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Tarra Van Amerongen – ‘Why your idea never gets built. The story of business designers as the unsung hero of service design.’

John Carter
October 10, 2017
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Completed Episodes
October 10, 2017

Tarra Van Amerongen – ‘Why your idea never gets built. The story of business designers as the unsung hero of service design.’

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Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to another episode of This is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion. I’m a Human Centered Design practitioner based in Sydney, Australia. Before we jump in, however, as this podcast is recorded in the Sydney CBD, I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay a respect to their elders, both past and present.

In this episode, we caught up Tarra Van Amerongen, the group director from Fjord Sydney. Tarra featured on another episode with Megan Dell around “What is human centered design leadership look like?” It’s a well-worth the listen if you haven’t already listened to it. After recording that episode, we got to speak about service design and business design.

Anyway, in this episode we get down into the nooks and crannies about what a business designer does, how it complements service design and activities and much, much more. This is a really insightful conversation. I hope you enjoyed as  much as we did being part of it.

You might remember in the last episode, we had a small giveaway for a voucher for More than Metrics. The guys behind Smaply and this is service design thinking book. The voucher is for and that was won by Cyril in Sydney. Congratulations, Cyril. We have another €40 voucher for use on The keyword to send in is “touchpoint”. The contact details are in the show notes ( Let’s jump straight then.

Today, we got Tarra Van Amerongen from Fjord. Tarra, thank you for joining us.

Tarra Van Amerongen: Good morning.

Gerry: Good morning. We also got Mark Catanzariti, of course, the co-host of This is HCD. Tarra, tell us a little about yourself. I know you are on the podcast recently but tell us a little more about what you are doing at Fjord at the moment.

Tarra: Sure. I would say I am a business woman in love with design. Not from a traditional design background but came into contact with it a few years ago and now I run the Fjord team of designers. We have business, service, visual designers, creative techs all across Australia and I look after Sydney and Canberra.

Gerry: That is a pretty big role at the moment. Today’s podcast is “Why your idea never gets built:  the story of business designers as the unsung hero of service design.” Tarra, you come up with that topic yourself. What is the origin of this topic?

Tarra: What I have noticed, there’s a lot of amazing, creative people I worked with. They spend so much effort and really, you put a lot of yourself into your ideas. I see that we worked for clients where we give these concepts to clients and then they don’t go anywhere. They fall flat. They land or they are put into a pack and put in a drawer from a stakeholder. You see that the designers really want things, ultimately, to go live. They want their ideas to be set free in the wild and people to really use them. The key thing in that process that I’ve learned is that if we don’t translate to the business why they should care, and not only is the design beautiful and functional, but it will also improve their business metrics, if we can’t make that, that last logical conclusion, the business won’t grab hold of it and run with it.

Gerry: Okay. I think a lot of our listeners they may have heard the terminology of a business designer. But in my experience, in Australia in particular, not every organization has a business design function. Tell me a little bit about what you understand business design to be and also what business designers do.

Tarra: Sure. I think on most projects you have, everyone knows about the three lenses of desirability, feasibility, and viability. We know that we’re supposed to start with desirability, start with the user first or the company staff, the people ecosystem first. Once we have some ideas, we understand what people really care about or what they want, we often move to the other two lenses. Feasibility, in terms of technical feasibility or capability or brand permission, what does that look like? That role is primarily done by a solution architect. Then, when you move on to viability, this is its element of, “Will this make a difference and turn the dial on our P&L, on our balance sheet and our income statement?” Business designers really care about what does that look like. They answer those questions of, “What’s the cost benefit of this opportunity space?” “How will it improve our NPS scores?” So, some of the metrics that are involved in the business and you really speak the language of the business, what matters to them. The other element of business designers is they look at, “What do you do first?” “What does the road map look like?” “How are you going to measure design once it’s put into an organization?”

