Why buy a design consultancy?

Google and Mike & Maaike, Facebook and Hot Studio, Accenture and Fjord: big corporations and hot-shot design agencies are all loved-up. So what is the story behind these tie-ups?

Mark Curtis

Here at Fjord our recent acquisition by Accenture Interactive means we have the inside track into this trend.

The design process is increasingly being applied outside its conventional tangible context to developing whole service experiences that engage and influence consumers. Big organisations are recognising the role designers can play in successful digital product/service strategy and are seeking sustainable ways of ensuring it is a central focus of their digital work. Investing in it and integrating it into existing operations is more credible and cost effective than merely buying it in on a project basis.

Accenture’s acquisition of Fjord for example lets the company bring in key tenets of digital practice—rapid innovation, experimentation, hybrids of talented teams – to key decision makers so that they influence every aspect of the organisation. In other words, service designers are the indispensable secret agents of engagement for these larger corporations. There are three key reasons for this:

1. Changing consumer expectations

Tumblr
Tumblr

As people continue to fall in love with delightful and simple services like Instagram and Tumblr (acquired by Facebook and Yahoo respectively), they expect the same elegance and mobility of any service they encounter.

The rapid adoption of mobile devices means consumers also expect their experience of a service to translate seamlessly across devices. Designing for one platform is no longer sufficient.

Service designers have the expertise to design not just for multiple platforms but across the organisation’s entire ecosystem. Working as small embedded teams within an organisation, they know how to foster collaboration across different functions and between departments and disciplines.

2. Blurring boundaries

Consumers’ expectations aren’t limited to wanting a seamless experience across their devices – they also require it in their dealings with an organisation. As a result the boundaries between marketing service provision, commerce and CRM are dissolving. Twitter has had a profound effect on this, allowing users to directly communicate their needs with organisations. Marketing channels traditionally used for external communications, now have a customer care function.

And brands are increasingly taking this direct outreach into a new open space: portals – the mobile touch points that render the difference between a customer and a non-customer irrelevant. In this new space, service design is crucial in helping interactive marketing teams to engage consumers by delivering a meaningful experience, regardless of whether they are already a devoted customer or not.

Twitter uses Twitter to interact with Twitter users…
Twitter uses Twitter to interact with Twitter users…

3. The challenges of data

The proliferation of mobile devices and increasing connectivity is generating huge volumes of data. This creates an information glut that has to be processed, managed, and protected. With new smart devices, from energy meters to our wearable fitness devices, there’s an entire network emerging that is continuously capturing, displaying, sending and receiving data in an unholy mishmash.

Service designers will be crucial in translating that data into a clear and immersive experience for consumers and organisations alike – whether through a platform, portal, or by presenting information visually.

What’s more, by transforming complex data into accessible interfaces, service designers are increasingly the mediators between advanced technology and the people affected by it, empowering organisations and consumers to harness this technology in a way that actively benefits them instead of leaving them floundering to make sense of it.

Data and analytics have now become powerful tools to shape and deliver a new type of customer journey. Organisations are striving for that journey to feel individualised, but also need it to scale. Service designers will be key in the implementation of this ambitious and heightened engagement.

So what does all this mean?

As a result of rapid changes in technology and consumer behaviour and expectations, long established boundaries between commercial categories are breaking down. When it becomes seamlessly possible to purchase anything you look at and desire, the whole concept of “a shop” disappears. At that point, you also have to question exactly what the boundaries are between marketing, sales and CRM.

The design company acquisition trend is happening because leading edge organisations have realised they need design thinking to help them to figure it all out.

As service design firms become more embedded in larger organisations and forge new collaborations with their customer facing departments, passion will marry delivery and vision will pair with strategy. We think that’s true love.

Mark Curtis is chief client officer of Fjord, which is part of Accenture Interactive.

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