In this episode we speak to Iain Bryant from Future by Design, discussing the importance of innovation, listening and understanding customers’ points of view, as well as the context of design thinking in Africa to the rest of the world, and our unique challenges.

Iain and Future by Design’s background is more in innovation than design thinking itself – Iain is a long-time business innovator. We discuss the history of innovation in the corporate world – how it used to be a long, expensive and admin-intensive process, and how we came to realise that we can innovate, in shorter, more targeted bursts using what we know today as the design thinking principles.

Iain explains how he brought design thinking into a corporate environment – how it could be understood and implemented by normal employees, but also how it was communicated in big corporate boardrooms so that senior and exco management with limited time could understand and implement it as well. We discuss how design thinking has been accepted or not in corporate SA, and how Iain has gone about educating corporates in the value of design thinking.

According to Iain, we must consider African lifestyles and environments when we create solutions for them: it’s not as simple as putting a device in their hands; we need to understand whether they have the means to make the device work – for example, can they afford the data? In Africa, it’s important to understand the individual in context in relation to the solution to understand whether it is feasible.

Almost 100% of the time, the principles of design thinking can assist in finding concepts and solutions for business. However there are instances where design thinking doesn’t work. We look at the reasons for this, as well as some local examples of how it has failed. To increase the success rate, corporates need to collaborate with the correct design thinking partner, instead of trying to implement it themselves, failing and giving up.

We look at the importance of empathy in a business vs a social setting and how it is applied differently depending on the solutions you are creating.

We challenge the thinking that a template based approach to design thinking is the solution. Iain is of the opinion – and we agree – that each intervention should be custom built based on the people taking part in creating a solution. This makes the intervention itself more human.

If you are unfamiliar with design thinking, listen to episode 1, where we discuss the methods and mindsets of design thinking and clear up some of the terminology.

Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac Media.

Today I’m chatting with Iain Bryant from Future by design based in Cape Town, South Africa. We talk about the importance of innovation, listening and understanding customer’s point of view, as well as the context of Africa to the rest of the world in our unique issues. 

The conversation with Iain:

S: I’m with Iain today and Iain is from Future by design. He is someone I have known for I think over a year now. If I’m correct?


I: Yes but three, hey. 


S: Is it? Time flies.


I: I have been based in Cape Town for a while.


S: Yes, so you are based in Cape Town. You were one of the first guys when we started to uncover design thinking and looking to design thinking that came up online. You guys obviously did a phenomenal job of putting future buddies on positioning them for design thinking in the online space. And so we hooked up with you. We started to chat. And so I thought you are a great guy to just have a conversation with and find out more about design thinking. And to just start Iain, maybe just give us a little bit of background on where you came from, innovation side and how you got into design thinking and we will take it from there.


I: Alright Stu. So our background is more in innovation than design thinking itself. And what we did was, I had sort of had been in innovation for like 20 years now. Been trying to innovate various parts of business really. And then headed up innovation for How many gold for some time. At that time innovation was sort of sold into corporates as a big innovation program, which came in with a lot of admin and a lot of innovation tracking software and sorts of stuff. It was a big clumsy sort of sale and a big clumsy affair. And what we find was even very difficult to sell because they were very expensive and long term in the immersions. So then over time we worked out that you could actually have more traction by doing much smaller targeted innovations and we found that design thinking came through as a fair obvious. If you think about it, design thinking is fairly in nature. Customers design and stuff, it’s not new, it’s been around for years. I just think that the corporates forgot to do it or they forgot how to do it. And one of the reasons is that corporates in my view are designed to be predictable and measurable as a result in many cases very unexciting. So you need external people that come in and reinvigorate the excitement and the design and things like that. So we started looking at design thinking as a means of doing short term interventions and then as a result we did quite a few interventions and ended up designing an actual design thinking tool kit. 

