The problem with solving a user problem
In any project we do, we sooner or later face the task of defining "What shall we include, and what shall we exclude from the project?"
Fasten your seatbelts because the Faces of Frantic is here again. This time, we’re bringing you our extremely clever Strategy Director Michael Dlugosch who thinks that technology without people would be boring and who envisions a future that’s radically different from the past.
Moi Michael, what’s up and what have you been up to recently?
For the past months, I’ve been planning a strategic outline for Frantic that is more in line with our focus on end-user intents and needs.
A thing we’ve noticed over time: quite a lot of conversion process optimisations on websites don’t make sense, if the last step in the process (let’s say: payment) fails. People will remember that the payment process was painful to go through, and they will judge the entire service experience based on that. Under this circumstance, any improvement we do to the product selection earlier in the process doesn’t really make much of a difference, if the checkout process sucks.
You were recently appointed Frantic’s Strategy Director. First of all, huge congrats – we couldn’t imagine a better person for the job! Secondly, could you open up a bit what it is that your job description actually entails?
Thanks! I believe that the future looks pretty different from our past and I spend quite some time anticipating things that haven’t yet formed or materialized, and how this would impact human sense-making. At Frantic, we occasionally come up with a service idea that starts out as a joke, but may have merits under different conditions. And I’m trying to answer the question: what would need to change for it to work? In short, I’m thinking about upcoming shifts in society, technology and business, not so much about applying digital solutions to ad-hoc problems.
Imagining a future shaped by technology seems rather daunting to me. Even though we work with complex technologies, it’s the people and their volatile preferences that make it interesting. Without the people, technology is really quite boring.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I can look at business problems that have been looked at literally a thousand times before, try to find a new angle to it, and question dogma. I never really subscribed to the assumptions of neoclassical economics and its postulate of rational preference. People’s decision-making is contextual rather than rational, and I think we should take people’s concerns and hesitations as serious as their intentions and expectations.
And the best thing is: I can finally ask the nagging “What if…?” questions that pester me day and night.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
People’s notion of harmless ignorance. The linear continuation of the past, which I personally believe should come to an end. To give you an example: up until now, the concept of ‘wealth’ was much about owning stuff. After our parents and grandparents could afford spacier apartments and houses, they have bought themselves cabinets and shelf space, and filled them up with stuff. I am pretty sure that manufacturers of model railroad sets (Märklin) or sets of china (Rosenthal) would have ended up in trouble much earlier without the huge increase in shelf space that was created in private homes in the past sixty years.
More recent generations lead a much more nomadic life. They may have to move house every two or three years, so they can’t really subscribe to the accumulation of stuff at large. But mortgage products and owning a car is marketed to them in much the same way it was to their parents and grandparents.
I believe we already see a different concept of wealth emerging in western societies, though. Growing job uncertainty takes its toll, and makes life more complicated. So, in the very near future, your wealth may not be the amount of money you have in the bank, but how different a future it can buy you. To live an ever changing life where you’re happy with your choices will constitute a future form of wealth.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I try to eat well, and to get enough sleep. And I like to travel off-season. I used to take photos quite a lot, but in recent years I found that it limited my recollection of the journey to the precise sceneries I photographed. So I switched to a “stand and stare” approach instead, which, quite ironically, let’s me see more things. But my Instagram account suffers from this form of visual dieting.
If you had the chance to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
At work, I would drill into a topic, try to develop a surprising insight or two, and move on to the next thing before re-visiting the current one, letting my subconscious do some work on it. If I didn’t have to work, I’d probably buy a Volkswagen minibus, grab my computer and camera, and travel for six months. I say six months, but who knows, maybe I’d just keep going.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those words be?
That’s a difficult question, considering that I rarely have to describe myself. I’d say that I’m curious (about people), thorough (in thinking), and optimistic (towards life). Actually, lateral thinking is one of my favorite things to do. It challenges me to look beyond what’s obvious and focus on the problem behind the problem.
What has been your proudest moment at Frantic so far?
I was at a kick-off meeting with a client and we had just presented our project plan and some initial ideas to re-frame the problems we were given to solve. Towards the end of the meeting, the client described it as the most promising start of a project that he had seen in 20 years. The project ended up producing some valuable and unexpected insights, and I was very happy with the results overall.
What about the most embarrassing moment?
Ha! There have been so many it’s hard to choose just one. Well for one, as you’ve probably noticed I talk a lot. I have this bad habit of repeating myself, because I want to make sure people understand where I’m coming from. Because of that, I sometimes catch myself justifying my suggestions, even after the client has already bought the idea. That’s probably why one of my clients once described me with the sentence: “if you ask him what time it is, he’ll explain the clock.” Although that’s pretty accurate, I also believe that challenging the brief is where people like us can make a difference.
What do you think makes Frantic different from our competitors?
First of all, we have really intelligent people, but I guess that’s not really a differentiator since we’re definitely not alone in that. I think what sets us apart is that we’re not afraid of building a methodology around a client project – we tweak our methods according to the case at hand, and I think that adds real value for our clients.
Secondly: With today's project proposals, you're often forced to run with the first solution, but that's not always the best one. We look beyond the brief, and we look beyond the initial answers we find. Most clients give us solution sketches up front, and we try to determine which business problems lie underneath the brief we get. This creates a bit of ambiguity – but it also creates choice, as it provides us with alternative paths.
If you got to be someone else from Frantic for a day, who would you be and why?
The easy way out would be one of the office dogs, but I don’t want to do that. I’d like to be any of these extremely gifted visual designers, because for once I would like to know what it feels like to have the visual acuity they do. Iira is a good example – I haven’t worked with her much yet, but I think her way of approaching visuality is really impressive.
Last, please give us your elevator pitch on who should come work with us and why.
If you think about “the future” in plural form, you should come work with us. We need people who can think in alternatives and challenge what’s expected from us.
If you're ready to challenge assumptions and break moulds, check out our open positions and hit us up.