Innovating with Fast Company

During the Fast Company Innovation Festival a couple of weeks back, we gathered a crowd in our New York office to ask profound questions of new technologies. Coming from a range of fields and disciplines, over thirty people fearlessly took the floor, and we didn’t stay strangers for long.

At Wolff Olins, we redesign businesses around a big idea, and technology is key to that process. It can be used to fundamentally rewire an organization, to redistribute power, and to bring customers closer. It works best when it’s designed around the individual, and so this is a cornerstone principle for our practice. We call this ‘designing with heart’.

During our workshop, we thought critically about popular technologies designed to meet human needs, and unpacked their real impact on users.

It was rewarding to invite so many creative people into our space, and we came away with insight that’ll stay with us. Here are our main observations:

Empathy has power
We’re surrounded by products that fall short of fulfilling their promise. There’s a huge amount of work to be done and empathy can be a good start point. Interrupting your thought process to simply ask a question like, ‘what’s the human impact?’, can steer discussion in a helpful way.

An equation has two sides
Most of our chosen technologies (like Slack for work, Tinder for love, and Uber for transport) are platform technologies. They connect different users in an equation, which means there are two sides to consider at all times. Improving in a way that benefits, rather than disjoints, both sides can be difficult, and finding this balance isn’t just an exciting challenge, it’s a serious responsibility.

We all have agency
There’s a lot of conversation about how to design better technology. But the real magic happens when we roll up our sleeves to do something about it ourselves. That’s the power of workshopping. After the event, everyone felt and empowered to bring the thinking to their own fields.

Overall, the experience was a wonderful reminder to look at problems through a human lens. Whether looking at a new or long-established technology, it’s vital to consider the role it plays in people’s lives and the way it makes them feel. The day was a testament to the results small focused groups can have. Long may that continue.

By Cynthia Pratomo, Matt Delbridge, and Nomzamo Majuqwana




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