How Design Is Fueling CX: Ulla Sommerfelt and Jan Parr

How Design Is Fueling CX: Ulla Sommerfelt and Jan Parr


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About Ulla Sommerfelt

Ulla is CEO and co-founder of the EGGS group. Her dream is to create the world’s best workplace for creative people and she is well underway to realize this. EGGS is a company where professional and personal growth is a key driver. She works with one eye on the future and is fascinated by modern tech and how design methods can be applied to make tech make sense to people and create value for business and society. A very experienced leader with high levels of positive energy. Educated at BI Norwegian Business School, MIT, and INSEAD, her motto is “never stagnate”.

About Jan Parr

Jan Parr is the co-founder, partner and leader of Service Design and Innovation at EGGS. He is a key player in building methods for insight, service design, and design-driven innovation. He is a prize-winning designer, and multiple Awards for Design Excellence by the Norwegian Design Council within the categories “Product design”, “Service Design” and “Design for all”.

Follow Ulla Sommerfelt on LinkedIn 
Follow EGGS on Twitter@eggsdesign

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[00:06Mary Drumond: You’re listening to Voices of Customer Experience. I’m your host Mary Drumond, and on this podcast we shine the spotlight on individuals who are making a difference in customer experience. We also proudly bring you the very best of customer experience, behavior, economics, data analytics, and design. Make sure to subscribe or follow us on social for updates. Voices of Customer Experience is brought to you by Worthix. Discover your worth at [00:34MD: Ulla Sommerfelt and Jan Walter Parr are co-founders at the EGGS group. Ulla is CEO, and her dream is to create the world’s best workplace for creative people, and she’s well underway to realize this. A very experienced leader with high levels of positive energy, she was educated at BI Norwegian Business School, MIT, and INSEAD. Her motto is “never stagnate.” Jan Walter is co-founder and leader of service design and innovation at EGGS. He’s a key player in building methods for insight, service design and design driven innovation. Welcome to the show.

[01:15] Jan Parr: Thank you. [01:16] Ulla Sommerfelt: Thanks for having us.

[01:17MD: I’m also joined by my co-host and Worthix CCO, James Conrad. Thanks for being here, James.

[01:24] James Conrad: Hi Mary. Great to be here. [01:25MD: Great, so Ulla and Jan work for EGGS, a design agency and they’re here today to offer us a much needed insight on design and how that can apply to customer experience. This is a very hot topic for those of us in CX, and everyone keeps going on and on about how design is so crucial and so important and we felt like maybe the best thing to do would be to hear from designers’ perspectives, how they see customer experience. Maybe another angle, another take on the same thing. So to start off, can you tell us a little bit about EGGS, what you do in design, and what your mission is, how you want to change the world through design and innovation.

[02:14] US: From customer experience, we believe that there’s so much focus on technology these days and a lot of companies are just pushing out a lot of technology to people out there and we really focus on how people can take advantage of services. We’re looking at it in a very holistic perspective, not just digital interfaces but also all the physical ones and not the least the people perspective or the face to face meetings with people which are part of a service. So we like to look at things from a holistic perspective, and that’s how we design the services for our clients. And maybe you want to add something Jan. 

[03:00] JP: Well to put it simply, EGGS designs products and services of the future. That is companies and organizations will call us and say, listen, we want to take the next step. We want to design the services we want and we are going to to deliver next year or the products we are going to produce next year. And EGGS is a sort of a full stack agency, who does strategy work for what are the the products and services of the future and then we design the handicraft work. We give form and shape to the products and services so, so this leaves us with lots and lots of examples of products and services out there that we’re proud of and that we’ve designed.

[03:38] JC: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve seen you talk about on the website is design is the best way to innovate. Both of you said that. Could you talk a little bit about how design brings innovation and how you approach it and why you believe it’s the best way to innovate?

[03:59] JP: Let me put it in a historical perspective. I think design used to be known for giving form and shape to new products basically, and it used to be more of a handicraft, a discipline more than a strategic discipline. What we have seen in the last 10 or 20 years now, is that design moved into the digital sphere. Design became an integral part of designing any new website. It’s called interaction design or digital design. And then the last maybe 10 years, we’ve seen the growth of what we call design thinking or service design. There are many terms for this which takes design to a strategic level for companies. So what design is used for today is much more than just giving shape to products. Design is used basically to craft strategies for the services of tomorrow and in order to, but the common denominator for design as it used to be.

[04:58] JP: And that which it still is, is that it’s user centric or people centric. And that’s why we still claim I have a claim on the term customer experience because design has always cared and started with talking to users and understanding people’s points of view of what their needs and desires are. And based on that, transforming insights into the people, into ideas for new products and services. So I think that’s sort of how design came into play as being the goal to the discipline for moving from insight to  new ideas of new products and new services. So it’s that translation process, which design is typical for.

