Interview

Consistency and
Change #01

Days after the interview, Guido an Marcel compared implementing change to re-modelling a swimming pool — while it is being used.
(Illustration by Ana Gaman)
Sensity Managing Partners Marcel Befort and Guido Wolff on the role of design for change, the right amount of consistency and what is going on at Sensity right now.
– Intuition & data –

Looking at Sensity’s work over the last 10 years and what‘s in demand: What is the most important development among companies and institutions?

Guido Wolff: I would say user focus.

Marcel Befort: Yes, this was already around in the past, but it depended on individuals who were in a position to make decisions, for example because they were the boss. Ideally, the decision was made with the customer in mind, and ideally, the people who made the decision were in a leadership position because they understood “the customer”.
Now, as we are all aware, companies are more successful when they can give the user even more customized offers. The organization must therefore understand the ideas users have.
This is what is new. Customer segments have been around for a long time, personas are somewhat newer, but it is only in recent years that everyone in the organization has started needing access to this knowledge, and not just a few individuals.

Guido Wolff: People used to rely more on their gut feeling. Today, there is more and more data involved.

Marcel Befort: … this added focus on data can help people who do not naturally have this empathy, this feeling for others. The research level helps to get closer to them.

So, is this intuitive level replaced by data?

Marcel Befort: No, you need both. Only when you have the right focus can you get more out of the data. We often help clients with this: What are you looking at and what do you want to get out of it? I can very easily extrapolate from data how much wine of a certain variety people are likely to want to buy. But to know what they might want in terms of something completely new, I must ask different questions.

Help shape change, communicate change

Speaking of new things, Sensity has the tagline "Consistency and Change". If we look at consistency in physical terms, in construction engineering there are seven levels of concrete consistency, from "liquid" to "very solid". There are certain to be many organizations that are (still) too rigid, too solid for change. Does the opposite also exist: So, fluid, and constantly changing, that nothing at all is malleable?

Guido Wolff: Too much change? Well … let’s wait and see what happens at Twitter now.

Marcel Befort: If it is still fluid, then it is not yet an organization. Organizational inertia happens automatically. The organization becomes increasingly solid by itself, and changes less because it is so comfortable for people. Change must then be initiated. Sometimes a lot of changes happen at once, and of course then it grates, friction and conflicts arise.

This desire for change comes to you from within the organization, the company. From where does this impulse arise?

Marcel Befort: It mostly arises from a younger generation in the companies – people who want to make a difference, get ahead in some way, gain visibility. They want to do something to counteract this organizational inertia. As consultants, we are usually involved at the beginning of the development process and play a translator role between, on the one hand, development, engineers, programmers and on the other hand, the design of this interface, the user experience.

Guido Wolff: And sometimes it is the other way around, sometimes institutions come to us because they already have a very user centered innovative idea, but they need help with effective communication for their target groups. The idea, the plan is already there, and then it is a matter of communicating a complexity well, of tidying it up, of structuring it. Our third branch, research, helps in both cases, with consulting and design. It brings this user focus into play, where many thoughts arise that are important for the translation.

Consistency, design, change

Let us stay with this early level of development. How does change succeed?

Marcel Befort: The management level must want it or take the initiative itself. Pushing something through from below that is not desired at the top is difficult, or tends to be marginalized, not seriously established. But if there is a broadly supported desire for change, then we can strengthen this force. And then it is suddenly also important that there is consistency within this change.

And does this consistency come via design? If we understand design in the broadest sense – how does design ensure good change?

Guido Wolff: It simplifies, clarifies. Sometimes the design comes first, then the change, especially internally. Then it is only through the design that a certain benefit becomes visible that people did not notice before. That is why design is always very diverse, individual.

Marcel Befort: Design in change processes is a fine line. If it is well designed – beautiful texts, everything understandable and readable – then it helps. But if it seems like too much money has been spent, if it looks ornamental, if the formats are too large – then that sometimes provides arguments for the group of people unwilling to change.

Guido Wolff: This also applies to government organizations. If you manage to really get a message across to the public, then that also justifies larger projects. Or you make it clear that it is sustainable – either through resource conservation, ecology or because it can be used long–term. But in general, you are under a lot of pressure to justify yourself.

Marcel Befort: Finding the balance between Consistency and Change is key. It is important that design is not dogmatic: There still must be room for projects, new products, new activities, without everything having to look the same. We have never been an entity that has tried to trim everything very tightly to consistency in all areas. In some cases, this is precisely what puts the brakes on the will to change – if people are not allowed to take initiatives themselves and can only choose from a long list of templates, I find that almost a little inhumane.

Inside Sensity

How has the cooperation within your team changed over the past 10 years?

Guido Wolff: It is interesting: We have always had a high level of solidarity and we have noticed it increase as the team has grown, there is even more of a team spirit. As if that only becomes clearer with a certain size.

Marcel Befort: Yes, we have always had solidarity in terms of our values and approach, and this has now been strengthened.

Guido Wolff: Sure, there is now even more to organize, but this means that the processes are improved along the way.

Marcel Befort: There are a few more documents to take care of that clearly regulate things, and of course data protection is a topic that has become more important. At the same time, there is still room for the private, human sphere.

Guido Wolff: This direct, human approach also involves the clients. The clients usually work directly with designers, copywriters, concept developers, researchers and consultants. They find this very pleasant.

Marcel Befort: That's our way, and it is also a certain type of client who appreciates that. For these clients and for us, this is very pleasant and satisfying. Each of us takes ownership. And that works well. This direct contact with our clients means that those situations where things build up and trouble breaks out do not happen with us.

Ok, so what’s next?

Marcel Befort: Change will probably first become visible in operational consulting: Here we have a new offer in development that will also help small, often remote teams on the client side. The pandemic has opened our eyes to this. More on this shortly.

Guido Wolff: 2023 will see us take on even more strategic work. Several projects are moving in this direction and the team is developing in this way. We want to grow together with the customer towards a sustainable future and will support them to stay relevant.

Interview: Tobias Ruderer