In this live interview with Hakhamanesh Mashayekhi, we talked about design thinking in execution and the factors influencing it.
Hakhamanesh with many years of experience as a designer is working as a product design manager for HBO Max at warner media.
Please introduce yourself?
Thank you very much for inviting me. I am Hakhamanesh.
I graduated from the University of Tehran in Industrial Design and then got a degree in Multidisciplinary from the CCS (College for Creative Studies) in Michigan.
I worked in R/GA for 5 years, which is a design agency, and in those five years.
I focused on designing services, products, and experiences, from websites to apps or even experience design for retail stores
And also brands such as Nike, Uber, and Innovasport in Mexico.
After 5 years of working in the Agency and Consultancy.
I decided to experience a different space so that I could have a little more ownership of projects, so I entered the world of startups.
I was in the startup space for about a year.
And after that, I have been working as a design manager at HBO-Max at Warner-Media for till now.
Great, I am very happy to have you as our guest.
Actually, tonight we want to talk about design thinking from another aspect.
Although there are many resources and documents about design thinking in theoretical spaces.
What is fascinating and I think there are few resources about the practical aspects of design thinking.
How does it work in organizations and how do organizations accept that method of thinking?
What challenges did you face in the workplace as a designer with your employer?
What challenges did you face when it comes to applying the design thinking methods to processes?
I remember the first project I did. I was very shocked.
Because when you work as a designer and have an academic background, your impression is that as much as you know design thinking.
Although others have known too, the first time I did my first job in an agency I was very shocked.
The level of our clients’ knowledge of design thinking compared to mine is very different and it has its own merits and demerits.
I was a completely new graduate, and I saw everything in its own academic context.
And thought that everything has to be done exactly the same as what you read in the books but when you come to reality, it is not like that at all.
But the point is, I realized that each company has a different culture and different behavior from another one towards applying design thinking.
For example, when your client is a tech-based company, such as Nike, or Uber, every activity automatically has been done based on design thinking.
This means that just having a common language can help a lot to get projects done with high quality.
Mexico’s largest sports retailer with a big annual revenue but a traditional structure.
The first meeting we had was about realizing their need.
Nothing was going well and it got harder when they did not know what they really needed.
Working as a consulting agency, time means money, and you account for the client minute by minute and hour by hour.
Your client should trust you. The sooner you can build it, the more successful you become.
That was the time when I thought about what we really should do now.
In addition, we had another challenge to the one I mentioned, and that was its language and culture.
Well, our agency was an international one.
We’ve done plenty of projects in many countries but it was our first experience in Mexico.
We wanted to run our project based on design thinking in the context of that culture.
You cannot do design thinking projects in other countries with the same approach that you did in the United States.
All the researchers and designers we had, either grew up in American culture or studied in America.
So there was a very big gap, and we quickly signed a contract with another agency in Mexico to become our partner in this case.
And be able to support us with user research.
For us, this partnership was a really fruitful opportunity.
Well, as you mentioned, the culture of an organization is very important.
In order to implement design thinking in an organization, it should be applied at an organizational strategy level or from the bottom of the organization.
When we want to make changes at the highest levels of the organization, the culture of it should be welcoming to the design thinking.
So that you can apply design thinking to your strategy.
Just tell us about your experiences, how did you take design thinking to the organization’s strategy?
You cannot apply a design thinking method just in the design department and then spread it to the whole organization that has no idea about it at all.
Design thinking is something that should go well in the organization.
It is just a tool, and all these components are helping to deliver a product to the customer with great value.
Especially those parts of the organization that directly have contact with the user.
That is, a good experience for the user is not formed just by delivering a product, service, or product.
Which is designed based on design thinking and according to user needs, which can be a valuable experience for your customers.
A successful experience is a combination of a successful story and a successful system.
To illustrate, Take Nike running app, as an example, I have been involved with various projects with Nike for a long time.
Nevertheless, this app is not really the best running app, that is, it really has a lot of problems compared to the best running apps,
But it has been very successful and the reason for its success is the story that is being told which is supporting the design thinking process.
You can never have a good design process without successful storytelling behind it.
Another experience I have had in HBOMax is about when it decided to get through a business transformation.
Warner Media in its classic form is a media company, not a tech one, so the first step is to apply design thinking in all processes in the organization.
What HBOMax has done, instead of spending so much money on R&D or working with agencies (which is very common amongst companies).
They blocked the related organization’s routine activities every two weeks each six months, and run innovation sprints.
A fully multidisciplinary team and 30 or 40 teams like this are formed.
A goal is set, which is the long-term goal of the company, and all design members become a leader of these teams.
And in the end, after two weeks, we have 40 new ideas which have been generated by the design thinking process.
Not only did the cost you wanted to spend, saved for the company but so many innovative ideas were generated.
What a great experience. In those two weeks, at what level are those issues raised in the organization?
Those issues are supposed to solve what problems?
Are the problems process-oriented or operation-oriented?
The question is, at what level in the organization, ideation was accomplished to generate new ideas for solving those problems?
Good question. An interesting thing happened, the ideas generated are beyond the organization, they are aimed at users.
We realized that two or three teams got through this process deeply and generated fruitful ideas for their own department activities.
Whether or not teams focus on the end user’s needs is left to them to take what they like out of it and shape it the way they want.
IDEO‘s leadership has several books which illustrate how you can incorporate design thinking into your daily life.
