The transformative nature of digital

January 2015

How we deal with clients, as well as how we think of space and place, is being utterly transformed by digital technologies.

Starting with clients, we are moving from a world where it was natural for one party to talk at the other to one where constant, deep and mutually rewarding collaboration, talking with, is the order of the day. Co-creation, user feedback, and iterative product development is becoming commonplace. As with major brands and advertising, where blasting out marketing messages is being replaced with ongoing customer dialog via social media, we are entering a world where monologue is no longer viable. And it is in understanding the effect of these changes that real value can be created. Building a great business today means creating a great user experience. For everyone you work with. Because in this digital world your UX is your brand.

The user experience each and every customer, supplier or colleague enjoys in each and every interaction with your company IS your brand. It embodies everything about you, your product, your values, your culture, your worth, your reliability, your fundamental ethos. Put it all together and it is, as Jeff Bezos says, what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

And in a digital world, where bits are more important than atoms, and where people have more choice in where they live or work, and who they work, or shop, or play with, your brand, that essence of you, matters more than ever before. We all want to engage with people we respect, and people we respect engage with us through beautifully designed experiences.

The great brands of the future will be companies beautifully designed top to toe. By breaking down corporate silos, tearing technology out of the hands of the IT department and by feeding off the combined intelligence throughout our companies we will build better businesses, products and experiences for our customers.

A beautifully designed company will relentlessly focus on simplicity and ease of use. As Einstein said, everything should be as simple as can be, but no more. Complexity needs to be hidden. Compare the average corporate dashboard with the Google homepage. One has a search box, the other most likely dozens of fields of disparate data stacked on top of each other. Which one gets you to an answer faster? So why doesn’t your corporate dashboard just say ‘What would you like to know’?

There must be a coherence of approach, so everyone understands how your company works. Dealing with your company should be easy for your customer. And the look and feel of interactions should be consistent. Drive one BMW and you can drive them all. That’s how working in or with your company should be.

Now to space and place, as the digital world is also having a profound effect on how we think of that. Traditionally we have thought of the space we inhabit purely in physical terms, and all questions have been answered with build this, build that, add this, take away that. But today every place has a digital layer. Think of it like this:

I am here
What’s going on?
What happened here?
What’s going to happen here?
Are my friends here?
What did they like?
What should I do now?

People want information, especially local, in the palm of their hand, and physical space has a past, a present and a future. The digital layer is about unlocking this content.

The ubiquity of smartphones and increasingly fast broadband, opens up this world. Our experience of the space around us is now as heavily influenced by that computer in our pocket as the physical environment we find ourselves in.

It’s the smartphone that will determine how ‘a sense of place’ is experienced. Think about the questions above; they cover the variables that determine how successful a place is. At the human level, they are what all of us want to know. The place that helps us answer these questions will be successful. The place that informs, inspires and excites us will prosper.

Socially productive places will embrace this digital layer. And if they don’t then they will not be fit for purpose. We can talk all we like about mixed uses, high quality architecture, good urban design and sustainability but if we do not expose the digital layer then our place is stuck in the past.

Winston Churchill said ‘We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us’. Today the same applies, but with an added, digital, dimension. Embracing this, as well as being an essential business survival strategy, will allow us to build better relationships with our clients, and better spaces and places for all of us to thrive in.