Gerry: What I’m really interested in is how business design, service design an almost UX as well, how they work congruently in a project. What’s your understanding of how the business design functions sits within that triage?

Tarra: Sure. If, for example, I have a typical pod of people, I’ll have usually a service, visual and business designers, sort of the core basics. We’ll build out a team bigger if there’s larger scope. The service and visual design and the visual design will be looking at brand identity, the format of what the deliverables look like, so is this something visual or a video or is it a coffee table book. How would we build up the screens and bring things to life to make it really tangible. This service designer will be, primarily involved with the users and the research and setting up the interviews, creating the insights and concept development. The business designer will still be doing a research but it’s more about having empathy for the business. In the first half of the project, they’ll mostly be doing stakeholder interviews but also collecting data to understand where the spikes financially in the organization. Also, what is the lifeblood of the organization to drive behavior? What are all the KPI’s people are metricated on? How is that really driving behavior for the business which is the enabler of the customer experience?

Everyone does of all that work together. Then, when we have our co-creation workshop and concepts are developed, the business designer will then look at what’s the size for the prize for each of these concepts? If you have three concepts that are all amazing in terms of desirability but one will make a significant difference financially, we can give that advice to a client. Then, at the end, when you have the concepts, the business designer will work on the road map. So, what would you do first? Quite often you have a scale of mild to wild. Ideas that are a bit boring, the brilliant basics. You have some more that are a bit disruptive and really would turn the dial and change your organization and step change. The business designer will find out what can this business do first. Where do they have capability?

Gerry: What’s the differences, say, a BA and a Business Designer?

Tarra: Good question. I started my career as a BA on these large programs. A BA is really concerned with requirements gathering, functional and nonfunctional. They go out to the business, they say, “What are you looking for?” and you make a big list. It gets prioritized and you feed it up to a big, long list of prioritized requirements and traceability and they will all get built into this big monolithic system. A business designer, however, knows that if you ask people what they need, they’re limited by the imagination of what they know today and they often don’t know know what they want. A business designer is going to take inspiration from many other parts but they will also be looking at the business model. They will look for opportunities for innovation to say, “What if we were to outsource or insource this?” “What if we change the pricing model?” “What if we decided that we are going to use different IP for this or partner for something?” “What if we were actually going to change the channels we use to deliver this value proposition?” A BA is very much more limited view of a project and it’s just taking from one place to another and aggregating what people knows to be true today. Whereas, a business designer is more strategic to look for possibility and also to pull more levers to come out with different ways of working.

Gerry: It’s more BA, more tactical business, definitely more strategic with business designers…

Tarra: Absolutely. If you were to look at the business model canvas, the service designers are looking at that top right in terms of value proposition in customers. The business designers are playing with the price and cost elements and potentially, some of their operation elements. Then, I say, “You look at the edge of business model canvas,” and go, “where will this live?” “Is it an own brand, is it a co-brand?” “Are you doing a spin-out or spin-in?” “What should the model look like?”

Gerry: It’s quite similar to the role of a product manager. I know of Adrienne Tan who has recently joined us. If she was here now, she’ll react and say, “We do all those functions as a product manager.” How do they work together? Or is that something that product manager will bring in a business designer?

Tarra: Yes, it’s a good question. I think the business designer does a lot of upfront, strategic work like valued pool analysis, understanding the size of the prize for opportunity spaces, then looking at cost benefit for ideas. That naturally forms as a fidelity of the project and the concepts become more and more specific, the product manager takes over more in the build phase. They’re really juggling all the different requirements, the stakeholders, the feasibility. They’re kind of, “I see the day-to-day product manager to make sure that the user vision comes to life as well as all of those things are met as they’re putting it together.” The business designer probably tails off once it becomes very much day-to-day running, building…

Gerry: Tarra, before we started recording, we are discussing a little bit about an interesting aspect where you, recently, not only were you working with the client, but you actually went beyond the client relationship and you went to the category of clients down to Melbourne recently. Tell us a little bit about that. Why you did that? Where it originated from?

