Major superannuation funds are turning to a new breed of design expert to help them re-engineer the member experience.

The big banks and retail wealth-management firms all already employ large teams of these specialist designers, including user-experience designers, customer designers and service designers.

An approach to products and services based on ‘design-led thinking’ will be essential for super funds in the years ahead if they are to remain competitive.

At the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees’ (AIST) Conference of Major Superannuation Funds (CMSF), to be held March 22–24, 2017 on the Gold Coast, a panel of design experts will discuss how processes traditionally used to create objects are now being applied to design better financial services.

One of the design experts who will participate in the panel is Steve Baty, the principal and co-founder of Meld Studios, a Sydney-based service and customer design consultancy. Meld Studios’ clients include: Telstra, Qantas, Westpac, the State Library of Victoria, the Digital Transformation Agency and the Queensland Government.

Ahead of the CMSF later this month, Baty answered a few questions for Investment Magazine.

IM: How would you define ‘design-led thinking’?

SB: Design-led thinking is the use of the methods of traditional design, taken in the abstract, and applied to a much broader class of problems. Thought of in this way, design-led thinking represents the common roots of architecture, industrial design, graphic design, interaction design, or service design, and their use in tackling problems for organisations, communities and economies.

Design-led thinking is typified by human-centredness. It looks at the world and problems through the eyes of humans, [using] ways of working in which ideas and concepts are externalised – through Post-it notes, sketches and visualisation – to facilitate greater collaboration and shared decision-making. [It leads to] the exploration of multiple paths of inquiry in parallel…testing and iteration of ideas through prototyping and gaining feedback from the people who’ll ultimately use them.

Most importantly, Design-led thinking is a structured approach to working through ambiguous situations in a way that is collaborative, creative and inclusive.

IM: What is so exciting about the way design processes traditionally used for object creation are now being applied to services?

SB: In hindsight, the shift from fixed things – buildings, furniture, fashion – to services should have been obvious, although it has taken some time to coalesce into a coherent body of practice. The exciting thing, though, is the areas of exploration this shift has made accessible. Design has started to seriously tackle complex problems – social justice, the environment and sustainability, the economy and our taxes, our education system, and the interplay between the economy, education and justice.

As a company, we’re working on large-scale infrastructure projects that will have a lasting impression on our society for decades. We’re bringing considerations of people in all of their complexity into the decision-making processes, where previously individuals were considered too insignificant to consider. But through a combination of social research, storytelling, and connecting up to the macro-scale at which infrastructure is designed and built, we’re able to make those large structures better suited to the needs of the people who’ll use them.

IM: What is the biggest challenge for the financial services firms you work with?

SB: The sheer number of ways in which they might do better by their customers. Typically, we’ll work with organisations that have no shortage of ideas about what they might do. Their challenge is two-fold: What should they tackle first? And what will their customers most appreciate?

Our work then progresses in two parts: 1) understanding customers (their needs, attitudes, drivers, etc) such that it becomes clear what will have significance for them; and 2) helping the organisation determine what it is it might do to deliver against one or more of those items of significance.

Companies can’t do everything exceptionally well. A differentiated market proposition dictates that they need to choose (carefully) which things to do better than their competitors. So our work is often identifying these key moments or interactions in a coherent end-to-end customer journey (or service journey) such that the service is delivered in a way that’s memorable for its highlights and not for its failures.

To register to attend the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds, March 22 – 24, 2017, on the Gold Coast, CLICK HERE.

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