is sat within this organisation, about any qualms people might have about design and designers kind of coming in, bearing in mind that you’re completely external to their culture and their organisation. And then just really listening before you then start going, “Hi, this is me, and this is what I’m working on, and this is what I’d like to accomplish and actually thank you all for your input, feedback, etc.”

I think when designers go into organisations with what I call ‘the God complex,’ “I’m going to come in and save everything. I’m going to come in and save you from yourselves.” I’m like, “That’s so arrogant. It is so very, very, very arrogant, and you are not going to be successful.” I’m like — I think it’s a good thing to have a very strong point of view. It’s a very good thing to have even an idea of what needs to happen in order to make an organisation successful around a particular problem, the one that you’ve come in to solve, but I think you need to be very, very open to have your misconceptions be misconceptions and be knocked down on the first day. And to be open to another way of looking at an organisation and their problem and actually going.

What I thought from the outside, this one is going to be — is actually something very, very different. Or the idea I had about this team being the problem, actually, they’re not a problem at all. They’ve got some really great ideas that they’ve never been able to do execute because they’re overlooked. Because they’re part of a particular journey. Is not as traffic. There’s this other Product teams, for example, and therefore they’re never going to be able to reach the heights of success because they have no resource. 

Those sorts of nuances, you can only see by going into an organisation and talking to people and really listening to kind of what their issues are and also what the successes are and what their hopes are. Because as a designer coming into an organisation, often, you’re the person who gets the microphone. Like you’re the person who gets to amplify all of these things. And people will listen to you because they’re paying you serious amounts of money compared to everyone else, to come in and sort of “be the e

So actually, the more that you can highlight these challenges, often from people that may have been screaming them for the longest time, but no one’s listening to them because it might be political. Because they’re not too senior or because they’re not at the right level because they never get invited to the right forums or meetings. That’s almost your responsibility as well as a designer to come in and be able to kind of reflect that back to an organisation. 

Christian: You’ve talked a lot about this from the perspective of coming into an organisation as an external party, whether that’s an agency or a contractor, and doing all these things. Do you think there’s a difference between that and actually just working full time for an organisation?

Rochelle: Well, in my experience, both having worked client-side and agency side, I find that organisations will bring a third party in to complete a piece of work, and for whatever reason, because they’re paying for it, whatever, they perceive this third party who comes in to be more knowledgeable or more experienced or whatever than their own people. And I always find that kind of quite tragic. And I always tend to say that — I’m like, “You’ve got this person, or you have these teams who’ve been here for a really long time. They know the organisation. They know your customers. They know the industry. They know context. They’re very deeply passionate about what it is that they’re doing.”

And that’s the thing; I’m just like if you’re butting heads with someone is because that person is very passionate about what it is that they’re doing and rightly so. If I meet someone who’s apathetic, I’m just like, “You’ve checked out. You’re here for the pay check and the benefits, that’s it.”

Christian: Yes

Rochelle: I always find it a massive waste and really kind of disappointing when you have an organisation that brings someone in, whether that’s like one person or a design partner, whatever. They bring those people in, in order to do a job that they have people in-house whose job is to do anyway if that makes sense.

Christian: Yes. 

Rochelle: And I’m like, “You should trust your people. You should trust your people.” I’m like, “If you’re bringing someone in, it should be because they have a skillset or an experience or something that you clearly don’t have. And everyone is on the same page about the fact that you don’t have that is the thing. When I’ve worked a client-side, when I’ve been in an organisation, design still has the same challenges.

Design definitely still sort of has the same roles; I think. And the advantage of it is that you don’t just work on a finite piece of work. You can actually see how it’s going to fit more effectively, and you’re there for the sort of the actual execution of it and the aftermath of whatever the execution is of — whatever it is that you’re doing. 

I think I certainly, and this might just have been because I wasn’t particular junior at the time, I probably took fewer risks when I was within an organisation when I was permanent and worked for them full time, etc because of potential ramifications. And I did not have that — I was certainly not in an environment where it was okay to be seen to fail if that makes sense. And also where the framing of “failing” was not a failure that you could learn from. Now we call it hypothesis testing. You’d never go, “Okay, this is the solution, and then we’re done.” You would say, “This is a hypothesis that we’re testing, and then we can get it…” And then there’s an A or B that comes out of it.

