When I contemplated setting up a design consultancy about 3 years ago,
I was driven by a fundamental belief: that the industry at large could do better – for our clients, for the people we employ and for the societies we design for.
Having spent a large part of my career at client-side and agency-side roles across Asia Pacific in organisations large and small, it felt that the world (or Asia at least) deserved a better model.
PSYKHE was born from the desire to design an organisation that brought the best of those worlds; blending the agility and passion of a startup with the rigour of an established consulting setup; an independent specialist consultancy that could do good and do well.
And as we face the year ahead, it seems timely to look back on the year that was. Amidst the sea of uncertainty and incessant lockdowns, 2021 threw as many challenges as it did opportunities. Those that stretched us, shaped us and gave us the chance to evolve, mature and strongly deliver against our purpose.
While we spent the first two years firmly focused on establishing a presence in Singapore, 2021 brought us opportunities to extend our footprint across multiple markets and industries. We’ve had the opportunity to work with leading organisations in the financial services, pharmaceutical, hospitality, telecommunications and real estate sectors across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. As we found ourselves increasingly being called upon ambitious, iconic brands – the likes of DBS, Medtronic, GSK, M1, XL Axiata, Wildlife Reserves Singapore – to help with strategic design briefs. As our client list grew, so did our team, and we welcomed visual designers, researchers, UX consultants and service designers, as well as our very own General Manager for Singapore this year.
Designing for Impact
Impact has always been close to our hearts. We believe design can change the world and derive our sense of purpose from using our skills to drive impact. While we didn’t have the luxury of heavily pursuing those projects in the early years of PSYKHE, those projects found us in 2021.
Lots of companies do customer journey mapping – ever heard of one that does animal journey mapping? An eight-month research and journey mapping project we undertook to capture the captive animal experience proved to be the most challenging, thought-provoking and rewarding projects this year (or ever!) Working with a world-class zoological institution, we had to first understand the current-state animal welfare experience from birth to death, to then reimagine a world-class future-state experience for 5 species of captive animals. This stretched us in whole new ways as researchers - you can’t exactly interview an animal to understand how it feels and what it thinks. To map a representative experience, we used the 5 domains model as a framework and triangulated research from various sources – interviews with species experts, nutritionists, veterinarians and animal behaviour experts, ride-alongs with animal keepers, as well as closed-circuit TV data which served as proxy to derive the animal’s current-state. We then mapped that against the animal’s typical life in the wild, to identify gaps and opportunities to provide a life and welfare that is as close to the wild as possible. This is a world-first; no one has attempted to map an animal’s journey from birth to death this way yet, and we’re stoked that we got to play a role in co-designing a methodology to improve captive animal welfare.
Working hand-in-hand with the innovation and venturing unit of a leading organisation in Singapore, we had a hand in the framing and conceptualisation of a global kids programme that would raise awareness amongst children to care for and conserve the environment. Through a series of innovation and design thinking workshops, we helped bring to life a series of initiatives that would educate and drive incremental behaviour change and turn every child into a wildlife champion. Designing and orchestrating a programme like this required immersing ourselves into the world of a child through ethnography – identifying the motivators and triggers that would build lasting habits was a learning experience for us; both fascinating and thrilling all at once.
With the increasing consumer, business and government focus on corporate social responsibility, ESG is fast becoming a business imperative in the region. In partnership with a leading financial service organisation, we had the opportunity to conduct qualitative research amongst corporates and SMEs in South East Asia to uncover underlying motivations, challenges, and barriers to adopting Environmental, Social, Governance practices. While preliminary findings show that awareness and maturity amongst SMEs is nascent, our research uncovered several innovation opportunities for the bank to play a long-term role in driving ESG awareness, adoption, and adherence across the ecosystem, and we’re excited to continue helping them design and deliver new ESG solutions in 2022.
Finding our Superpower
2021 stretched us both as individuals and as a team. The problems we sought to solve in collaboration with our clients were as complex and challenging as they were inspiring. As we embarked on these strategic projects, each individual needed to rapidly gain an in-depth understanding of relatively unknown subject matter - be it animal welfare models or nuances of trade finance and liquidity management – and apply the functional skillsets they have honed to imagine, innovate and design a future-state solution. And it needed to be delivered at rapid speed.
And the motley crew at PSYKHE delivered. As we went from one project to another, they reached deep into their existing skillsets, plunged into territories unknown, immersing themselves into the lives of people, scrutinising processes and systems, dissembling complexity and clarifying ambiguity to shape new worlds with our client teams. And they embraced it all with an open, curious, collaborative attitude and a thirst to learn and conquer new grounds.
I’d like to think we are extremely diverse as a team - every member brings varied skills and strengths from their unique backgrounds but what truly unites us as a team - what I would call our superpower is a remarkable ability to shapeshift and apply their skills effectively in novel ways.
I’m proud of the team we have built, but I’m prouder still of their ability to adapt, apply and evolve into stronger human-centered researchers, designers, and strategists.
A number of years ago while I was leading the digital offering for a large consulting organisation, a client I had worked with for years said, ‘You know, I don’t trust management consultants. I don’t think I ever will’. My heart broke a little. And it broke a little more when I realised many others echoed this sentiment. I can empathise though – my time on the client side was spent heavily engaged in a constant tug of war of change requests, disputed deliverables and escalations. Trust and transparency were not terms that were naturally associated with consultants.
It became a personal mission for me then, to build an organisation that would challenge the widely orthodoxies around client-vendor relationships. Or die trying. And trust was a critical and foundational factor in achieving that lofty aspiration.
How did these iconic, global brands come to trust a small, young, experience design consultancy with some of their most complex, strategic design challenges?
We believe it has something to do with the values we have come to embody.
We are proud of the works we do for our clients. We are proud of the design systems we create, the rigour in our methodology, the timeliness of our deliverables and the impact we are creating both commercial and social.
Above all, we are proud of the relationships we have fostered with our clients. And they have been built upon principles of openness and honesty. We are the first to openly admit the limits of our knowledge. We ask for help in getting ourselves upskilled on industry terms and processes. We are not ones to walk away from a challenge, but we’d equally challenge, reason, and argue about solving the right problem, even if it has an adverse commercial impact on us – for we believe it is right in the long term. And we found our clients responding. They respect our opinions, support us, collaborate with us and genuinely treat us as an extension of their own team. And that is all the fuel we need for our fire.
Perhaps it’s easy to puff your chest and talk about purpose and teams and ideal client relationships when you are small, nimble, and relatively young. Maybe are yet to have our share of adversity. But when we do, I am quite sure we will work through it – in a sustainable, transparent, collaborative way. That is the foundation upon which this team is built.
We cannot wait to conquer 2022.