Piers Dillon-Scott


As more companies build internal UX & Service Design teams, what's next for the industry?

As more international corporations acquire UX and Service Design consultancies, what does it mean for the Human Centered Design Industry.

The Design industry saw many victories in 2014; more companies across an ever more diverse range of industries brought Human Centered Design into their core business. But if these gains represent a victory for UX Specialists and Service Designers it feels like a Pyrrhic one.

Writing in Wired, Frog Fellow Robert Fabricant describes how large multinationals have been busy creating and expanding their in-house design capabilities in a design arms race with their competition. Some, such as IBM, which Fabricant says “is on track to grow their design team to 1,000 people, making them by most measures the largest design firm in the world”; and JPMorgan, which is competing against Facebook and Google to attract top design and tech talent; have developed their own teams over time, but many have taken the acqui-hire route and bought out entire Design companies as a means of jump starting their capabilities.

Over the past 18 months we’ve seen Facebook acquire Hot Studio, Accenture snap up Fjord, and, more recently, Capital One consume Adaptive Path. The industry’s loss is these companies’ (and their customers’) gain.

For those doing the acquiring these are smart business decisions – Human Centered Design is a competitive advantage, and those that focus on delighting customers and improving their experiences will reap greater rewards than those that don’t.

From the agencies’ perspectives, Fabricant argues that such acquisitions appeal because they allow them to affect deeper change across their new parent companies’ businesses. Indeed, this was cited as the reason behind Accenture’s acquisition of Fjord.

As smart as these decisions are, they were a surprise to many.

Perhaps the reason these acquisitions surprised so many within the industry is because they challenge the Industry's vision of itself. The Industry’s culture has largely defined itself in opposition to the corporate world – more collaboration and creativity than silos and spreadsheets.

Adaptive Path’s Jesse James Garrett, writing to announce the Capital One deal, spent more words describing Capital One’s cultural change then he spent on the deal itself. He writes,

“[Capital One has] already laid the groundwork. They’ve built sophisticated practices in digital product design, design thinking, and experience research and development that we can build on and cross-pollinate with our own practices. They’ve hired tremendously talented people – but more than talent, what they bring is that mindset.

They ask good questions. They have a culture that favors collaboration and iteration. They are thinking about what’s next and what they need to do to get there. They want to try new things, both at the level of big strategic moves and at the level of experimenting with new tools and methods. The more people we meet at Capital One, the stranger it seems that they all work for a bank, of all places. They are genuinely creative, collaborative, and, well, fun people.”

Garrett’s comments echo those of Hot Studio’s Maria Giudice, who appealed to the companies’ shared cultural ethos as a driver for their acquisition,

“We’ve noticed unique synergies between the two companies in their commitment to foster a robust, collaborative, creative culture, and a relentless desire to create excellent and meaningful experiences for people all around the world.”

With so many big names exiting the consultancy businesses, 2013 and 2014 won't be remembered with fondness by many Designers.

Yet, perhaps in spite of these big exits, this wider corporate cultural change, and increased recognition of the value of Human Centered Design, are reason enough for the Design industry to be hopeful for the future.

Links for this week cover the future of cryptocurrencies, how McDonald’s is battling the Innovator’s Dilemma, and why President Obama’s official portrait is a world first.


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The history of cryptocurrencies, and the future of money

Bitcoin may not be THE cryptocurrency of the future, but cryptocurrencies are the future

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They 3D printed the President

President Obama's official portrait wasn't created with paint, but with pixels as a super high-res 3D digital scan

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#User Journeys

The Big Mac and Innovator's Dilemma

McDonald's is secretly user testing a new dining experience in Australia

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#Experience Design

The corporate takeover of user experience- and what this means for us

As Design moves inhouse, are we creating bigger silos or solving bigger problems?

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#Beautiful Web

Are you a pixel pusher? Do you want to be?

Leap Motion-style gadget, Flow, wants to redesign how designers design

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#Internet of Things

Samsung's CES keynote on IoT argues that Things should be open

"Without this kind of openness, there won't be an Internet of Things because the things will not fit together"

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#Digital Transformation

How Slack succeeded where others have failed

Slack is just over a year old, but it's already outclassed most in its field - here's how

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Illustration: Patrick Cusack

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