The community is the lifeblood of the Co-op. Without a community and the connections that creates, the Co-op wouldn't exist. So everyone in Co-op Digital are all naturally community-minded."
The Co-op Group has grown dramatically in the past year and as the digital transformation builds on the success of colleague-facing digital products and services and enters into the customer-facing arena to improve experiences for members, causes and communities, there is a call out for a wealth of design talent to help achieve those goals. Today we speak to Nate Langley, Principal Designer, Co-op Digital about how the Co-op are changing, the importance of evolving and learning and what it means to be a design cheerleader.
What brought you to The Co-op?
I started my career working in the digital function of various marketing and advertising agencies across London. After about 5 years of doing that I moved to Manchester where I fully committed to digital business transformation by getting myself involved with local digital design agencies and tech startups.
Tell us more about your role.
Basically, I'm the design cheerleader! Cheerleading the practice of design, the designers and the designs themselves.
My role as Principal Designer means that I support and guide the designers in our ventures, community and membership product and service teams. I make sure that they all feel happy and safe to do their best work, whilst also making sure that the design is at a good standard. I am also the voice of the design community to senior stakeholders and the execs that have an interest in these areas of the organisation.
For many areas of the business, design is still seen as the final bit of polish at the end of a long period of building a requirements list that has been determined months before, and there's still a commissioning culture of sending out design to tender and picking your favourite picture. We know now that these processes are costly and inefficient for everyone involved, as well as taking a mental toll on the team delivering these features. But this is how it's always been done and people don't like change. The design community in Co-op Digital are changing this mentality. We are getting business areas to start to think about design throughout the whole life cycle and to stop thinking of 'projects' and to start thinking of products or services which have a life and can be iterated on. This is how our users, customers and members experience us so we need to be closer to their way of thinking and that also means getting closer to the people who use the Co-op.
Of course, this is no mean feat and we are getting requests to work with from all over the business, from HR to risk, and strategy and transformation to marketing functions that are all looking for a digital transformation in some way. Not to mention the products and services that Digital maintain and are growing and iterating quickly. To help us we need more designers and engineers!
We're looking for people who want to do digital transformation at scale and embrace the culture of the internet age. We hire more for behaviour and motivation than skill and knowledge. So if you're on the less experienced side of your career but have a can-do attitude we'd love to hear from you. Obviously, you will need to show examples of work–on the job or self-initiated–and evidence of how you arrived at those design decisions, but if you come to me with an open, willing-to-learn mindset that will get you far in Co-op Digital.
The community is the lifeblood of the Co-op. Without a community and the connections that creates, the Co-op wouldn't exist. So everyone in Co-op Digital are all naturally community-minded. We try to help locally as well as nationally as often as we can, and we group together to work on principles and events that mean something to us. This is also reflected in the way Co-op Digital is set up.
This also means that we are acutely aware of the impact of what we're designing to people we're designing for. The design community is united by 6 design principles which we measure ourselves against and one of those is 'We design for everyone' and to me, that's not a flippant remark, I must repeat it at least 3 - 4 times a week. We start with this mentality at the beginning of every piece of work and hold it close to our hearts throughout its life cycle. The design community self-regulates its work and anything that might seem like it's doing a disservice to the community or the person using it gets weeded out pretty early. Also, we don't tend to attract that kind of designer. People that join us aren't here for profit, we're here to better ourselves as a co-operative that better serves the community.
What has been your biggest learning?
We can look back on the short history of Co-op Digital and see a journey of success and failure, but ultimately of improvement. But, success and failure are two sides of the same coin: you can't have one without the other and you'll never learn if you miss one. I don't tend to think in these binary terms, I try to think about what I'm learning and how I'm evolving as a leader and a designer and that's a mentality I'd like to instil in people I lead or mentor. It's exhausting chasing success and failure always seems to taste worse if you're always on that rollercoaster. Search for contentedness and adopt a learning mindset, take every success and failure as an opportunity to learn and build on. This isn't for everyone, but I've found it less demanding on my mental health to think this way!
What does 'success' mean to you?
Personally, success is being part of a high-functioning, happy team that help users get things done. That's what Co-op Digital is. We're a happy bunch of super smart people that have come together to try and make a difference to the Co-op, it's members and the communities the Co-op is in. It's not easy (success should never feel easy if it does you're cheating) but it certainly is rewarding to see how far we've come and where we're going.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given?
I've recently been given a great piece of advice and it's changed how I've worked recently: 'get used to repeating yourself'. This isn't the best advice I've been but it's certainly timely. Digital transformation is a really big task that involves a lot of people and there are a lot of moving parts, I can't assume that when I say something that thing is going be communicated to whoever needs to hear it. So I spend a lot of time crafting my message and saying it over and over and over and over until the penny drops in the organisation's hive mind. This can take the form of a design, a user journey or an idea, but it's usually presented in a slide deck! Unfortunately, when you get my level you can't get away from slide decks!
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Don't fret about it. You're going to barely pass your GCSEs and fail your A levels and go to university to study a subject you are never going have a career in. You'll spend most of your early work years worrying about the choices you've made than concentrating on developing yourself. So, don't fret about it, enjoy what you do, learn as much as you can and work on you.
It's exhausting chasing success and failure always seems to taste worse if you're always on that rollercoaster. Search for contentedness and adopt a learning mindset, take every success and failure as an opportunity to learn and build on.
To apply for the Interaction Designer position, or to view other opportunities with Co-op go here.