On culture in agencies

I was at an event at NESTA on the powers and possibilities of big data last week, where one of the speakers was Hans Peter Brondmo, Head of Software Services at Nokia. One of the things I like about attending so many events is that random thoughts flit in and out of my mind as I listen to speakers from such different companies with their differing points of view. It was a good talk (you can see the videos here), but one of the things I got to randomly thinking was how Nokia seems to have a lot of people on the ground observing human behaviour as part of what I see as their commitment to designing instruments that resonate with the masses and aren’t just pretty design pieces.

One of my favourite blogs is the primarily image-based one by Jan Chipchase, who used to be a strategist at Nokia and is now Executive Creative Director of Global Insights at Frog Design in Shanghai. Another is the one by Younghee Jung, Nokia’s head of corporate research in India. I think it’s interesting and important that design and innovation firms like Frog and Ideo place such value on experiencing problems on the road in a bid to improve their work, as technology companies like Nokia do.

Advertising somehow doesn’t seem to understand the benefits of this kind of on-the-ground experience. Don’t get me wrong: I know there are immersion days, focus groups and the like, but it is rare that agencies hire people who have historically had the experience of spending large amounts of time in the field rather than at their desk or at fancy meetings. Grant McCracken’s culture camps are something I think that will help inject this spirit of understanding culture and social behaviour into agencies, but I’m not particularly convinced most agencies get it – yet.

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