Design thinking in action at ellen&ellen: striving for greatness and ditching the comfortable furniture

Design thinking in action at ellen&ellen: striving for greatness and ditching the comfortable furniture

Ditch the chairs and try standing up instead during your next brainstorming session.

Earlier this year, NZTE’s Better by Design service sent 35 New Zealand companies to San Francisco to meet with and learn from the world’s design heavyweights. The third US Study Tour included visits to IDEO, Google, Intuitive Surgical, Survey Monkey, SYPartners, Cisco, and others. Here's ellen&ellen creative director Mary Davy's take.

mary davy ellen & ellen design thinkingWhat were the tour highlights for you?

One of the most memorable moments was when Keith Yamashita, the Dalai Lama of branding from SYPartners, asked us if we aspire to be great. He asked whether we risk what is required, and venture before it is clear there is something to be gained. Given all of the turmoil around us and the reasons to act otherwise, he asked whether there is any reason to be great. He told us that many will answer with a definitive 'no', some say yes, but never do, and a few leaders choose to answer otherwise.

We were asked what we were put on this planet to do? What will our organisation achieve unlike any other? And what must we transform to get there? It was incredibly challenging and thought provoking.

We were taught that to achieve greatness, we must think in terms of the health of the whole. And it starts with you, the individual being fully aware and alive and motivated. If you are these things then you can form successful relationships with your Duos (two people working together – “the smallest atomic unit of trust”). The important thing to remember about Duos is that the relationship can only thrive when both parties are happy in themselves. This forms a trust that allows you to create a prolific bond through collaboration. This then translates into teams, your organisation and, if you desire, into greater society. 

We also learned that it is ok to make mistakes. This is something we heard from a number of companies we visited including IDEO and Stanford University’s d.school. Rapid prototyping was also put into a new perspective for me, getting those ideas out there quickly, testing them and being able to make fast decisions as a result. Do it all standing up and set a time limit. In fact, if you have to have furniture, make sure it is uncomfortable.

What is the most significant action you have taken since you returned to New Zealand?

There have been many actions but straight away we implemented the concept of Duos within the team. We did it as a group and openly shared our insights. Not only did we approach this from a professional perspective but also from a personal perspective because to be happy in your work you need to be happy in yourself. We have also taken this thinking to our clients. 

We rapid prototype more, it binds us as a team and the ideas flow. We recently brainstormed a logo concept and then made it by cutting out shapes from paper. From there we photographed it and created the final version without changing much at all. It took us away from the computer and into the freedom of creativity and saved a lot of time. The end result was perfect. 

We speak differently as a team now and better understand our responsibility to each other. Oh, and we gave away our comfortable sofa!

How would you like to implement the tour learnings long-term?

I want us to retain that hunger for wanting to find out more and constantly evaluate how we are doing things. We need to continually push ourselves as individuals and as a company. The brands we create take a huge effort, and we could choose an easier path but we don't because we want to make a difference for our clients and for ourselves. We always want to be challenged.

What are your plans for ellen&ellen over the coming months/year?

We want clients at our door keen to work with us. We believe we are worthy of this because we create constant 'eureka' moments for the organisations we work with. We work ourselves hard, constantly re-evaluating our direction, and as our experience and knowledge grows so does the strength of what we offer.

Our job is to create brands that pull clients, rather than push products and services, and we want to do this over and over again. We are beginning to work more offshore, which is thrilling – but our favourite projects are ones that give New Zealand organisations a voice.