Kevin Devine is part of the design team at NearForm who creates digital solutions for clients in industries ranging from retail to travel to financial services.
He sat down for a virtual coffee to discuss everything from booking flights on your mobile phone to the latest app craze in China.
What does a typical day in your role include?
We’re there from the beginning of the customer relationship. We conduct design kick-offs for client projects, from ideation to three-day workshops. We get to work with lots of key stakeholders from innovation officers to technical directors, data analysts to customer marketing representatives. We brainstorm ideas and get to the crux of the customer problem they are trying to solve. We mock up prototypes of the design and test them.
What tools help you? For example, do you use the principles of Design Thinking?
We use the principles of Design Thinking – ideation, prototyping, customer-first mentality – but maybe not in such a prescriptive way as others do. There is no right or wrong methodology and we often use a combination of more than one, whatever suits the client, their operational requirements and their desired outcomes. We started using Design Sprints from Google Ventures but have since tweaked and evolved it for our own needs. But the stages we work through for our design workshops are typically the same.
What form does the three-day workshop take?
Day One, we learn as much as we can about the client’s business. This is after doing a due diligence process where I try to learn as much as possible about their industry in advance. On Day Two, we formulate ideas about what their prototype will look like, and we’ll usually mock up a prototype into the evening on that day. On Day Three we review the prototype and start to think about what an MVP will be.
It’ll then take weeks to design, build, test and tweak the ‘go-to-market’-ready solution – we always show it and test it with groups of stakeholders – so this is the lengthier part of the process.
Where did you work previously?
I was at Ryanair and helped design their first native mobile apps – starting everything from scratch. I was the lead designer on the iOS and Android apps. It was both a great opportunity and challenge for me, because of the number of users who would be using these apps and the high-pressured turnaround times.
What’s the best thing about working at NearForm?
I used to spend two hours per day in the car, commuting to Dublin. Now I can work remotely, in the countryside, and chase my daughter around the house and garden when my working day is up. There’s no beating that.
The people are great too, all at the top of their game. It’s always great when we get together at meetups, workshops or down at HQ in Tramore.
Where is your home office?
I work remotely from Tara in County Meath.
In banking, startups like Starling, N26 and Monzo are examples of the new trend towards digital-only banking. It’s making other banks take note.
What’s best about working in design?
One of the things I really enjoy is learning about all different areas. Previously, I was on a project in the travel sector, now it’s banking, I have done some projects in data. In design, you’re always on the front line and you’re learning new things. I then get to share these learnings, and carry them over, with new clients across multiple industries.
Do you meet your team face-to-face?
As a design team, we try to meet face-to-face at least every four months at NearForm’s HQ. For our product teams, when we’re in the middle of a project, we tend to meet every eight weeks in places including London, Munich, New York, Dubai, Toronto, etc. We go wherever the clients are.
What are the big technology trends you’re encountering?
In banking, startups like Starling, N26 and Monzo are examples of the new trend towards digital-only banking. It’s making other banks take note. In travel, Airbnb has shaken up everything, even though they don’t own property.
Instead of throwing everything at the customer, companies are being more empathic today
What’s new in customer experience (CX)?
The days of trying to satisfy shareholders are gone – instead of throwing everything at the customer, companies are being more empathic. They’re keeping the customer in mind always. Companies are getting feedback more from customers so that requirements aren’t always fed from the top down. From a design standpoint, we are constantly thinking from the customer’s point of view.
Any other trends you see?
Accessibility is always one that should be at the forefront of a designers mind. Addressing an area like colour, making sure as many people as possible can read the text, even people with colour-blindness, can make a huge difference to peoples’ experience. With the emergence of voice technology, our products and tools can reach and help a wider audience if implemented with accessibility in mind.
What’s the secret to success in digital design?
You can’t stand still. There’s always new skills and technologies to learn.
Motion lately is a huge thing. Incorporating animation and interactivity into a digital service or tool is becoming more important. Ten years ago, sites were more rigid and static. Now there are enhancements like animation and micro-interactions, such as an added-to-basket animation, that all lead to a richer experience.
What foundations do you need, as a designer?
It’s key to have a solid understanding of design. Colour theory, the principles of typography, layout and grid – those things don’t change. You have to know the tools, but you can’t use the tools unless you have that solid grounding.
How do you stay relevant?
You have to have an understanding of business. I always deep dive for a couple of weeks before a client project kicks off. I do a lot of reading and research – I look into their competitive landscape.
Do you use podcasts in your research?
Yes, I subscribe to a few. I often listen to the 99% Invisible Design Podcast. It looks at everything, not just the digital world. One week, they might be looking at how shipping containers are designed.
I also listen to Debbie Millman’s Design Matters – and the Maker’s Channel. As a designer, I like to think about the world around us – bridging that gap with the physical world.
Do you do any design outside of your job?
Every year I try to do something different – last year I did a screen printing course while this year I’m tinkering with a physical IOT project. It’s good to flex those muscles away from the computer.
What did you study at university?
I did my degree in business but I’ve always had a real appetite for art. I went to DCU for a Masters in Multimedia. There, I found that I loved front-end design and building my first website.
How do you know if a project has been a success?
If people are achieving tasks using the digital service, then you can measure quantifiable numbers to prove that it’s working.
Early on people thought you’d never buy things on your phone, but now mobile acquisition and commerce is going up all the time
Has design paved the way for the mobile revolution?
Some companies were slow to move to mobile, and now they’re playing catch up. Early on people thought you’d never buy things on your phone, but now mobile acquisition and commerce is going up all the time. From a company’s perspective, if you give a solid design experience, you’re opening yourself up to make a lot more revenue.
What’s good in mobile design?
When apps have a seamless experience from desktop to mobile – such as Slack.
What’s disruptive in mobile?
Banking is really getting shaken up in Ireland with companies like N26 and Revolut. Traditional banks need to look outwards and learn from these startups. You have to be forward thinking, and think why are people flocking to these services.
Also, AI is disruptive when it’s a good experience. Chatbots can be executed well but I think it has a way to go.
In terms of business, the emerging markets are disruptive – Africa is mostly untapped. The bandwidth isn’t there so they’re going to mobile first, skipping over desktop apps. It’s the same with India. In China there are a lot of interesting technologies, for instance, the WeChat app – it’s like WhatsApp on steroids, with all the big companies on the platform, so you can do your banking over messaging. Something like that could be huge when it takes off here.
Thanks to Kevin for this sneak peek into the world of cutting-edge design. We’ll be waiting for the day of WhatsApping our bank to make a transfer!
? Photo credit – Peter Vermaercke | EuroIA