Jay Grossen | frog
I was sitting at my work station at uni, struggling with my dissertation content, wondering who could I interview and how to reach them. Frog is a company that I admire and aspire to, not only because they work closely both with design and businesses but because their approach to work is what I believe to be a good path to creative ideation, collaboration and the achievement of results. At the time I've only heard of them as one of the dragons of design consultancies, and by looking at their website, I must admit, they all look very much alike. All the key words are there, innovation, collaboration, technology, experience, you name it... So by looking at it I could not be sure that they are truly how they look 'on paper' or in this case 'on screen'. I've done some research and discovered that Jay Grossen is the London studio executive creative director, so he would be a great person to talk to. However, in my tiny student position I thought it was probably too much of a long shot.
Regardless, I would not lose anything by calling them and if not him, I would try to get anyone from the inside to answer my questions. So... I called. Felt a bit nervous at the time, still not sure how to phrase my intentions while the phone rang. And all of the sudden a male voice answered the phone. I introduced myself and explained why I was calling, the other voice said "I am Jay Grossen, the exec creative director and I wouldn't mind answering your questions", I was taken aback. What are the chances of calling the office and him answering? Anyway... A few more details and it was set that we would meet at the London studio.
I don't know how many of you have entered a big studio, especially these that have a keen interest in people and their wellbeing, but it is definitely a good experience.
I arrived and a nice lady told me he would be there in a few, I should sit and wait, but not before helping myself with a beverage or a snack, available on the counter on the other side of the hall. Not five minutes after I sat down Jay arrived. A nice and easy going look greeted me. I felt much more relaxed at that point, confident that anything he would have to tell me would be of great value to my research.
He led me into the frog's common area, where employees have their lunch. At the time (August, midday) it was calm. A few people working at their offices. Jay was my first interview in person, and I was what you can call a 'noob' at interviewing people, so I fell into some really beginner's mistakes. Apart from that, we got to what mattered.
The Interview . AUGUST 2016
You can find the full list of questions here.
By interviewing him I was interested in grasping the motive behind design
consultancies delivering mostly design outcomes (products, services) and not design
at the strategic level; assuming that offering products and services does not differ
too much from what studios and agencies do. However, he explained, consultancies still need a point of entry in other organisations, being this a website or a new in store plan, there’s always a need to engage the clients with what they expect to get from design. In the end the outcome might actually be a product, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that is all they will do.
When asking how would he describe his role (like he would explain to a young nephew or an old aunt), his words were “an orchestrator of ideas, a bit like a conductor on a jazz ensemble”, this struck me as it doesn’t only apply to an individual but it could apply to the role of design in an organisation. Design as the agglomerating factor that allows each component to do what they are experts on while playing a part in the whole. That is how culture at frog works, by allowing individual expression within projects. However, as many other multinational organisations, they are currently struggling with maintaining their culture throughout the studios around the world and the other contributors such as freelancers that work in smaller groups, this was the first evidence towards companies acknowledging the need for a robust culture in order to achieve better results.
Regarding a common language between design and business, Grossen believes that a discrepancy exists, but that in the world we live today it is more about stepping out of our own understanding of things and trying to explore and understand pieces of every language. There’s a need for global fluency, each field has to understand the others in order for bigger and better collaborations to emerge.
On which factors can most contribute to gain competitive advantage, Grossen believes openness is the key. "Being open to whatever comes to us is important as it allows for each opportunity to be taken under consideration", in his understanding every every partnership counts. Even though several partners might be actually competitors, there has to be a mindset where there’s space for both to thrive. Maybe one is better at X and another at Y and in that case both can win with the same client if they learn how to collaborate. This might mean less profit now, but if the partnership is good it might be as useful for other projects in the future. It builds the roots of a more global collaborating structure, which can be not only profitable but also healthy to a nation's economy. "Being open also means being transparent and honest, being able to expose yourself and expect people to engage with that".
My last question is what is design for you. "Design is a way of paying attention". Minding the details. It is not really a thing, it is more of a way of being and behaving in the world. Design is looking at the world and seeing beautifulness, and how you can improve things. The tweaks that make the difference.
A big thank you note to Jay for this content, I know it was of great value to me, and I hope you find it interesting as well.