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Abbie Walsh on focusing on mobile

This article first appeared in issue 233 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: What sets Fjord apart from other service design consultancies?
We saw potential in the mobile in its early days and focused on it as our design platform, which allowed us to move ahead of the curve; today, mobile has become the medium for user-centered digital experiences on a global scale. Now we design for a range of devices, and as we have grown up we have remained committed to designing the services and products that people take with them as an extension of themselves. Being able to understand how the user experiences technology is one of our key differentiators.

This approach has enabled us to work alongside some amazing clients, from major brands to start-ups. We’ve worked with those reinventing themselves, or those simply wanting to harness new opportunities on a level that is fundamental to how they operate as businesses. We are able to rapidly conceptualise, visualise and experiment via our service design and prototyping skills. This allows us to validate business case and user need, as well as defining success for the client’s proposition. In doing this, we have played a role in the reinvention of entire industries by helping them embrace the disruption that is being caused by digital. It’s an incredibly exciting space.

.net: How do you go about recruiting talent?
AW: We have a multi-pronged approach to recruiting talent at Fjord, which has resulted in a great team. We take on interns from many different places; in particular, key design schools both in the UK and abroad. Often, the level of work our interns perform during their time at Fjord is absolutely outstanding and we have hired many people straight after their internship.

We also ensure that we are vocal about what we’re doing, as this is a great way to attract talented designers. We often blog about topics that are important to us on our Fjord blog Conversations and I also write about my own personal take on service design.

LinkedIn is also an incredibly valuable source for recruitment, enabling us to draw on our network to find the people with the right combination of attributes. Furthermore, we have a presence at recruitment events and have recently attended the Digital Shoreditch festival. We received many job applications following the last event we attended.

.net: What do you look for in employees?
AW: In order to build and grow a diverse and highly qualified team within a digital service design agency, we need to embrace varied and convoluted paths to design, whether via business consultancy, journalism or product design – these routes are as valuable as those that are more direct. Tangential skills and interests are of increasing importance.

At Fjord, we recognise a need for specialists who can add deep levels of expertise in some of the areas of service design that we find ourselves increasingly grappling with; consequently, we are expanding our repertoire to include business, marketing and branding skills. Our core experience design team still places interaction and visual design at the heart of what they do, but research and technology both run through the middle and, increasingly, these distinctions are becoming blurred.

Although visual and creative skills are crucial, as digital service design matures, it is becoming increasingly clear that the jobs calls for a broader set of skills and knowledge than those directly related to the execution of design. Designers also need to understand how content, customer experience and branding intersect, in order to design services that people will love and that will also achieve clients’ business goals.

.net: Why is it a good place to work?
The atmosphere in the Fjord studio is buoyant because of the diverse nature of our projects and the mixture of backgrounds that bring us all here. We have an open culture with little hierarchy, which means people have genuine opportunities to grow, both in terms of design skills and softer leadership experiences.

.net: Do you encourage side projects or other creative initiatives?
Injecting a level of creativity on top of project work is essential for the wellbeing of the team and the quality of our work. We have fortnightly design inspiration sessions, which all designers attend regardless of project commitments. In these sessions, we discuss what’s inspiring us at the moment, what design challenges we face, what topics we want to share with the world and the workshop ideas we want to develop that are outside work we do for clients. One of these meetings, about the topic of responsive design, resulted in the team designing a poster, which is a resource for designers and businesses deciding which cross-platform strategy they should choose. We also run a quarterly internal Dragon’s Den-style competition: teams pitch ideas to a panel and the winners receive an investment of time to take them further.

.net: What has been your proudest moment?
It’s always an amazing moment when we deliver a very difficult project and the client comes back with praise for the work. This happened recently, with one client stating: “Cannot fault the professionalism and talent of your team, it’s been very impressive”. On a personal level, I’m very proud of my team and the way we exchange ideas and inspire each other. Another source of pride for me is when I’ve talked about our design inspiration meetings in blog posts, and then people have contacted us saying they want to come and work at Fjord. It’s great to know that other designers are enthused by our approach to design thinking.

.net: What are you excited about right now?
I’m excited about harnessing the recent energy brought to the capital by the Olympics. We’re all infected with a can-do spirit, and as designers in London, we’re definitely at the forefront of things. There are several topics that we talk about among ourselves, and as a team we’re most excited about the commotion digital has created in the traditional industries such as retail, financial services and healthcare. This has created a brand new responsibility for us as service designers, as these topics really resonate with our clients too. We are getting to talk about these areas with the people who really make the decisions as to how their companies are run, and that’s pretty exciting.

.net: What projects are you working on at the moment?
We’re doing some really exciting things in retail, an industry that is keen to reinvigorate itself and get closer to its customers via digital channels. The possibility for service design to make a difference in that context is massive.

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