A talk with Anthony Lamont, a multiple award-winning Belgian design strategist.
Welcome to the first article of the [Design Strategy Talks] series. Here you’ll find different perspectives and insights from my colleagues around the world. The goal? To learn and improve your design process!
Let’s jump right into it with our first guest, Anthony Lamont.
Who is Anthony Lamont?
Like so many of us, Anthony dreamed of doing something creative and getting paid for it. He started working in advertising and became the art director of DDB Brussels. A stellar position at a renowned agency – sounds awesome. But something didn’t feel right. He disliked the way challenges were approached. Solutions felt hollow, like adding coating on top of existing brands.
That’s when he asked himself the question that changed his career and plenty of products worldwide:
“How can I make the product better so it doesn’t really need advertising anymore?”
Determined to find the answer he quit advertising and founded Yonder Innovations, a product design studio that greets you with: Life’s too damn short to build things nobody wants.
Ten years later, he’s also a lead design strategist of a Belgian product studio In The Pocket and has received multiple awards for his work (Eurobest, UX Design, Red Dot, iF Design and more).
Let’s see what he discovered on his design journey!
The problem: Few companies know their actual end-users
“Design strategy should address real problems companies have today and solve them by improving products, not just adding features for feature’s sake.”
Anthony sees design strategy as taking the user-centered design methodology and mindset and applying them to larger systems and products.
In order to do that, design strategist usually follows a 3-step process:
- Understand phase: Start with the why. Frame the problem and define the goals.
- Ideation phase: Make sense of all the findings and translate them into solutions.
- Product phase: Create a final solution prototype and test with end-users.
I’ve worked on a couple of projects where the original briefing got completely scrapped because user research highlighted a totally different need. Without any research, the company would have built something completely useless. You would be surprised how few companies know who their actual end-users are or how they feel about their products.
Anthony has a great and seemingly simple definition of what is a successful strategy.
It’s knowing what you need to build.
How do you know this?
You need to understand your users. Talk to them or observe them. The markets that we help are so diverse, as a designer you’re not always able to know everything. Starting off with a good deep dive is very important.
As designers, we have the power to change things.
Today design has a major impact on business. Most of the bigger companies are fully digital. Their digital design is their key business and only entry point for revenue.
Anthony emphasizes that designers need to be aware that they have a much larger impact than they think. A digital product can easily reach millions of users globally. Failure has a direct impact on a company’s revenue.
But that’s what’s making it much more exciting as well. As designers, we have the power to change things.
If the design is so important and impactful, how do you minimize the chances of failure? Anthony says the way to go is user testing.
Present a prototype to 5 actual end-users and gather their feedback on concept and usability. This method is very effective! You only need 5 users to identify 85% of your usability problems. Even if you know exactly what you need to build, a lot can go wrong when you are creating the screens. You can have a great concept but if the product is not easy to use, people will not use it and the product will fail.
However, when discussing user testing with clients, the talk quickly turns into a conversation about the budget. How much will it cost? Clients see it as an expense and not as a necessity to deliver better products. The good news is, Anthony says, user testing doesn’t have to be expensive. And neglecting it is a huge risk.
Everybody wants to build intuitive experiences. But how can you know that something is intuitive if you’ve never tested it with actual users? Sorry to burst that bubble, but your colleagues, designers and developers are not your users.
Studies show that half of the problems users have while using a product were actually overlooked by experts. That’s a huge risk you’re taking every time you skip user testing.
User testing also reduces bias. Men still dominate the design industry. Design and engineering companies create products for a global market, but the teams are rarely diverse enough to reflect global perspectives. The impact of having such a limited set of voices in the room where design decisions are made has far-reaching implications.
A quick example – female drivers were 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash up until 2011. Why? Because crash test dummies were based on the ‘average’ white male.
“So when testing, include a healthy mix of real users,” concludes Anthony.
Sharing knowledge is the most important thing within a design centred organization
Now let’s mix it up a bit and go from users to designers and design strategists.
Anthony sees a design strategist as someone that needs to be a critical thinker aiming for user-centered solutions.
You always need to start with the ‘Why’ and critically reflect on the best path towards success. Usually, you’ll be responsible to set a clear product vision and generate concepts that match the end-users needs and then translate those concepts into a compelling UI.
He describes himself as more of a coach-like strategist that strives to improve his co-workers’ strategic mindset and development.
I am always open to gather around the table to share ideas and experience. I have a passion to teach and watch people grow. So it’s totally ok to fail because I believe this is the best way to learn and become better.
He believes that sharing knowledge is the most important thing within a design organization. In order to improve, designers can benefit a lot from a good design critique format.
But what exactly does he mean by design critique?
Critiques should leave designers feeling inspired, challenged and empowered
Feedback is a key part of every design culture. Design critique sessions done well can leverage the superpowers of your team members to improve the quality of each individual’s work.
Critiques should leave designers feeling inspired, challenged and empowered. We all want to make better products and get better results. Critiques don’t exist so that people can air their unfounded opinions. They exist so you can accelerate the time it takes to get to the best possible product.
That said, Anthony sees less and less companies and studios implementing critiques because they have no clue how to run them properly. They see them as inefficient, so they stop doing it and miss out on vital opportunities to improve.
The importance of communication is why Anthony has mixed feelings about distributed design teams. Complete offshore development teams are improving, but distributing a design project among different designers feels too difficult. Why?
The design process is something very meticulous and a lot of insights can get lost within the communication.
Anthony uses Sketch for most of his UX and UI work. Adobe is just not appealing to him anymore. For user testing, he’ll make his prototypes with Invision and for high fidelity mockups, he’ll use Principle.
Instead of a super-secret tool, he’d rather recommend a podcast.
Inspiration and knowledge come from different angles, but there are a couple of podcasts that made me a whole lot smarter. I’ve recommended this podcast to a couple of my dear friends. It’s definitely one of my favorites of all time: 99% Invisible with Roman Mars.
Not only a great voice to listen to but a great show about design in our everyday lives. It describes how things came to be and what the design process behind them was.
The 3-bullet recap
Anthony, thank you very much for your time and wisdom. It’s been a blast! We’ll end this and every other article in the series with a 3-bullet recap of the most important points.
Here it goes:
- Always research your users and make sure you understand their needs.
- User test your product with at least 5 people to identify 85 % of usability problems.
- Remember how impactful design is. It can touch millions of users. You have the power to change things.