Good talk

Good talk

Keep talking, I say.

Hosting the MEX podcast gives me an opportunity for in-depth conversations with diverse practitioners from all over the world. Sometimes I know my guests already, but in the 45 episodes we’ve recorded, I’ve never failed to be surprised by the stories of careers, design challenges and inspirations which emerge from an hour or so of discussion.

It’s been a little while since my last newsletter and in that time I’ve recorded conversations with two design pioneers who epitomise this spirit of wide ranging interests and deep experience of user-centred practices.

My chat with Eric Kim, co-founder and now VP of Design at Modo Labs, started with a look back at the varied routes into digital experience design for those whose careers began before the advent of ‘UX’ as a defined specialism. In Eric’s case, his path began was an interest in architecture and a degree in ‘visual and environmental studies’. He described how, even before he began focusing on digital, this training grounded him in user-centred design values:

“My professors admonished constantly that ‘you don’t know if a design works until you put a human being into it’ – whether in a drawing or a scale figure in a model – and you think about how people will inhabit that space.”

These days, of course, the human experience is significantly influenced by inhabiting virtual as much as physical spaces, but that ability to empathise with the varied relationships users might have with a space is as important as ever.

Eric and I went on to talk about his role as a design-focused co-founder and how this has influenced the growth and investment strategy for Modo Labs – which has now had several rounds of VC funding from prominent investors. In particular, we discussed a challenge which will be familiar to design teams of all sizes: how to maximise impact with limited resources.

“We look not just at what we can do as a small design team, but how can we make design a ‘force multiplier’? So we consider how we can infuse our way of thinking into the processes and product decisions of a much larger group within the company.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Eric Kim in episode 45 of the MEX podcast.

On the other side of the Atlantic, I had a chance to speak with Maarten Pieters, Head of Co-Creation and People Insights at Philips Lighting. Maarten was introduced to me by a long-time friend of MEX, Patrizia Bertini, and shares her interests in Lego Serious Play (LSP) as a facilitation method (you can hear Patrizia talking about LSP in the very first episode of the MEX podcast).

When I spoke to Maarten he had just taken delivery of a book he co-authored with Stephanie Jansen, entitled ‘The 7 Principles of Complete Co-Creation’. We talked at some length about the types of designers best suited to facilitating co-creation sessions and the many subtleties of achieving an effective co-creation output:

“In essence it [the co-creation facilitator] is a very hospitable type of role, but it is also an analytical role. You have to be able to understand what’s happening in the room and make different connections. It is conceptual, it is abstract…you have to have feel comfortable with those things and looking for the softer, emotional elements in what people are saying and how they are behaving.”

We also talked about the balance of respect and ongoing relationships between companies, facilitators and participants when committing to co-creation as a major part of company strategy, as Philips have done by appointing Maarten to this dedicated role.

“It’s about proper communication and being transparent. You’re continuously aligning with stakeholders because these things [co-creation strategies] are very different and even scary for people. Maybe they don’t believe in it, or they think it is too expensive, or they think they already know the answer or it will take too much time… People are scared of sharing things, so they say ‘we need to have it finished first, we’ll throw it into the market and then we’ll learn…’ I say to them ‘this a waste of money, why do you want to wait until then instead of doing it right from the beginning’…”

You can listen to the full conversation with Maarten Pieters in episode 44 of the MEX podcast.

There’s an archive of all the podcasts episodes on the MEX site, or you can listen and subscribe via:

If you have a suggestion for a future guest or would like to come on the show for a chat yourself, just drop me a line.

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