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Ever since companies like Apple built an empire by placing an emphasis on User & Customer Experience (CX & UX), other businesses have flocked to the concept. Today, UX is no longer a confusing acronym or buzzword, but an essential part of any modern business strategy.
Websites have become so feature-rich and integrated with other services that a site which simply looks nice isn’t enough. People focus on what they see, but what really matters is the overall experience of a website. In fact, research shows that 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.
Stephen Carpenter is Executive Creative Director at iUVO Design. He assists companies with a broad range of marketing functions including Design, User Experience, and Brand Creation. Prior to founding iUVO Stephen worked as a freelance designer and consultant at some of the leading companies in the industry including Saatchi & Saatchi, McCann, Finlayson Design, Anderson Norton Design, and Syzygy.
We spoke with Stephen about how he first got into design, how technology has changed the way he works, and the emerging tech he is most excited about.
How did you first get into a career in design?
I was into producing music and DJing in the 90s. I loved the graffiti and rave flyer designs in those years. After I was fortunate enough to get paid to do some graffiti on the side of a shop, I began considering a career in design. After making my mind up I managed to get an intern placement at Saatchi & Saatchi when I was 18. The portfolio I built during my time in there guaranteed me a place on a Middlesex University Foundation Course.
After finishing the foundation course I was on the cusp of going into art but ended up choosing design as my work was more typographically lead. The majority of my time was spent working on a computer, so I applied for Media and Graphic Design at London College of Printing (now University of Arts London). This was still in the early days of the web so I was mostly using Macromedia Director creating interactive digital art and using type as paint and a computer as a brush. In those days, my work was heavily influenced by the Antirom and Tomato collectives.
While studying I also picked up some freelance work for Coca-Cola, Walls, Nike, and National Geographic via a couple of London design agencies. Those were the days when Soho was pure media and you wouldn’t go to Shoreditch or Hoxton unless you were lost, playing on a pirate radio station, or doing something seedy or illegal.
Who were your early influences?
Pink Floyd album covers were a big inspiration when I was a kid. I really enjoyed Sir Terence Conran’s interior design books and Luc Besson’s filmography. Andy Warhol’s artistic, business and marketing mind also fascinated me.
How did you develop your own leadership style?
Essentially, I developed it by being thrown in at the deep-end. The hard fact is that when you first move into management it’s basically sink or swim. However, from an early age I understood that my opinion is just one of many and I think that has served me really well in leadership roles of listen to everyone’s opinion and be able to choose and commit to a strategy. I also quickly came to appreciate that along with good quality work it’s also important to make or buy and good quality coffee!
How have changes in technology impacted your work?
It’s opened the door to a huge amount of competition from around the world. People can go to somewhere like build-your-own-website dot com and build a reasonably good website quickly and this caters to the small business or start ups. Where as SMEs are working with dev teams in Eastern Europe or Asia who’ll build a website or app for a very reasonable price.
This is having a huge impact on web build agencies. But as one revenue stream declines, another one is opening up in the CX/UX sector which continues to grow rapidly. This is because while offshore designers might have the right technical skills, they usually lack the right cultural and customer experience and understanding of the target markets. For this reason CX, UX, and digital content creation is best done in the target markets’ geographic location.
At present, it’s imperative that we increase investment in British tech. Government funded training schemes for digital careers should be easily accessible for young people. This is vital to sustain business growth and help futureproof the UK economy. Businesses are making billions from the tech sector, but only a few of them are investing it directly back into the industry.
Tech aside, ideas are key, and creativity is something that the UK has which is why we have always been known as a design leader. But again, tech has opened the doors to amazing global talent, and some of the most creative minds are no longer from the UK. These days virtually everyone can get the equipment they need to start programming, regardless of the country they come from.
What are the main challenges you see with regards to motivating and engaging teams?
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue if the idea is good and the team are on board. There is a lot of rubbish being made at the moment because investors have a lot of spare cash to throw around. After speaking to many creative agencies many are actually finding a team in the first place much harder so motivating them is less of a challenge. Currently good tech professionals that are willing to work fulltime for one agency are hard to find in the UK. Generally speaking, the good devs are happy working at their current company and only the bad ones are available.
This is why companies need to play the long game and invest in training. Businesses that complain about a lack of talent seldom invest in seeking out and training upcoming talent. Personally, I always try to ensure we’ve got at least one junior at the company who shows amazing talent and motivation. Another company I know who are doing really well and have no issues with recruiting talent have a very strong link with a University and take on juniors and students and train them up.
What emerging technologies are you most excited about?
Voice (Echo, Alexa etc), AI, Mixed Reality and immersive experiences. In my opinion, Apple have peaked, so unless they release something in the cross reality sector, they are just going to sit tight atop their mountain of cash. Google are dominated voice applications at the moment as they have the biggest pool of data on human behaviour to work with.
From a broader perspective, I’m also excited by the prospect of space travel, but we need to be more innovative in how we power space transportation, it’s just not sustainable or economical to keep relying on fossil fuels.
One thing I’m not excited about is autonomous vehicles. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea waiting to cause lots of problems. If the roads were redesigned, it might work. But currently, our transport infrastructure isn’t capable of handling autonomous vehicles and it’s only going to lead to bad things.
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