#19 The Human Centered Designer

I first met Laura Williams when I interviewed her and her business partner, Nina Belk, as part of my undergraduate thesis on Service Design; she was running a service design consultancy in Newcastle. Since then I have followed her journey through the worlds of start ups, social innovation and commercial business. I've been inspired by her dedication to side projects and her authentic approach to learning. I'm delighted she is coming to talk to our Experience Design students as part of their Business Strategy Project.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the last year?
To think about and focus on your career but don’t forget other parts of your life. I believe it’s critical, especially for creatives - to take time out. Spend time in new places; actively engage and be open to people who have different perspectives you. Place yourself in environments and situations that help you step outside of your comfort zone.
What’s your burning question of the moment?

How can I use design and creativity to help organisations be better for people and our planet?

In 2004 I worked on a climate change campaign. Back then ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’ were dirty words; the home of sandal-wearing hippies. Fast-forward 10 years and the digital revolution means people have a greater understanding of networks and systems as well as the impact of their actions on people and the planet. Complex information and data that was behind the scenes previously is now often freely available to us helping us to see the bigger picture. There’s a sense in the mainstream that business has a duty in moving towards more sustainable business models.

This sentiment is also echoed with the businesses and people I work with. More and more there is a desire to deliver products and services that master a whole-systems approach. Many large organisations find this the ultimate challenge. They’re set up to execute an existing business model, not look for or adapt to new ones. This is where startups have an advantage. The challenge for big business is to embrace risk and think differently about commerciality and scalability. Designers and creatives can play a key role in making this change happen.

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?

There’s really too many to mention though over the past year I’ve been thinking about the future of learning and work - and how this will affect the way we live.

I’ve been inspired watching Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk about the power of taking time off. It doesn’t work for everyone but I’ve found that taking time out of everyday life is good for the soul.  I’ve also been inspired by Hyper Island’s approach - many of the approaches were implemented in my previous company with my colleague who is an HI alumni: I’ve seen where they work well and where they’re a challenge.

Adaptability is one skill that is underrated. We’re already seeing changes in organisational structure: Zappos is leading the way with radical organisational change by instilling Holocracy which “replaces today’s top-down predict-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power”. Although this set-up won’t work in all organisations and industries I believe the creative industries will be first to learn from and adopt some aspects of this way of working. HI graduates have a distinct advantage in this sense.

What would be your one piece of advice to students on Hyper Island’s new MA in Digital Experience Design?

Always seek to do what you love and be constantly curious. Lifelong learning is critical to remaining relevant in your work. There are many ways to do this:

  1. Surround yourself with people who know more than you or are more talented than you.
  2. Hang out or work with people who have a different perspective.
  3. Find support: life/career coaching can be important through transition periods
  4. Be clear about how you’d like to develop and where you can find resources.
  5. Be open to serendipity - sometimes the biggest learnings happen when you least expectGive yourself and your brain time to rest - clarity often comes from down-time and a more reflective state of mind.

You can read more profiles here...

#16 The UX Designer

#15 The Data Designer

#14 The Experience Designer

#13 The Design Teacher

#12 The Creative Technologist

#11 The Creative Generalist

#10 The Hyper Island Designer

#9 The Conscious Designer

#8 The Business Designer

#7 The Networked Designer

#6 The Speculative Designer

#5 The Digital Maker

#4 The Craftsman

#3 The Storyteller

#2 The Dreaming Maker 

#1 The Go-Getter.