Tarra: Part of business design is really looking at ecosystem design. Not only a single company and the single problem space they want to tackle but we know most of the easy challenges have been solved and a lot of the hard problems to solve are ecosystem and they require many players in it in the market. Part of business design is to find out who else should you partner with, who needs to be part of that solution. Who’s actually in scope for things like affordable housing? What would it look like if you got UTS School of Economics, and the land lease, and an IKEA, at the city of Sydney and say, a consumer group for affordable housing together to look at affordable housing? That would be quite cool. What we did is we took network providers, retailers, users, advocates, as well as active detractors and other areas, even a radio show host for the energy sector. We pulled them into a room and said, “What is the future of energy look like in Australia?” The interesting thing with that is the incentive models for each of those different players: consumers wanted solar panels on the roof and to be off grid. The networks wanted more people to use their networks because, of course, their costs are going higher because it’s spread against fewer users and they have fewer predictability. The retailers just want some more of their product. As we went through all the user groups, they all have disparate interests and incentives. Us, coming together as a group saying, “What does this new future ecosystem look like and then where is the gap?” It was really a game changer in mindset in terms of how are we going to work together to solve that ecosystem and what could it look like. I think the biggest value add was getting everyone around the table. It has never happened before. They’ve never had empathy for one another, working in groups at tables to say, “Will that person wants something entirely different than we do? Hmm, we actually have to work together to solve this.”

Gerry: It’s crazy to think that you can actually pull those businesses together because I know the chances of getting say Bank 1 and Bank 2 in the same room together and laying out their strategic, open up –

Tarra: In this case, it was the same. The retailers didn’t want to be in a room together but we had to explain this isn’t a competitive environment. You’re there to represent your area of the industry. The regulator, in the end, did not show-up, thinking they will get pounded by the group. But it’s all about the spirit of curiosity and it’s all in the positive spirit, and it’s about partnership and working together. At the end of the day, everyone was clearly very pumped to say, “What’s next?” There’s this huge hunger for, “What are we going to do now that we’ve all met each other, and now we get each other, and now we know that we could solve this together?”

Gerry: In the role of the business design, what role do they play in those in workshops?

Tarra: I play the role of saying, “What is the incentive model look like? Who are all the players? What do they care about?” But also how do they see value and how do they see success? Is it network usage? Is it the number of kilowatts you sell? Is it for a consumer to say, “I want to have energy autonomy and I want to feel like I am doing something good for the environment.” Once you’re able to map those out and see what everyone cares about, then the empathy starts with each other and then you start saying, in this new ecosystem, all these people still provide various services but who should provide what service to the end customer? Who should have control? Where should the data lie? Where should pricing and how does everyone get a cut? Which is very different than what it looks like today.

Gerry: Going back to what you said earlier, you touched on value there. What value were you trying to define? Because, obviously, value is defined differently for each of the clients that you brought into that room.

Tarra: Correct. Value is also very much — we see with many of our clients, value is really shifting from economics to information and data. The conversation, just like any other workshops started going, “Where is the data created? Where is visibility? How will we share it?” It always came back to control, which is really interesting. You see that in many markets where people say, “Who is going to have control?” The question is always, “Well, should it be open?” So you see this in the blockchain world with etherium, like “Should it be an open network or a closed?” We had the same debate when the internet came to being. Should it be opened or closed? That conversation is replicating itself across many industries

Gerry: It could snowball, as well. I’m sure because depending on the clients you got in the room, the value sets are different. The motives are different, as well. Telling is about sustainability. You mention there a little bit about in that sector, about — it was energy, you said? What role did that play as regards to value set?

