PechaKucha and Why R&D Stands for Rip-Off and Duplicate

By Chris Averill, CEO & Founder

June 22, 2015   

Last Thursday was Pecha Kucha, an annual showcase of over 100 of Brunel University London’s best designers and engineers, all of whom were exhibiting their final year projects to an audience of top industry professionals. I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the event along with seven others including leading talent such as Steve O’Connor from IDEO London and Ella Britton from the Design Council.

Now more than ever, the Digital Revolution has left us in need of good designers and research shows that brands are increasingly utilising customer experience to separate them from the competition. As such, I was delighted to have the chance to meet the next generation of designers and to wax lyrical about the importance of being a ‘smart creative’.

To summarise the event, which was hosted by Ian de Vere, Lead of Design at Brunel University London, the range of speakers was vast, covering a multitude of topics and industries but we were all united in our desire to inspire the students displaying their work. In particular I was very impressed by Ella Britton from the Design Council, her boldness and passion really shone through. The Design Council is the UK Government’s advisor on design and with Ella on board I am confident we will soon be seeing some ground-breaking design work coming out of the public sector.

I have long been an advocate of the theory that the problem companies face is not finding the right answer, it’s asking the right questions, and this was an ongoing theme at Pecha Kucha. If your team asks smart questions they define problems well and lead to a clear vision of the issues involved. When that occurs, it’s easier to run through scenarios and find the best answer that leads to growth and profit. Brands must determine the customer needs before attempting to solve them, or you create a product that neither improves the customer experience nor drives sales.

I spoke about the importance of ‘standing out and being different’ as a designer. The majority of products rely on R&D — which increasingly stands for ‘rip-off and duplicate’ rather than any original ideas.

I also talked about the fact that today, we are risk adverse and we don’t challenge. In my opinion, as an industry we need to look beyond our historical data, harbour innovation and encourage designers to take risks. I would argue that everyone who is data reliant is essentially driving their bus at full speed whilst only looking backwards in the rear view mirror. The lesson being that relying on historical data as your only reference will ultimately end in a crash. While data is an important tool to factor in to an overall strategy, to rely on it is a risk adverse way of working; it’s not innovative, progressive or smart.

The perfect example of this is the Tube Map of London, it creates confusion and problems because it is not really an accurate reflection of what is takes to get from a to b, there is no indication of how long a journey will take or whether it is quicker to get a bus or even walk between stops. We need to take our data and apply fresh thinking along with what the consumer really wants from the map to show the true tube journey without causing mass confusion and creating something that no one likes. This goes back to my point about asking the right questions; as designers we need to look beyond creating something that is pleasing to the eye and ask how we can get it to reflect the real world. That is the challenge for designers.

My number one tip for the students at Brunel, and to every new designer embarking on their career is to go into the world of work and challenge your colleagues, tell them if you think the idea won’t work or isn’t what users want. Don’t be risk adverse, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

So what’s stopping you?!