Because we had not found a successful way of doing it out there. We found it that design thinking tool kits out there were rarely complicated. So we did one that was much more simple. It was actually based out for a rural African audience. It actually explained the steps a lot more detail. So to where people’s comprehension was low we had to help them to understand. What happened as a result to that which was really interesting is that when you take that view and you bring it into the boardrooms of Sandton for instance, we find that people have a much higher level of comprehension but they are much more  time-stuffed. So comprehension is higher, people don’t have that kind of time. They can only spend a day or 2 doing this thing very well. Now I got the tool kit that will enable them to understand what was going on really quickly. To get the rubber to hit the road really quickly. So we ended up pioneering what we used to call our hot houses. Which were one two three day immersions. So there were one two hot houses where we would take concepts and get them into something really practical within a short space of time. That kind of how our whole innovation journey kind of happened.


S: And from those immersions did you come up with practical solutions that were implementable?


I: That’s the whole thing. The world if you actually have a look, Africa particularly is lighted with very brilliant solutions. And in any cases they are not implemented. They are driven from a first world context into a third world environment. You find a lot of these are not being implemented. You find there being firms that I won’t mention by name. But they have done fancy innovation throughout Africa. They involve iPad and smart phones and all sorts of things. But guess what even if you give the guys a smartphone they haven’t got money to afford the bundles so your whole solution is useless. I will always, if you are thinking what design thinking is about. Its desirability first, feasibility and viability and something with using a band but it’s not feasible. So to answer your question. We always look at feasibility. So who are we trying to solve for? And what could be practical in terms of what they could cope with in terms of what we solve for. In a more feasible example if you are looking to solve something for one of the big banks for instance and it involves IT. In which in many cases it does involve some kind of interface with the IT systems. It’s got to be implementable in terms of where it will fit on their IT priorities levels. You know what I mean. So if you don’t build the IT priority level or the very entrenched marketing system as an example into it. You’re gonna fail. As a result of your groups and your customer intervention and things, you gotta have It people in there. You gotta have marketing people there because without them you won’t be able to make it stick.


S: Yes I mean we have experienced similar things on projects that we’ve done. I just wanna take a step back, you spoke about the tool kit that you put together and you took that up into Africa. Was your intention with that tool kit to transfer the knowledge of design thinking into those communities or was it just a tool kit that you facilitated and took people through the process to reach the solutions to the problem. 


I: The purpose for that tool kit was a few things. One was to put down our practical experience in the way we conducted ourselves in these immersions to quantify. To actually put it down on paper so we could teach it. And then to put it into the African context in a way that those people apart from doing the immersions which were doing in this case was some financial inclusion. Is to either leave something behind so that people could use the methodology themselves and carry on solving different problems but using this method. So we are trying to leave behind.


S: So out of the problems that you have solved for, is there a point when you can say that design thinking maybe was not the method that would solve their problem or have you experienced any circumstances where you don’t think design thinking would be a process that you would use to solve that particular problem? 


I: You mean are there instances where it’s not applicable? 


S: Yes. Have you ever come across anything like that?


I: Stuart, it’s a very interesting question. We used to debate this ourselves at length and we have done so close to 50 and a 100 interventions where we have never failed. We have always got good useful concepts and solutions out of it. There are definitely situations where it doesn’t work. And the reasons it doesn’t work are varied. So it depends on what you are solving for is one. I’m assuming there are some things that you can’t solve for using design thinking. At the top of my head it may be where your customer definition or your customer need is a bit flakey. 


S: I suppose also in instances where there isn’t actually a real user or someone that’s gonna interact with whatever the solution is. Design thinking sort of falls a bit flake there because it’s all about empathising if you have no one to empathise with then it’s not really a design thinking process then.


I: Yes, empathy is interesting in many cases. And I think it’s been used a hell of a lot in social upliftments so to speak and there, there is a lot of empathy and empathising. Sometimes when it’s at the cutting edge of the business I feel empathy is less applicable as opposed to a customer experience which is more prime. So empathy yes we understand that from earth orography and doing customer interviews and interventions and things but very often the actual design of the customer experience can be the outcome you are looking for.