Tarra: It was an interesting one. From the user perspective, users hated coal. That was the common enemy. People really thought that green energy is the most responsible thing to do. Not maybe realizing that having your own solar panels on your roof is not the most economically way to go. That was really interesting. Me, as a renter for example, I would really value being part of the solution but the cost benefit for me is spread between the person putting the infrastructure in the roof, which is my landlord, and me, as the user, who would benefit from that. Inherently, that’s a business model challenge for a business designer to say, “How do you take the cost benefit and put them in one place?” Where need recognition and also resolution are sitting with the same person with the same cares and interests in it. Otherwise, you create these fragmented models.

Gerry: Absolutely. Just go back to the topic that we set it, “Why idea never gets built?” Let’s talk a little bit about that. You have this business designer, obviously, if they were introduced into projects, how they can, actually, maybe help your project or help your ideas get built.

Tarra: Well, I’ll start with this, what I’ve seen quite often where it goes wrong. You go into a client and you give them all these amazing ideas. They’re really excited and you almost overwhelm them. Here’s 12 concepts to change your life. It sound like a self-help article. 12 ways to make yourself amazing in 5 days.

Gerry: Pick your favorite child.

Tarra: Exactly. They’re overwhelmed and they’re really excited but there’s this question marks of, “What do I do next?” There’s even been sometimes fear from stakeholders going, “Now I have to do all of these at once. I know I can’t do it all at once.” It’s just really overwhelming and scary. A business designer will realize: a) we’re not on day zero. There’s already in-flight projects. There’s already things happening. Let’s first take that into account and map our concepts according to what’s already happening in the business. We are funding and also support has already been gained for certain initiatives and lets align our concepts according to that. The other part understanding culturally is that, you should have concepts that are easy to grasp but implement quickly for the business to feel quick wins, for them to feel success and to show change. Those might be incremental, which is fine. But it gets the ball going before they are able to move on to some of the bigger stuff. We always create this road map of, I called it, “Mild to Wild” or short-term, medium term vs. long-term so they can really see, “All right, in the next six months, with the funding you’ve allocated, this is what you can do based on what’s already happening in the organization and also the funding you have. Once you’ve done that, move on to this, move on to that.” An interesting thing is, they do start with this easier concepts but they always talk about the sexy ones that are five years away.

Gerry: You get the excitement going.

Tarra: Exactly. I think you need to have both. You need to have to brilliant basics as well disruption.

Gerry: I think that was something to aim at under a vision, like that big, sexy piece of work, it gets the stakeholders excited, and give more money, and –

Tarra: Absolutely. But you also have to have empathy for the business to understand their maturity. Some businesses have a really low capability for business case or even pitching for funding so I’ve gone into a client where we filled-in the templates for them because we realized that they were filling them according to business metrics, no customer metrics were on there so we have actually said, “Here’s a new way to fund and govern concepts. Here’s the business case template already filled-in with you. Here’s the prioritization for them over the next three years based on what we know about your organization.” I don’t think a lot of service design organizations do that today. To really say, “I understand what you are dealing with and I’ve made it palatable for you. I’ve shown you a really clear plan that when I walk out that door, you have an owner, you’ve got the funding secured, you know exactly what to do moving forward and then we can leave going, ‘something is going to be built.'”

Gerry: Yes, the culture is there to sustain those ideas. I know a lot of the service design consultancies that I worked with, they tend to stop at that point of passing it over and they fall between the gaps of consultancy and the business culture.

Tarra: Yes. Part of being a business designer and having empathy for the organization is to realize, “Is it responsible to end if you know that the client cannot do next step?” You’ve sold a concept and if you know that they don’t know how to do user testing or they don’t know how to do a proof of concept or they don’t know how to do an MVP, is that where you should stop? Should you be offering that service and extending it until the business can actually pick it up and grab onto it?

Gerry: It’s like the capability uplift?

Tarra: Correct. That’s the question for the organization. If you know that your end goal is to have this thing go live, and they are missing some very key capabilities in between, do you feel okay handing it over into oblivion? Do you feel okay without making sure there’s a warm hand-off and the organization can pick it up?

