Global design: an innovation approach at the heart of the customer experience
Claire, can tell us briefly about your job as an industrial designer?
First, let me tell you what an industrial designer isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, a designer isn't someone who sits alone in a room imagining great-looking objects or products like an artist working in isolation. A designer is always immersed in a context and part of a broader technical and organisational environment.
A designer's role is first and foremost about searching for possible outcomes. It's a chance to innovate, to quickly give visual form to a concept or an idea, and to share a vision or a goal. It's a chance to explore possibilities — and to make mistakes!
At the start of a project, the designer uses drawings, focus groups and role-playing exercises to get internal and external users involved in the design process.
The designer's role is also to help test the solution and turn the finished idea into a concrete product. That's when the design becomes contractual, and it shortens the loop between system definition and development of the final solution.
So a designer is like a translator. You work with users to express values and meaning in a practical way. How does this affect the way new solutions are developed?
In the process of defining a need and developing a solution to meet it, designers bring to the table a specific set of tools and a different way of looking at the problem. They help to create conditions for everyone involved to unleash their creativity and imagination so that the latest technologies can meet practical requirements as closely as possible. This cross-pollination between different cultures and roles — operational staff, engineers, designers, etc. — is what makes the process so rewarding and enriches the conversation.
Put simply, the designer creates a working environment and a framework for exploration that gives free rein to everyone's powers of expression. Making mistakes is actively encouraged, because mistakes lead to conversation, which in turn moves the whole team a step closer to finding the best solution.
How does your work apply to defence and security? It’s not a connection you’d naturally make.
Design plays an important role in a lot of sectors today, because it enables users to make the most of a product's performance. It’s exactly the same in the defence sector. Users will make better use of a solution if it matches the way they actually work on a day-to-day basis.
Take the Security Digital Platform (SDP) project, for example. We co-designed the platform with law enforcement agencies to provide them with a vertical solution for desktop and mobile that meets their exact operational requirements. The project recently won the 2021 Janus de l’Industrie prize for its innovative approach, and for its system design, which meets the “Five Es” of excellence in industrial design: economy, esthetics, ergonomics, ethics and emotion.
Beyond the tools we bring to the process ourselves, we sometimes also work with different types of partners. For the French Army’s Centurion project, for example, we teamed up with a design school to help us refocus the conversation and the design around the expectations and competencies of tomorrow’s soldiers. By working with young digital natives who are at ease with all the latest technologies, we were able to test a range of possible solutions, which we then either accepted or rejected.
At the end of the day, in defence and security, humans are at the centre of an ecosystem of objects, which they often need to use in extremely tense and stressful situations. So these objects need to be suitable for all the different types of users and settings, and they need to be both easy to use and hard to misuse.
Being a designer in the defence and security industry means creating the conditions needed to find solutions that are simple and robust — and also attractive, because a good design also means the solution can be readily adopted by operational personnel. It adds value and builds confidence and trust. And a good design can also influence customer satisfaction, which is fundamentally important in defence.