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Putting digital design in the back pocket

In this digitally-saturated world, design forms the architecture of our daily lives. But its importance goes beyond aesthetics – it changes the profitability of companies. Here, digital product agency Roam tells Findlay Buchanan why great design can pay dividends.

Top image: Ben Morreau (left) and Lucas Coelho of Roam.

Roam fuses well-crafted design with technology to create mobile and web applications for multiple businesses. Its creation dates back to 2013, when members of rival mobile agencies, Roam co-founders Ben Morreau and Chris Moore, joined forces to focus on mobile applications. 

Four years on, the pair has moved from the mobile app space into a multi-faceted design-led technology company that delivers digital products for its clients. The team has progressed from five employees, to a squad of 75 with arms in Auckland and Sydney.

Roam boasts clients such as Ebay, ASB, The Warehouse Group and more. Roam’s success comes at a time when in a modern world bewitched by technology, products and services have forged into intangible, indispensable forms. 

Mobile penetration continues to grow globally and here in New Zealand, smartphone ownership is expected to reach 90 percent this year. Those figures are bound to grow and while business is continuously uprooted by digital disruption, digital design has never been more critical.  

Digital design is the architect of our daily lives. The rise of user experience design has meant the digital world has manifested into social and business practices. Whether it’s transportation networks such as Zoomy or small business owners using ASB Plus, digital design has become the cornerstone to day-to-day life. 

It’s the forward-thinking digital design practise and technology uptake that underpins Roam, which aims to help businesses harness a progressively mobilised world. Although many are unfamiliar with the digital infrastructure that builds mobile and web app services, we are all familiar with the implications of good and bad design. 

Here, Lucas Coelho head of design, and Ben Morreau, chief design officer and co-founder, discuss how Roam has built up its impressive portfolio and how integrated design can provide a great return for businesses.

The importance of diversity

It might not look like it now, but Roam began as a team of five employees who worked out of a shared space in Auckland’s CBD. 

Morreau says the business started by tapping into a gap in the market: the mobile application space. Since then, Roam has transformed into a global technology company that provides digital products for its large roster of clients. 

“By delivering digital products, we end up designing and building complete solutions for our customers, ensuring our quality of work isn’t just contained to a single component of a product experience,” he says.

According to Morreau, Roam’s key points of distinction is its ethos – that the power of design enhances people's lives, as well as prioritising user needs to achieve business outcomes. 

“We’re also unique because of our technical IP and our incredibly diverse and talented tech team, who execute on our design vision. It’s one thing to design a beautiful experience, it’s another to bring it to life to that same standard.”

Diversity is a valued trait for Roam in both its team and its design process. Aside from the design disciplines of user experience design, user interface design, interaction design and service design, Coelho says it’s important to look outside of the industry and into philosophy, psychology and other sociological fields, such as behavioural economics, to seek inspiration. 

Roam also maintains a vast range of clients, from ASB through to fashion brands like Superette. Coelho says the key to creating good design for each brand is being honest. He also notes that each brand has its own personality, vision and problems to solve and that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. 

“That's why one brand does not speak or look like one another, they are living changing beings with personality, like us. That's how we connect with brands, perceiving them as a human entity.”

While Roam continues to grow, the search for talent in the New Zealand market has been tough. The computer system design sub-sector has been cited by Immigration New Zealand as the strongest driver of growth in the IT sector, as well as having clear issues with job vacancies. To counter the issue, Roam supports the ‘No Degree No Problem’ campaign.

 Morreau says: “We prefer to focus on their drive, their passion, and whether they’ve got the smarts to do well in their respective field. It’s different per discipline, but the soft skills are really how we evaluate whether we invest in emerging talent or not.”

Why good design equals dollars

The changing and competitive landscape of business has also meant user experience (UX) design and other forms of digital design impact hugely on bottom line profitability for businesses. 

A study conducted by UX Mastery suggests the companies who have invested the most in UX saw sales increase by 75 percent. The claim is backed by figures reported by Telepathy, which says 89 percent of consumers purchase from a competitor following a poor customer experience. 

Coelho emphasises the importance of user experience design: “We put the user at the center of our decisions and our product principles and when you solve a problem for a person, they will return to you.”  

He later alludes to people having a favourite coffee shop as an example of the importance of user experience. He says the loyalty to our favourite coffee shop is based on experience, which encourages people to stick with their favourite brands and products. 

“It does not matter if you have a beautiful branding strategy and a good looking app or product if it’s not solving a real problem and providing a good user experience.”

Coelho says good digital design is crucial in this fast-moving sector.

“The changing business landscape of beautifully designed experiences means that customers are prioritising a good experience over a cheap one. The battle for customers is no longer fought over price, but over experience,” he says. 

Coelho points to a case study, where Roam rebuilt and redesigned the Tradera mobile app natively. He says the new app integrated features to enhance user experience and delivered technical stability. 

“The net result was their app store rating shot up to 4.8 stars, their users grew from 700,000 to over one million, and they have confirmed their sales from mobile are back in growth, which was directly contributable to their improved bottom line position.”

"The changing business landscape of beautifully designed experiences means that customers are ​prioritising a good experience over a cheap one. The battle for customers is no longer fought over price, but over experience."

- Lucas Coelho

Coupled with innovative design techniques is the necessity to employ emerging technologies. MBIE recently released a report that incentivises Kiwi businesses, people and governments to boost innovation and productivity through a thriving digital economy. From AR/VR to blockchain, technology uptake has been ubiquitous to modern day progressive business models. 

It’s a vehicle for Roam’s success and Morreau shares his thoughts on prospective uptake. He says blockchain will move beyond the hype of currencies and into a broader business sense, while AI will continue to be prevelant in all corners of business. 

“We’re also excited by AR Kit being introduced into iOS11. By making AR development accessible across their devices running iOS11 and up it’s going to make AR a far easier experience to develop for which should improve its likelihood for user adoption.”

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