S: So to dig a bit deeper with that. Like if you are building this customer experience or you are looking at the customer experience for the opportunity to design a solution. Is the empathising part not part of actually going and having talks with those customers at the point within those experience?


I: Yes it could be and often in a way it’s in the way you talk to the customer that you would talk to them in an empathising manner because you wanna listen more than convey your view of what’s going on. You are not there to tell them how great you are and how great your comprehension is. You are actually there to understand their own view. There would be an empathetic approach to that conversation. In terms of deep empathy with the situation I think, as I said, it’s more in a very social context when you are doing social solutions. In business it’s more, what makes things practical. How do your customers use whatever it is? So your approach to the conversation i think would be different but you would be empathetic in the way that you design that. I hope I’m making sense. 


S: Yes I understand what you are saying. I mean there is always this essence of trying to put yourself in the shoes of whoever the user is going to be at a corporate level. Because even though feasibility again and viability in the corporate level is pretty critical. But desirability is established through understanding what the user wants and how they are going to interact with the solution.


I: Yes, I agree with you. 


S: So from the design thinking perspective inside the companies, because you have done a couple of projects with large corporates, do they buy into this process initially immediately? If they haven’t, have you got any experience in getting them to buy into the process and to implement it into the company?


I: Yeah absolutely. We have success where often, it’s an interesting journey, this design thinking journey. Because people normally they will phone you up and say will you come and facilitate an intervention with us? We will facilitate an invention and these things you facilitate through experience. If a guy in the street picks up our tool kit he could probably do an intervention from go through the steps and do it. But the effectiveness will be a lot less than if you and I did. The reason is  we have done it before many times. You have to read the room. You realise the nasa of what’s going on, you have to get people into the room. Owners, business owners, the more senior people you gotta get them into the rule. They are busy. They are coming with their iPhones, their laptops and all those other stuff. They don’t really buy into it. Sometimes the group, the people that are in the room they have been told to be there but their minds are elsewhere.

They have got deadlines, they are worried about their bonuses, this is a waste of time. So it carries on . So to answer your question. In reading the rule you see all the dynamics going on and you have to turn them for them to see the value. So to answer your question, we have had many cases where people have suddenly seen the value. Often they have said you know they have gone through the whole day till about lunch time for instance , where we give people a chance to give feedback or ask questions whatever. What the hell are we doing? What are we doing? We have just said wait a little bit longer because we are doing this thorough pieces of work that will get pulled together towards the end. Once they pull together into a solution sort of finding process you will see the context of all these things that we are doing. So we have had that many times and in the end people do a checkout however we do it. To break for the day or the session. They go like wow I didn’t see this coming. Because they have been led through a process that has got them to be creative and to think. 


S: So the challenge still exists to get those people in at the beginning stages through what you have described now. The experience of them going through that day or a couple of days and seeing it put together at the end is where they see the true value. The point of convincing them in the beginning that they need to buy into the process because they are going to see that result at a later stage. That’s obviously a challenge there.


I: It is a challenge. But you know part of that in going through the sessions, is to make it fun. To break the ice a little bit. To laugh, they got to laugh as well. So it’s all part of the process.


S: I suppose that experience of enjoyment is critical then, hey? 


I: Yeah and getting them involved you know. You read overtime. You read people in the groups where if there is someone who has got a lot of corporate stripes in the room, the people who have got fewer corporate stripes might not say anything because of the effects of seniority. You might find a group where you find loud mouths. They are talking all the time and they are dominant. And then you find the quieter people who just sort of shrink away. And you gotta to be spotting all of that. So can, if you got a loud mouth you got to find another one and you change the groups around to offset the other one with the other one. You know what I mean? So they like do their thing. And you find the quieter people then you put them in a group of quieter people so they can all really experience. So it’s a very fluid thing. And the point is that many practitioners have design thinking. They use one template after another.

