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“Our user-centred design process blends with lean and agile principles”

London, January 18th, 2019

British creative company Cyber-Duck is a well-established digital agency. Its team has spoken as industry experts on BBC Watchdog and The Gadget Show alongside notable conferences like SXSWi, UKTI and UX London. Cyber-Duck has been part of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 (EMEA) and has won sought after awards including the Webby, Wirehive 100 and UXUK Awards.

We interviewed Cyber-Duck’s founder and CEO, Danny Bluestone, to find out what it takes to sustain consistent growth while creating an outstanding team.

What were the beginnings of Cyber-Duck like?

In 2005, we started as a creative technology agency that focused on fusing usability with creativity and innovative web technology whilst considering things like search engines. At the time we were totally unique. We have developed a lot since then but still kept to our core of delivering amazing user experiences.

Today, Cyber-Duck is an award-winning independent digital transformation agency that’s trusted by global organisations including the Bank of England, Mitsubishi Electric, and Cancer Research. Essentially, my team delivers digital transformation, powered by design, data and technology.

Our user-centred design process is ISO accredited, blended with lean and agile principles. It draws on our investment in creative R&D. R&D sharpens my agency’s creativity and technical skills and means we can deliver exciting prototypes using conversational user interface, blockchain, voice assistants and artificial intelligence. Recently, we shared a proof of concept of a social care CUI assistant, Jim.Care.

Where does the name Cyber-Duck come from?

Back in 2005, I wanted to come up with a name that was fun, relevant and pretty memorable. ‘Cyber’ evokes the fast-moving digital industry we’re immersed with – and our staff are the Ducks. A duck is an incredibly versatile animal that is happy on land, in water and in the air. They work hard under the water but on the surface look peaceful and social. The Cyber-Duck is a perfect symbol for an agency packed with talented people who can deliver multi-faceted digital transformation.

Can you describe your agency in three words?

Creative, innovative, quality-driven.

How many people work at the agency?

Our 46-strong team solves creative, technical and marketing challenges under one roof. Led by our seven Directors, our agency divides into: 16 Creatives (Design and Marketing); 9 Developers and QA; and 13 HR, Finance, Client Services and Operations. I am particularly proud of the ethnic and international diversity of the team.

How did you get started in the industry?

I have always loved computers. When I was a kid, growing up in Israel, I spent a lot of time experimenting with software packages like Deluxe Paint on the Amiga 500. Throughout my childhood, I went to work with my dad once a week. He used to work for Osem, a large Israeli food manufacturer. I enjoyed sitting down with the graphic designers and ended up designing business cards and flyers for a DJ business I created with a childhood friend.

Fast forward to the early noughties, I was designing and developing interactive Flash and HTML websites for DJs. After a failed DJ career, I took my digital talents to Israeli start-ups, advertising agencies and communication companies where I became more and more interested in user psychology and stellar web technology.

I spent years practicing as a User Experience, strategist and growth hacker and ended up teaching myself business, HR and finance skills too.

Fast forward to 2018, nothing has really changed besides using different terminology to explain what my agency does, including Service Design, Product Management and Design Thinking.

What inspires you in your work?

I really get inspiration from different industries and from my experience with society and politics.

If you think about your household recycling, that is a process that can be designed better from beginning to end. There are multiple users and vendors involved in emptying the garbage from you, to your family, to food companies that produce the packages, the council head office, the garbage men and even the government. If you then think about the amount of waste, errors, issues and bigger picture thinking you can then see how as designers can get inspired to improve the world.

This is just one industry. Then think about the healthcare industry. Electronic health records are a good example – the NHS could benefit from more design thinking!

So I find inspiration coming from everything I do and see every day outside of work.

Name three important things or experiences that have brought you to where you are today?

Failing – Not getting the jobs I wanted, being made redundant and losing pitches I really wanted. Failing to get basic processes in place during the early years taught me many lessons about becoming process focused.

Resources – Not having enough resources or money forced me to learn, learn and learn. Whilst it was stressful, becoming a jack of all trades was very beneficial as it opened my eyes to a variety of professions and hardships that I would never have encountered had everything been handed on a silver tray. The other resource was time. If you are looking to do what I did, you have to sacrifice most of your personal time for at least 5 years.

Team – Picking the right team members is the hardest thing. It’s harder to find the right people to work with than winning dream clients. Always pick smarter people than you that compliment you but share your ethos.

How do you know that you are leading, and leading well?

We run regular eNPS staff surveys to get feedback from the team monthly. We also create the business collaboratively through ‘blue-ocean’ workshops and get the entire team involved in presenting and replaying the business strategy. The fact that we are recognised through key industry awards is a testimony of our leadership success but we realise that there are so many areas that we still want to improve.

My staff should never be satisfied with what we have, and neither should the leaders of our business. The idea is to continually improve!

Tell us three things you like and three things you dislike about your current position.

What we like:
• How our brand awareness has improved in the last 18 months
• Being independent and not being tainted by external shareholders
• The freedom to choose clients

What we don’t like:
• We’ve got to work a lot harder to gain more brand recognition
Not enough time to do all the R&D projects we want to do!
• I would want more equity ownership in client projects

What is your approach to motivating and developing talent?

We recruit people that share our values based on their portfolio and how they address us throughout the interview cycles. In terms of growing talent, we always prefer to grow leaders from within where possible.

As a rule of thumb, I don’t like using recruiters and avoid them when possible even though they can add value sometimes.

What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Watch politicians campaigning. See how they deliver on their promises, deal with complex issues, and engage with their peers and the public. It’s a show that anyone can watch and enjoy 24/7.

I am also a firm believer in Stoicism and reading books about management from the two-week MBA all the way to Jack Welch. I try and read at least four substantial books a year but am trying to up that number to eight.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I’d love to be a doctor of some sort but without all the blood! On a more serious note I always wanted to be an architect and a builder as love the idea of building tangible buildings.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on and why was it interesting?

Probably RetireEasy, where we had to develop the world’s first online retirement planning web application and interview loads of people in their 80s.

Thanks Danny!

By Geny Caloisi.

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