Gerry: It’s almost the hand off — going back to the topic, we’re discussing on why your idea never gets built is if you were to want to get your idea to get built, you need to ensure that the culture is able to receive those concepts and execute upon them.

Tarra: Yes. One of the most important things with working on clients is to identify who will be the owner in the business very early on. They have to stand-by it. They have to understand the process. They have to understand how it will benefit their business unit. Sometimes it’s that it will make them famous within the organization, particular, in corporate. That’s fine. You have to make sure that someone has everything they need in order to carry it forward. One of the best things I did on one of my first projects at Fjord was, our end showcase wasn’t us going, “Hey, we’ve done this amazing work, have a look at us.” It was actually the business presenting to the business. Each of the concepts had an owner and they were pitching to themselves, to the rest of the organization on why this was fantastic and why this should be built. That’s the best outcome because our hands were off already. They were in the driver seat already so we felt comfortable leaving. That project has have the concepts going live within the first year which is really exciting.

Gerry: Wow. Yes, that is incredible. That’s great. Tarra, you mention something there a little bit earlier about sizing the opportunities. I’ve had a little bit experience in the corporates where you’ve got many ideas coming out at an early stage, research, CCD, customer-centric design type work. You can either pull like 15, 20, 25 projects and you bring them back into the boardroom and you got all to see level and they’re getting ready for their innovation day and their shirts are rolled-up and they’re looking at things in the wall. Walk me through what a business designer will do next.

Tarra: That’s a great one. I think the business designer would add value in that one which is more of a consolidation exercise, as well as looking for white space. In the consolidation exercise, the business designer would say, “There’s actually this amount of opportunity in that area.” They’ll triangulate the information and say, “You should go into this one because the size for the prize is X. Before we even know what the concept is, this market is worth X value versus this one.” It helps the business just really understand which direction to go in. In addition to the level of pain that users are feeling, you have another data point to say, “Well, this is something that could be quite valuable.” That’s really good. The other one is when clients want to go into, say, they want to differentiate themselves or they really want to protect themselves against being a the single sector, and they want to go into some white space.

We had this amazing brief from a company in Melbourne who is involved in digital marketing and they want to go into health and well-being. They said to us, “It is a big market. We don’t know anything about it, where should we go?” Well, by the business designers doing some value pool analysis and say, “Well, prevention with this age group might be worth this amount of revenue and treatment in the medical sector might be worth this amount.” Just creating this different segments of customer and value, the business can say, “All right, well, that will help us define our scope.” Then, the research will start with a much more focused scope that the business knows will turn-out into economic value with the concepts. You can do it at the beginning, you can also do it once you’ve had your ideation workshop and you have concepts and you can do sizing there and also, when you’ve detailed it out. In the end of the project you have more a detailed business case.

Gerry: A business designer is basically they work with the metrics of the stakeholders so they can help identify which opportunities to fund?

Tarra: Absolutely. The other one is understanding as well, “Will this organization support these concepts?” Quite often we see that there’s always a reason why things are the way they are today and quite often it comes back to what people are really measured on. Sometimes we see in a call center, they’re metricated on call times. Well, of course, the customer service is rubbish because you had to do this as fast as possible. What would happen if you re-oriented those KPI’s to be about customer satisfaction and call times, be efficient and accurate and make the customer happy. We also, when developing the concepts, look at how will this be motivated by the organization through things like KPI’s and metrics?

Gerry: How does the business designer help, not encourage, but help the stakeholders to buy into ideas that are not just about the bottom line, like, they give greater benefit to the world

Tarra: I’ve redesigned business case templates for companies. Being in-house, seeing that the business case of today might be really just huge amounts of money and it’s a finger in the air of saying, “This is what we think people make.” So, why not we actually ask: a) for a smaller amount of seed funding to go and experiment and try it out in the world. But let’s also add in the customer desirability metrics, things we actually know to be true and can measure on. It’s just creating a more balanced view of what we are looking at. We’re not going to do an NPV across 5 years or going to amortize it over 10. We are going to look at what’s going to happen in the next 12 months while we run an experiment. If that goes well, we’ll come back and do the business case in more fidelity. If that comes back well, then we ask for the 40 million in funding. We are not going to go from zero to bang in one go.