So I think that from a kind of cultural perspective is very, very important. And so I have wondered. I’m like if you’re in an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes, but you were very transparent about your process, would organisations trust their teams more and actually invest the money that they would be spending on a third party more into that team to be better, to be bolder, to kind of take more risks if that team was supported in failing and learning from that. I guess those are my musings on it. 

Christian: Cool. We are nearing the end. I always ask at the end, a couple of questions. Everyone gets asked the same thing. The first one is, what is one thing you wish more designers would know?

Rochelle: I think the one thing that I wish more designers would realise is that it is a massive privilege and a responsibility to be a designer. As a designer, whether you’re an experienced designer, product designer, service designer, whatever kind of designer, I’m like, “You are designing people’s lives.” Like you are designing how they interact with the world, which includes excluding them as well by design, whether or not that’s intentional or not. 

And so I think it’s a point that I always try to land when I’m talking to young and new designers kind of coming into the market. It’s not just about making things that are pretty; it’s not just about making things that are going to wow people. Like it’s as important, in fact, even more, important to make sure that someone who’s trying to access universal credit or unemployment benefits can complete a form properly in a language they can understand, on a device that is not as souped-up as the one that you might have in your studio. That is so super important.

It’s important that people can navigate cities and access transport and access support. Those sorts of things are super, super important. So it is indeed a huge privilege and responsibility to be able to design the world in that way, for better or for worse.

Christian: Yes, that’s a great answer. I love that one. The second rapid-fire question and the last one is how do you reckon the future of design as an industry looks like?

Rochelle: I think in the future, in fact, you can see this now. I think that more and more people who don’t necessarily carry the job title of designers will be utilising what has classically been known as design methods. I wouldn’t say design methodology, because that’s quite a loaded term, but methods or processes that we use as designers now I think those sorts of things, those sorts of frameworks, again, it’d be used more and more by people who don’t have design as their job titles.

I think from a designer’s perspective, and again, you can see this now, the most successful designers or design partners, just if I’m looking at it from an agency perspective, are the ones who are also going to be doing a lot more of the doing part of it. I think the days of a designer or anyone from a senior level coming in and telling you how you should design a service and then leaving a project are done.

I think where we have been successful, not only at Idean, but in the most sort of successful sort of design consultancies at the moment, are the ones with people that go in and literally roll their sleeves up and go, “Okay, this is a hypothesis we have and, actually, we’ve built your prototype, or we know how we can test the service offering or whatever. And going, “Okay, this is how we’re going to get maximum value from the money that you’ve given us. Oh, and by the way, he’s the execution as well. We’re not just going to tell you what to do and then leave. We’re actually going to do it as well.”

I think the skillset of a designer I’d say, honestly, like out of the box is, going to be higher than it has ever been because of the expectation of what designers should be able to do and how they should be able to do it. So 10 years ago, we didn’t necessarily have UXers who can code and now we’ve got fully code functioning prototypes, for example. Whether or not that designer knows how to code or whether or not that designer knows how to pull in different technologies, like the various non-code platforms to kind of build the things that sort of seem to work.

So I think those are the changes. They’re happening at the moment, and they’re incremental, but I think between now and five — 10 years’ time, those are the sort of working methods, working styles, the way we work – I think we’re going to see that more and more.

Christian: Cool. Rochelle, where can people find more about you, read the stuff you write, get in touch with you? 

Rochelle: All that stuff is either on my LinkedIn or my website, that’s rochelledancel.com. And yes, find me on Twitter, connect, let’s have some conversations. 

Christian: Cool. And as always, we’re going to put all of that in the show notes so people can easily find you. Rochelle, this has been really awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show. We’ve learned a lot, me as well as hopefully everyone else listening to this. So I really, really appreciate you taking the time. I hope that we’ll catch up soon again. 

Rochelle: Oh, no. Thanks for having me. 

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.