Did you miss our live Q&A with Academy Xi mentor and design expert Chris Hudson? If so, check out the transcript of the interview.
Chris Hudson has mentored Academy Xi students across a variety of disciplines, including Service Design, Customer Experience, Design Thinking and Product Management.
He has over twenty years of industry experience in Product Design, Business Design, CX and marketing. Chris recently launched a company called Road, which helps clients create game-changing innovation strategies that support continuous growth.
In an interview for our ‘I’m a design expert – ask me anything!’ series, Chris explained how brands are putting humans at the centre of the design process, and how Academy Xi is helping students apply design theory the right way.
Alysha: I’m Alysha and I work for Academy Xi as a UX Designer. I’m really excited to be chatting with Chris Hudson today and picking his brains about how we can all adopt more of a human-centred design approach in our everyday work.
So, let’s start by covering your career history. How did you end up in your field?
Chris: Probably by accident, fortune, or circumstance, or a mixture of all three. I started life in marketing and was drawn by the blend of art and science. I wanted to work in what at the time were called creative industries. I was drawn to the notion of a story told through art and other communication channels.
Over a course of time, I went from advertising and marketing into omni-channel marketing, which was effectively experience design. This involved a lot of the early Design Thinking practice. Before long I’d transitioned into Product Design, Service Design, and then finally Business Design, which was the missing piece.
I’ve worked in a lot of different consultancies, client-side enterprises and multinationals. The company I launched recently really pulls together my whole skillset and enables me to help businesses quickly effect change.
Alysha: Can you tell us what human-centred design is in a nutshell, and why it’s important for businesses to adopt a human-centred approach to succeed in today’s landscape?
Chris: Because of the growth of technology and data, business leaders and business advisors have been able to more accurately tune into the nascent needs of customers. There’s now a huge emphasis on customer-centricity. No matter whether you want to take part in it or not, you’re in it.
Your organisation, your brand, your product and your service are all being measured against other companies. The worst or best experience your customers have had with another company is what you’re being compared to. If you don’t tune into your customer’s needs, someone else will, and it should come as no surprise when your customers choose a competitor instead. It’s in this context that human-centred design has become so important.
Human-centred design is actually very simple – it’s a way for organisations to adapt to the changing needs of people out there in the world. Inward-facing companies that don’t do this will struggle to sustain relevance in the customer’s eyes.
We’ve seen Facebook and Meta letting ten thousand staff members go, mostly because they were forced to rapidly change the business model. It shows you’ve got to stay in touch with the customer, otherwise the business model doesn’t remain sustainable.
Alyshia: How do you think Service Design, CX and UX interrelate?
Chris: If you think about an onion, CX is probably the outer layer. CX is really about engineering the customer journey and the environment that it’s delivered in. It’s about increasing the value of the brand offering you’re putting forward. That’s the simplest way of understanding it.
Service Design is more of a systems approach. As well as looking at the design of the customer journey and your brand’s experiences, you also address the systems, people, the processes and tools – all the things that go into supporting a service.
If you’re designing a customer experience, and it’s all about how somebody signs up for a new credit card, you need to think about all the different teams, departments, data systems, APIs and everything that makes that scenario a reality. CX and Service Design work hand-in-hand and cover everything from front and back of house.
In delivering that experience, there are going to be a raft of digital and physical assets that the customer interacts with. UX is all about optimising those assets and making sure they’re highly functional and user friendly. UX Designers will normally follow Design Thinking and human-centred design.
Alysha: Positioning the user at the centre of the design process is an amazing concept. In reality, what are some of the problems you’ve faced applying design best practices in larger or more traditional organisations?
Chris: There’s often a bit of a void between the leadership who set initiatives and how those initiatives are carried out by people working in the company. Quite often strategic initiatives aren’t aligned with human-centred design. Instead, they’re planned by someone at a board-level and they trickle down.