And influence your daily decisions. What matters is how you look at the process.
Well, if you agree, let’s talk about Nike. What did you do at Nike?
When I was added to the Nike project, the ex. CEO Mark Parker set a goal and that is, that Nike should completely be direct to the customer company.
If I want to give a landscape of the sports equipment industry, before 2015, and 2014, the main players in this industry were Adidas, Nike, and Puma.
And none of these companies had a direct-to-consumer strategy, what does that mean?
I mean, all of them were working with a series of other retailers.
When you work with a retailer as a brand, it means you are sharing your profits with them, (averagely, 20% to 40%, 50%), and this automatically lowers your margin.
It took a while (2013-2015), for Nike to get the internal structure of the company ready for this decision.
Parker gave a very controversial speech to the investors that announced they can only buy Nike products through brand channels till 2021.
And they set this goal first for the United States, and by 2025 they want to do it globally, and well, it’s a very hard decision.
There is an argument that you can never do behavioral engineering for users.
What was happening then was, well, the user behavior was that I would go to stores and then among many brands, I would buy a Nike.
At that time, this was the user’s idea, and they wanted to completely change the idea that if you want a Nike product.
You just have to go to a Nike store, website, or anywhere that just belongs to Nike at all.
Well, this was a business transformation.
As a sports equipment company, Nike had to become a technology company because Direct to Customer means a technology company.
If you look at Nike’s changes you will understand the big picture. Mark Parker, a legendary designer, was the CEO when he retired.
A CEO from Silicon Valley was taking its place, and it had a thousand stories within itself that a company like Nike.
Which makes sports equipment, and wanted to become a technology-based company.
When this process started, what Nike did was very interesting to me, and I did not see it anywhere else.
Rather than signing a contract with an agency or a consultancy Company, Nike contracted with three consultancies.
To run this whole idea (Direct to Customers strategy), IDEO, MCKINSEY, and R/GE.
If you look closely at the core value of each of these agencies, each has its own value proposition and specialty.
McKinsey implements design thinking in business, and R/GA can implement design thinking in practice in the process of the final product.
Well, having three of these agencies together is really the best thing that could ever happen for a company.
Anyone who has worked in counseling agencies knows that if another agency had to attend the meeting, it would be stressful.
Even Our creative directors were a little scared of what would happen.
But Nike’s leadership assured these teams that each of them was there for a specific reason and their unique specialty.
We had to work together and we were all part of a team. That was very influential.
That one or two-year collaboration was very successful and helpful.
The help these teams gave each other was really weird, a different experience and I think it was very special.
How did you build interdisciplinary teams in execution design thinking?
And how do you analyze the meeting outcomes in the organizational process and their progress?
When you want to join any team in an organization, you have to put yourself in their shoes and look into everything from their point of view.
The most important element that can make you part of a team is the KPI of that team.
This means that as soon as you can understand their goal and what they are fighting it will make things much easier for you.
As design thinkers disseminate their thoughts.
But there is another big point that I mentioned before, and that is trust. Trust is very valuable.
That is, you understand the importance of trust, especially when you join an organization as a consultant.
Just focus on the team’s KPI and proof of concept.
Try to celebrate the little results with your teammate so it helps the team to boost its confidence.
There is a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues many about design and design thinking.
Furthermore, has a book called Flow that talks about when an organization, a human, and NTT have a flow.
And from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s point of view, there is a flow when you are happy.
What does flow mean? It means that you are successful.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sees a flow as a diagram in which the vertical axis is the challenge and the horizontal axis is the skill.
When the level of the challenge and the skill are both high, then you have a flow so as a result, you feel happy as you think you solve a problem.
But when the challenge is high and you do not have the skills, you get frustrated.
Or vice versa you get bored, and you tell yourself, “I can do more than that.”
Now let’s think about the system of the organization.
For applying design thinking in the team based on that mentioned diagram, we should empower them.
Give them a challenge and teach them skills.
When the challenge and skills meet each other, flow happens.
Let the team be happy and celebrate the flow, take the level of the challenge and skill step by step higher.
It makes the team stand tall in the organization and gives them confidence.
And that is when they can say we’ve got through this challenge by design thinking.
Now the last question.
Do you have a special team in HBOMax responsible for following the design thinking sessions in the format of the interdisciplinary team?
I mean, do you have a specific structure, or a supervisor, for example, or the design department is doing this or not?
One thing we have in our company is its history, which I can mention later.
Inside the design, the department is a DesignOps unit having its own director and a combination of designers.
Who designs the process and has project managers who know design thinking as well.
It is not their job to execute any task. DesignOps’ duty is to run sprint innovation.
DesignOps’ job is to lend their project manager to teams to make sure the process is going well.
Set up meetings, sprint meetings, and milestones.
And manage all of those activities. DesignOps include design units and are actually part of the design unit.
So, they are constantly monitoring and checking, and holding emergency meetings when it is necessary.
They are showing red flags when there is an issue.
Now one thing that came to my mind usually does not work in every organizational structure because it needs a matrix organizational structure.
The project manager in the DesignOps team can have another manager in the organization.
So he should respond to two managers at the same time and it is really hard because it needs a strong culture.
Exactly, you mentioned a good point and it is all about the mutual trust and how much the leaders in those two different units have the same idea and know that they are moving towards a common goal.