Death of the Rectangle, Part Two: "What If"

by Matt Farrar, the founder of Great Fridays, now an EPAM company

I love sitting with a group of Über-smart folks, and talking about the ‘what if’ scenarios. What if, Bill Moggridge hadn’t designed the first laptop computer? What if Abdulfattah Jandali, Steve Jobs’s biological father hadn’t given him up for adoption? 

What if we could remove the technology legacies, preconceptions, and barriers that make disruption often very tricky in large organisations.

Service Design transformation is often hampered by the current, and the legacy. How do we move beyond those barriers? My opinion around the ‘death of the rectangle’ is just a provocative approach to the ‘what if’ challenge.

The mobile tablet has become so prevalent that it is forcing current and legacy thinking, rather than breaking down the restrictions and planning for the longer term.

Is an app the solution to longer-term disruption, or should we ban our teams from talking about mobile, and give them the freedom to really put the customer at the centre by creating the perfect ‘what if’ environment?

So ‘what if’ we looked at the legacy structure around things such as banking, payments and bills. One such discussion over lunch this week with Katherine Church of Capita and Professor James Woudhuysen was heavily focused on the ‘what if’ (helped by a glass of Gavi), which certainly helped the creative juices flow.

If you think about consumers, we can categorise (in most cases) the way we live, month to month. We earn money, and we spend money. High level reasons for a brand’s existence.

We are remunerated monthly and our cash goes into a bank, so our first interaction with a brand. We then have several things that we need, to survive every month; food, water, heat, and a number of lifestyle choices; car, clothes, holidays.

So what if we took these basic principles and said: ‘What If we could start again and figure out a way to simplify this’.  In addition, we all know that humans aren’t that great at managing their personal finances, and often overspend in areas or don’t plan correctly.

So we also need to make sure that what we earn is always more, or the same, as what we spend. There is always too much month left at the end of the money.

So forget paying bills, changing tariffs, changing banks, using your card for shopping. Imagine a world, which is connected, and semantic (some might say not to far into the future). The scene is set; I have negotiated with my new employer a pay structure, and know exactly how much will be deposited into my ban at the end of the month.

That bit is easy. Now the bit that is interesting; because the world is connected, and everything communicates with everything else, I can now sit down calmly in front of my personal control (I don’t want to say dashboard, and I think you know why…..rectangles?), and I decide to let the data give me a suggested profile for my monthly spend.

Matt, you should have this car, use this phone, shop here (because you like fruit), or splash out on some new trainers this month. My personal control manages my spending for me, lets me know when I have spent too long on a call, and suggests options to reduce other lifestyle budgets to maintain my earn-versus-spend profile.

If you ask most humans about paying bills, and managing finance, the answer you will get from most is that they hate it, and would love somebody/something to manage it for them.

So when a brand says, we need to innovate our billing for our customers, and the way we service them, how far into the future do they want to look? How disruptive can they be? Do they buy into the ‘what if’, or do they chose to stay with the ‘we can’t’?

The key point here is that service design should help to create that vision of the future, should push the boundaries, and disrupt without the limitations of current, and legacy. A future vision of how customers interact, and will continue to interact with brands is a critical part of any planning.

OK, we have to bring our thinking back at some point  to present time, so we can figure out how Phase One of this vision begins. Of course there will be legacy and current limitations to this new beginning, but at least we will have a trajectory, a North Star that sets the precedent for expected change and direction.

‘What If’, not ‘we can’t’. It’s not about rectangles at all, is it?