So they go in with these beautifully printed designs, templates and I don’t know your process so I’m not, so if you guys do that, I’m not after you specifically ok. I’m just saying my experience. They go in with these beautiful grafted A3 size templates they stick on the wall and the workshop participants have to fill them out. You fill out a let’s say a stakeholder map. That looks all very pretty, you fill out the need statement template. Then you fill out a persona s template. All of it beautiful. But you got to read the room you know. So what we do is we don’t go in with specific  templates. Is we get people to draw up the template themselves. Because some people write big, some write small. Some people will focus more on someone’s persona s personality. Someone else might focus on what they want materially for example. So really what we do is we get people in the room to design their own process as they go through. But we have an overarching idea of what has to happen. Where we headed. So you can lead people down that journey. If that makes sense.


S: Yeah, it does yeah. So one of the things that we encounter often is when we are talking to people about design thinking is this word design. And how it gets misconceived or people think graphic design and things like that. So that again is one of the challenges that we see when we trying to get people to see that design thinking is something that they can use in their organisations. I don’t know, have you experienced similar misconceptions or myths around design thinking?


I: I haven’t really experienced what you are expressing about design itself, besides just a mere frustration in my own life. That people don’t really use design which I would say is probably more foresight to make their own lives easier. Maybe it might be their work life, it might be their customer’s life, really what is it. It’s about saying how do we make it easier to and remove the obstacles in terms of whatever you are doing. So I would say if you look at an example like lets say checkout at a supermarket. Either Woolies, Pick and Pay, Shoprite, Spar whatever. The checkout experience at any one of those places is crap. It’s crammy. And guess what they do, they stick you between the chocolates and the magazines and stuff. For 10 minutes while you wait for the tills. 


S: So it’s interesting you bring that one up because I don’t know. Are you familiar with the Amazon Go model that they have now tested in the States and they are rolling it out?


I: No.


S: So Amazon has this checkout in the States where you can just walk in with the app on your phone, put everything in your basket and basically you walk out and it will bill you through the app on your phone. You don’t actually have to go through that check out process that you were talking about now. What I find interesting about it is you know it will not work in South Africa.


I: I thought the same thing about that, but yeah.


S: Yeah that when the ethnographics statement that you said earlier on. It’s like you have got these companies designing solutions in Africa Using technologies and things that will work very well in Europe or the States, but don’t necessarily fit into our environment you know. 


I: I will give an example. A local example, What I picked up was a while ago, is that Woolworths, Woolies here, are redesigned their checkout system. They didn’t change anything. They just made your queue between the magazine and chocolate a bit longer. So they stuck more magazines and chocolates in your way. So you will like do a snake between all these things go a lot longer. And then the reason you had to do it longer was because they said hang on let’s get rid of the packers. The bag packers. Ok. So they redesigned the whole checkout desk thing. Where the till is. So that one person could operate the till and the scanner and pack your bags at the same time. So someone thought that was brilliant. But guess what it did? Is it made them half as effective. Yes, so guess what ? What that would do is make the journey to the till through that magazine. That will make that longer because now there were twice as many customers waiting to pay. Now some guy in finance and I don’t know the facts for sure. So I don’t wanna rip into Woolies too much. 

Someone in finance really thought he was a genius because he halved the personal costs but he fixed the wrong problem. I find that a lot. Is that people fix the wrong problem. So if you look at, I find with a very known bank they have got the worst call centre in the world. ok on the planet. What they do is if you got a problem they say call the call centre. Now you are routed in this call centre which is very good at filtering calls. So when you go in you push one to do this, three to do this so they have extremely brilliant at routing calls but they are not really good at solving your problem. And it’s so bad that if you go into branches at this particular bank. When you are dealing with a private bank as  they are dealing with you. When they have a problem. They have to phone the call centre. So the private banker who is sitting in front of you still has to then phone the call centre and be in the same queue that you will be in. A second private client comes along and he phones his private banker, guess what the phone is always engaged. 


S: I actually know who you are speaking about because I have experienced it myself.


