[DesignUp 2021] Simon Roberts of Stripe Partners on the importance of curiosity, flexibility and adaptability in the era of the pandemic


Simon Roberts, UK-based co-founder and partner of Stripe Partners will speak at DesignUp 2021 conference this month. He is the author of The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them. A business anthropologist, Simon is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of EPIC People.

This year the DesignUp 2021 The conference includes a virtual fundraiser as well as a list of stellar speakers. Will be held online on the weekend of June 11 to 20 100% of donations will go to charities providing Help with COVID-19 in rural India, in the form of provision of dry rations, oxygen concentrators and health center services.

As a media partner of the lecture series, see Your story coverage of previous DesignUp online panels in 2020, May the fourth be with you and The impact of the pandemic on conception. See also our articles on the editions of the annual DesignUp conference of 2019, 2018 and 2017, and our d-Zen (‘Design Zen’) section for more design resources.

Simon Roberts joins us in this discussion on the role of design in the pandemic era, industry trends and tips for aspiring designers. Previously, he ran an innovation lab at Intel and his PhD in Anthropology focused on the revolution of satellite television in the mid-90s in India. Simon is also fluent in Hindi.

Edited excerpts from the interview below:

Your story [YS]: What are the three remarkable examples that you have seen of effective design during the pandemic?

Simon roberts [SR]: In the UK, I was very impressed with the rollout of the vaccine by the NHS (National Health Service). It was fast, efficient, powered by local health agencies and their networks (pharmacies and doctor’s offices), and included large-scale facilities converted for this purpose.

It was also sub-written by a huge volunteer effort. This is in stark contrast to the stalled and largely ineffective efforts of the large outsourcing firms that were tasked with creating the test and trace application, which was widely viewed as a failure.

One lesson I draw from this is the power of state entities with pre-existing infrastructures and a proven mode of operation. In times of crisis, centralized efforts are important not only operationally because of the confidence they generate – but critically, the deployment of immunization has decentralized features and succeed by pushing its operation to points in the system that already understand and serve local populations. In contrast, the test and trace application largely fell short of its goal.

Although this is not a new design or new technology, I was intrigued to see QR codes have their time in the sun. Before COVID-19, these were marketing gimmicks attached to campaigns and largely unadopted or unused – but they are no longer the case.

YS: What are the main challenges that designers face in these difficult times and how can they be overcome?

SR: One of the major challenges is to have sustained contact with the people for whom designers design, at a time of social distancing. The use of digital methods to interact with the people for whom they are designing is also a concern.

I have long believed that in-depth research, face to face – which generates understanding and empathy – is essential to the success of the design. I am afraid both that this is not possible, but that it will be neglected in the future in the name of being cheaper, but also faster and more profitable.

I think it will be a mistake. We need to start actively advocating for doing what needs to be done to create an empathetic public understanding for our work.

YS: What are the notable research projects or initiatives that you are currently engaged in?

SR: We work on a wide variety of projects as a company. But two projects that stand out for me in the last 12 months are projects on household privacy and on a “non-infectious passport” platform for COVID-19.

The work on protecting household privacy took place during the first foreclosure in Europe and was focused on exploration data and privacy concepts in a range of different household and family contexts. We focused on understanding how privacy between different household members is understood and practiced.

One notable idea was the idea that knowing or accessing other people’s data creates an obligation – it becomes a form of emotional labor. While we often think of “data” as something people want to avoid sharing, on the other hand, we have found that family members often avoid knowing things because of the obligations it creates. These obligations include being silent about things or protecting others from what you know.

The other project involved an innovative startup called Binding systems, for whom we did research that shaped the design of a system for people to use proof of non-infection. It was fascinating because the work was based in the US – and conducted in the eye of the storm – in a country with very strong ideas about freedom, the overbreadth of the state and the rights of individuals to live their lives free from interference from outside sources of authority.

We explored these attitudes and how they might shape uptake of the system – identifying what might encourage people to adopt the service and in what types of contexts, and how to do it. accessible and reliable as possible, eg weddings. The platform is operational and generates income.

YS: What are the success factors for good designers to become good design directors?

SR: To be a good manager is to let go organizational barriers to allow people to focus on what they’re best for – to create space for them to perform at their best.

Good management is also set clear goals – personal and organizational in nature – so that individuals can focus and know what they are being evaluated on. Ultimately, being a good manager is be a good human being – look for people, help them through difficult times and be there for them.

I have found over the past 12 months that the human side of management is more important than ever. It’s been hard on people and a good manager needs empathy.

YS: What are the three basic skills or mindsets that designers need in the uncertain post-pandemic world?

SR: Flexibility and adaptability – things are very changeable, so it is essential to be open to ambiguity. Kiss him; do not try to overcome it.

Managing work-life limits – remote work makes it difficult to separate work and life. Controlling the boundaries between the two is essential to stay on top of your game and avoid burnout.

Curiosity – to be voracious in the search for new ideas, in new places and spaces, is always vital and now more than ever as we seek new solutions to new problems.

YS: In what ways can industry and academia work together to improve design education? What is your involvement in this space?

SR: I tend to think that the difference and divisions between industry and academia are overestimated, and they are closer both in mind and intention that people tend to imagine.

For my part, I try to read as much as I can when I come out of academia and collaborate with universities through side projects, sponsorship specific courses or modules (a chance to mentor and learn from students); and give lectures and presentations to students – both within and beyond anthropology departments.

YS: Thinking back to your decades of design experience, what noticeable changes or trends are you seeing in design?

SR: The most obvious is the extent to which Data capture is now integrated into the design of everyday objects – often for no good reason, leading to trust deficits between designers and users.

Another trend is addiction by design – the tendency for devices, apps, and things to have addictive qualities in them. Again, this is not a good thing.

More positively, the focus is more on the design of systems and not just on individual users – although there is more work to be done on systems thinking default rather than the exception.

Simon roberts

YS: What do you think are your three daily habits that help you strengthen your design sensibilities?

SR: Read voraciously as widely as possible. Find the time to meet random people and make connections using platforms such as Lunch Club. Coffee!

YS: From your reading list, what are three good design books that you would recommend to “non-designers”?

SR: Of course I would like to mention my book, which is available in India – The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them.

But the other books I’ve read recently that I think everyone should read are Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and The factory of ideas by Jon Gertner (a fascinating tale of Bell Labs and a masterpiece story about corporate innovation – its rise and fall).

YS: What are your three tips or starting words for the aspiring designers in our audience?

SR: Pay in advance – support the people below you as you focus on your own growth and development.

Focus on build your networks. They are essential to your future success.

Think beyond design – design has to work in the world as it is now (or how it could be), so read the stuff that helps you understand the world and how it works.


About Timothy Cheatham

Check Also

Fall Art Exhibition: Reinvent, Reinvent, Recreate | Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

About Reimagine, Reinvent, Recreate This upcoming installation is an indoor/outdoor exhibition showcasing the creative genius …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.