Ian Crawford

Innovation Design Principle at RBS

The challenges and rewards of helping people innovate

Apple tree

After graduating from Glasgow School of Art as a Product Designer Ian worked as a Digital Strategist for Equator before leaving to work as a consultant and finally taking on the role of Innovation Design Principle at RBS. We talked about the challenges and rewards of helping people innovate.

Ian's team have lots of potential projects so they tend to be a little 'picky' about which ones to pursue. Their priorities are visible to senior management at RBS. Some people in the organisation will naturally be risk-averse, depending on their role - for example someone in Legal or Compliance is usually more likely to see the pitfalls in a new project than a designer. They also need to work on ideas for things which don't currently exist.

A light bulb and an apple

No bad ideas?

Ian described the ideation process which is usually done in a workshop setting. They create as many ideas as possible around a particular problem, a technique he learned from GSA. They mix stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with the designers. SMEs naturally want to explain why things are the way they are, which suggests they will bring a slight bias towards the way things are currently done rather than finding new approaches.

Generating ideas creates 'a nice energy'. A fellow GSA graduate, Andy Young, introduced Ian to the technique of 'squeezing a lemon' - getting participants to come up with as many ways of squeezing a lemon as they can in order to get them in the mood for coming up with a large number of ideas.

On the other hand, walking the group through something which has already been created can be more arduous. If you want to co-create with customers, Ian suggests considering a different mix of people as they're likely to be cautious of what they say in front of senior stakeholders at the bank.

A whole apple, one halved, one peeled and one sliced

Interview answers

Describe your new(ish) role at RBS

I'm part of the Open Experience (OX) team and work as the design lead on specific innovation projects, with a team of around 5/6 people on each project. The projects tend to focus on new services, things like the voice banking pilot and some other stuff I'm probably not allowed to say to much about unfortunately. I also work together with different departments across the org like the Human-Centred-Design (HCD) team.

What do you like about it so far? 

The main thing is the team - they are a really lovely bunch of people who are all keen to help each other and to make things better. I also quite like the fact that the size of the organisation tends to open doors for certain things. For example, I recently asked Marc Stickdorn, author of This is Service Design Thinking etc. if he would give a talk, which he might not have agreed to when I was agency side.

Ian's workflow / process:

  1. Picking an area to explore (e.g. short-term borrowing, voice technology)
  2. User research (various types: interviews, workshops, diary studies etc.)
  3. Understanding all the needs that customers (and prospective customers) have and prioritisation of those needs
  4. Testing potential ideas with customers at scale
  5. Prototyping and testing in an iterative fashion
  6. Building a pilot or an MVP

Are you involved in RBS' accelerator program? Do you help start-ups?

I'm not directly involved but I know some of the people who are. RBS also have a specific 'scouting' team across San Francisco, Israel and the UK. The team I work with often collaborate with the scouting team to see if there are potential partners that we can work with in order to create a new service.

What inspires you?
Quite a few different things:

  1. Users. Through interviews etc. they often come at things in interesting ways that are very different to what you might expect.
  2. The team. I really enjoy bouncing ideas between us.
  3. Difficult problems - There's something nice about a complicated challenge that's hard to solve.
  4. Articles about the future and how things might change - stuff like AI etc. - I like the fact that it feels like anything's possible.
Apple, banana, pear, orange

Best experience from working in the UX / research / design field?

The one that springs to mind is some of the feedback we got from customers with additional needs during the voice banking pilot. Here are a couple of example quotes that really hit home how important that service would be for people:

I also really like the fact that everyone in the UX / research / design community tends to like to help each other out and to share.

Biggest mistake you've made?

I can't think of a particularly big one but every time I do a project, there are things that I would have done differently and they are always different - I think that's why project and sprint retrospectives are so useful.

It's not really a mistake but one of the things that I find most difficult is trying to completely separate yourself from what already exists and exploring spaces that are entirely new ground that nobody else is really looking at.

An apple with a worm in it and an apple core

How might your working practice change in the future?

I have no idea but I know how I'd like it to change - I'd like end users to be even more involved in the design process as true co-designers. Especially those who might be particularly forward-thinking in their approaches. In an ideal world, I'd like to push that side of things so that customers are the ones defining what's created and that researchers and designers act more like facilitators.

Isaac Newton asleep under a tree