I: If I call my current bank, they employ more expensive call centre people who can actually fix the problem. And I have one touch and my phone call usually lasts less than a minute. Yeah, end of story.


S: So Iain just talking about these kinds of experiences, how do we get these corporates to start using designing thinking? Or effectively use cause I know in some cases they are using it already. But effectively use and just say they are using it to re design these experiences? 


I: Well my view is quite simple. I think what happens is they heard of design thinking as sort of a buzz word and they go oh we must do design thinking. Design thinking is not a bill on end on its a tool along the way. So what they need to do is they need to innovate. They need to say lets innovate, lets redesign, our products our experience, pieces of our experience along the way. And then what they try and do is to do it themselves so they will create the design thinking courses a whole lot. And now you have got a room full of bad design thinkers doing that one day course. They sent them out in the organisation to do design thinking. I say do in inverted commas. And guess what? They end up with a whole lot of nonsense ideas and then they say design thinking doesn’t work. What they should be doing is doing the business that they are good at. And to approach people like you and me who know how to do this. We are innovators first, we are entrepreneurs first, we are not bankers, we are not retail people. We are designers really. 

Business designers and they should get the specialist like us in to really focus on a problem. And this is a null survey. I’m not a brilliant banker. I don’t wanna go to a banking environment and tell them how to bank. What I’m really good at is to go in and help them to come up with the right solution. I never pretend to know, they know their business a hell lot better than me but I know how to innovate very much better than they do. So together it’s a very good partnership. So I think what these guys should do is actually outsource the discovery process for sure. And very often the business creation process to people outside their organisation. So that they carry on doing what they are paid for. They can carry on doing what gets their bonuses for them. Which is really what the focus is. And then we can help them create some magic that will really change the world. That’s why we do what we do. We wanna change the world a little bit at a time. I hope that answers your questions.


S: Yeah that’s awesome. So Iain I appreciate your time and before we go, like how do people get hold of you or reach you? Just a little bit of a last minute in terms of the kind of stuff you are looking to help companies with. 


I: Well Stuart thanks. I really appreciate it. I appreciate you approaching us for some insights too. We can be found easiest online. Future by Design, as you would spell it, We have been up there for many years. And we really.. Our main focus is to help people innovate. It’s really what we wanna do. We are Cape Town based, but we travel really in the North South sort of, The North South axis. So we have done work all the way up into Europe, through Africa. Looking at Dubai ,we got a little bit of work in Dubai at the moment. Really what we do, our focus is to help people innovate. And to help really bring what they know about their businesses into an innovative capacity. And we bridge that gap. So and that’s it really. People do business well but I think they do customer service really badly. They do product design fairly. There are some wow products out there, but generally in your day to day existence there are some products that are really bad. One of the reasons for it is that corporates tend to deliver a product or service down the same path all the time. They send them down a path of least resistance.

Which means many of the products and services are pretty similar in nature. Instead of stopping and thinking about redesigning that product or product delivery, whatever it might be with a lot of foresight. So they are very easy to use. It’s very easy for me to be a customer as opposed to fighting to be a customer. And you can do some amazing things like that. I mean I have got lots of examples. But just to answer your question again, another feather part of your question is the best thing for customers to do or clients to do is to get hold of us on the web. There are numbers, emails and all sorts of things. And then have a conversation about their real problem. Cause that’s where it happens. I think the same for you guys, they should phone. Too much stuff happens by email these days. It’s like there is this email holding pattern. When I send you an email now, well that’s ok I will wait for you to come back to me. I just chuck the ball into your colt. Instead of calling and saying we have got this problem, we think we got quite good products but they are not selling so well. Or we are getting a lot of comebacks, or we are getting a lot of customers, and what can you guys do about that? Can you advise? That’s really how people get excited .

S: Excellent. Cool man, This was a great conversation and I look forward to chatting to you soon again


I: Yes Stuart for sure if you guys are down in Cape Town please get in touch, we would love to see you. We will come and see you in Joburg as well


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