In lots of industries, such as banking, finance and government, you’re often told what to do to reach your goals. It’s thought of as helpful to be told exactly what to do in your role. For human-centred designers, that’s just too prescriptive. You’d rather have the problem and follow a process to come up with a solution that really works.
Often, big companies will give you a solution when they haven’t even gotten beneath the skin of the problem. That can be one of the biggest challenges you come up against as a human-centred designer.
I’ve repeatedly been given challenges that are really just prescribed solutions. You have to talk to the stakeholders and suggest that you go back to the research so you can immerse yourself in the problem space and come up with solutions that you’re confident will really work.
Alysha: What would you say are the limitations of human-centred design?
Chris: The two big limitations that spring to mind are short-termism and bias. With short-termism, companies will try out a Design Thinking or UX project to create a one-off change. However, it doesn’t always work, normally because the thinking needs to be embedded into the company. More people need to be brought into it with time and more initiatives need to be reshaped. In these situations, the long-term effects aren’t given enough of a chance to bed in.
With bias, there’s a tendency to pay attention to the insights that already suit your product, service or business model, even if it’s the wrong insight. In this case, it’s easy to end up in the wrong place with an ineffective solution. You always need to come back to that position of identifying a deeper underlying human need and then designing a solution that satisfies it in some way.
Alyshia: For anyone interested in transitioning into a career in UX, CX or any of the design professions we’ve discussed, what practical steps can they take to make the switch?
Chris: At Academy Xi, we teach a number of people with established roles and practices in other fields who want to change careers or upskill. I think as long as you have an interest in UX, Design Thinking or whatever the discipline is, you’re off to a good start.
There’s normally some facet of your existing role that you can build on. You might be involved in data analysis, marketing, customer feedback, prototyping, testing, design or research – the list goes on. Hopefully there are a few connections or parallels between what you’re already doing and what you want to do. You’re trying to build a constellation of skills, and you might already have a few that form the basis of it.
In terms of practical tips, I’d say get to grips with the principles, so take a course if you need to. Develop that understanding of what transferable skills you’ve already got and really highlight those on your resume.
Finally, take every opportunity you can to gain exposure. Shadow people already working in the industry, go to events and network, and connect with designers and practitioners you admire on LinkedIn. If you follow all these steps, you’ll be well on your way.
Alyshia: You mentioned Academy Xi courses. Can you talk a bit more about your experience mentoring?
Chris: Sure. All the course materials are in a learning platform called NovoEd. Some people prefer to work through the content alone, others are after more guidance. I have regular one-on-one sessions with the students. Often people want advice on their projects or an aspect of the course they’re finding tricky, although the purpose of the sessions really varies.
I’m mentoring a guy in the Northern Territory at the moment. We meet every week and he tells me what he’s done. We talk a bit about his business and how he can use what he’s learning to improve his business.
Beyond the case studies, which give the learning context, it’s really important that the students apply the theory to real-world situations. A lot of the work that goes into mentoring involves understanding the students’ roles or businesses and figuring out ways for them to mobilise the theory in what they do outside Academy Xi.
Alyshia: Why is it important for the projects to be personal and hands-on?
Chris: The personal projects are important because what you’re working on has got to be relevant to you as an individual. It might apply to your role for your own company, it might be for a side hustle, or you might be helping a friend or family member.
It’s vital that the projects are practical because you don’t just read or hear about something, you actually do it. In my experience, doing is the best way to learn. You apply the theory within a safe framework, which means you can experiment without taking any risk.
Hands-on projects really build confidence and solidify the students’ belief that they know how to apply the concepts they’re learning.
Alyshia: Well, that’s all we’ve got time for today. Hopefully everybody tuning in has found that super insightful and useful. We’ll look forward to seeing you all at our next Q&A session. Follow us on LinkedIn and watch this space!
If you’re keen to transition into a new career or upskill and boost your role, Academy Xi offers flexible online courses covering the digital skills that employers are searching for.
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