Gerry: Final question for me before we pass over to Mark’s, a new segment of the three questions for Tarra. If there’s someone who want to get into business design and they are listening to podcast, what kind of behavioral traits should a business designer have?

Tarra: It’s someone who really has both an analytical mind and doesn’t glaze over when they see spreadsheets but also has the affinity for design. I think it’s someone who understands the power of both but also can speak both languages. You really need to understand why desirability is important and why service designers and why creating a physical prototype is so powerful but you also have to understand that the people you are interacting with and your sponsors, they live in a very different world. You have to have an empathy for them to understand what they care about and take the time to interview them and also interview the data and pull those two together. If you, for example, can translate literally, but also more conceptually in these two environments, you’re perfect for business design. We get ex-strategist, MBA students, consultants, BA’s, most of them coming from the business world who’ve been very intrigued and definitely fallen in love with design. They make the best ones because they understand both worlds. They have an affinity for both. They can translate back and forth and they can put on both hats when they’re looking at a problem space.

Gerry: Excellent. Over to you Mark.

Mark Catanzariti: Tarra, you’ve been on podcast before and you’ve already answer our three questions. We’ve come up with three more questions for you. The first question is, what’s the best resource that you’ve come across in the last six months?

Tarra: I think the one that’s been most impressive and really opened up the ability to do research is these mobile ethnography solutions where people can do diary studies. An example is we had a project where we really want to understand pain and what does that mean. How do you measure it on the spectrum? How do you help empower people when they’re going through pain? What do they use in order to make themselves feel better other than just traditional medicine? What this allows someone to do is if they wake up in the middle of the night with this chronic disease, they can do the diary study, create a video, talk about how they’re feeling. Then we got them to also record what did they do to feel better. Some of them took a photo of their night stand filled with 20 pill bottles. Some of them took a photo of their dog or their daughter or their bed which was like a sanctuary for them. It really made us broaden and think much more widely about how they’re feeling, what pain looks like, but also coping mechanisms which would never happen in the traditional one-on-one in-home interview.

Mark: Yet, it’s interesting too because you’re doing it in the moment. You are not thinking back of it. If something happened previously, you might remember it differently as to the memory-

Tarra: Exactly. There’s some great some solutions out there Experience Fellow, we use a tool called Dscout. There’s many out there. I think give it a go. It’s a different medium but it allows some really great possibilities that are just not possible today.

Mark: Next question, where do you think the industry will be in five years?

Tarra: I think we’re going to get better at integrating both data and design. We talk about living services where today we make a service that’s good for today and once embedded, it starts becoming out-of-date. I think building into our services ways to capture information and data and have it feed into self-redesign what that service looks like is that next big thing. How do we use quantitative information with all the data that’s present and all the digital dust we’re leaving around everyday and incorporate that into new offerings in the market?

Mark: Last question, where do you think that conventional wisdom is wrong?

Tarra: [laughs]

Gerry: Oh, Mark.


Tarra: At least in my industry, I work in design some but I also work in consulting, I think the role of the expert and expertise is an interesting one. I still fight each and every day about, “We have to ask someone who has the answer,” and this conventional wisdom of, “because you’ve done it for 20 years, you must know everything.” I think that needs to be broken. I think that egos need to rollback a few. We need to start re-thinking and being curious again and not always look or just the person who’s self-titled “the expert” to really know everything. Users are the experts. We need to follow them.


Gerry: Excellent, Tarra. Thank you so much.

Tarra: Thank you.

Gerry: There you have it. I hope you enjoyed the episode. If you’d like to be part of the conversation or community or hop on over to where you can request to join this Slack community and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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