[05:43] US: And I could also add, because I’m not a designer myself, so I’m seeing it a little bit from the perspective of business people and technologists. I just got really fascinated by designers when I started working with them about 20 years ago, how they were able to translate on the insights from people’s real situations into solutions that were much more meaningful than just pushing technology or ideas that would come from somewhere inside the organization. And I think that’s really also what a lot of business people and management consultants also think these days that you kind of need designers to explore, and they need designers to experiment on behalf of the people who are actually going to use for and pay for these services.

[06:36] JC: This topic is really fascinating and I think you had also said I think somewhere or there was a link to an article that talked about, you said that design thinking is BS. I’ll keep it G rated here for the podcast. It was how site management consultants talk about design thinking and you’re like, well, we just call it design and it’s about connecting with people, and I think this is a really interesting perspective as our listeners are thinking about their own companies and what they’re trying to do. Could you talk a little bit about the difference between how design thinking manifests itself and and how you’re approaching things from a design perspective and what are the advantages of thinking of it more holistically as you talked about?

[07:22] JP: I’ll give it a shot. What I usually say, I love the word design thinking, but at the same time I hate it, so it’s a love hate thing. This design thinking, it’s a big wave. Everybody’s talking about it. We love it because it makes other art discipline very, very visible. It gives us a lot of demand for what we do and at the same time we sort of have to unlearn or unteach I guess the people we work with because there are many, many expectations out there to what we deliver. I would say that there isn’t such a big difference between a classical design methodology or approach and what people now call design thinking, but there is a difference in what we apply it to. So the classical design approach is the people centric approach. It is based on prototyping. It’s iterative. It listens to people and offers a solution. That’s exactly the same as the core of design thinking. And the only thing is that design thinking is applied, not just the products and services. And what’s new about design thinking is that people now apply it to business strategy, for example. They apply it to organizational change. And the new thing is that it’s this iterative, user centric approach that is being used in the design of new strategies, for example. We’ve been involved in designing company strategies, like five year plans for example, and organizations are now looking to us and similar agencies to help them basically choose what future they should have. So I guess that’s my version of what design thinking is versus classical design.[9:04MD: Well that’s interesting because it leads me to a question that I have for Ulla, which is how I reached you in the first place, which was an article that I read about the project you guys did with INSEAD and Manuel Sosa and how you sent designers to business school. And I was absolutely blown away by the article and what you accomplished, and I wanted to hear that from you. If you’re able to expound a bit on that and talk a little bit about this experiment and what you did and the results of the experiment and the project. [09:39] US: Well, thank you for the compliment there. We work very closely with our clients. Business design with the strategies like Jan Walter was talking about, and it’s just come to our attention or we have just experienced so many times that designers don’t learn a lot about business in design school, but they learn it in the real world. But they need to have some kind of basic knowledge about what is business, what is the business actually trying to achieve for our business perspective, from an economic perspective, from the broader sense of not just the products and services, but also actually make a business thrive, which means revenue and you have to have understanding of what the cost structures are and all these things that have been modeled. And since designers are now working so strategically as they are, they need to learn more about that domain in order to succeed as designers going forward. Before they might be able to just succeed as designers by creating  use experiences from a product perspective. But now they need to work even more holistically and think also about, okay, so what is this product or service going to contribute with in form of revenue and in form of a more long-term service perspective when it comes to the business, if you don’t understand what I mean. So that’s why I had these conversations with Manuel Sofa because I went to INSEAD and did some studies there myself and met him and he just is really into design and teaching design to business people. So he has this school perspective and every university now has some sort of design education for executives or as part of the MBAs.

[11:28] US: But we started to think and talk about what’s the next step. So now all the business people are learning about design thinking. They are learning about how to apply these methods to their businesses and strategists. But what’s the next step? So we’re where this whole evolution is kind of stopping. Now designers really need to understand at a deeper level what business is about. And that’s why we try to conduct this experiment by bringing designers to his class at INSEAD and making them work alongside with vice presidents of a very large international multinational corp, and they came back and were blown away by what they learned,  the insight they got, not really in the business but more about the attitudes and the kind of culture that these business people have or what they carry with them in their day to day job. So that was the first step in an experiment and now I think somebody should start a business school for designers. 

[12:35Worthix is disrupting the market research industry with cutting edge technology and a revolutionary methodology. Visit to learn how we’re using artificial intelligence to improve customer experience at companies like Verizon, Jeep, Blizzard, HP and L’oreal.

[12:55MD: Hearing Jan speaking earlier about how being people focused in design is such a big thing, but maybe perhaps it’s so big to a point that we forget about the company, and the company is an essential party in all of this because the company is the one that’s delivering the experiences. So for designers to see things from the corporate perspective and understand the intricacies and the nuances and the entire structure behind companies, especially when it comes to what the company is able to do, what they’re not able to do, whether their hands are tied. Lots of times companies want to change, but they can’t because there’s external pressures, there’s politics, there’s all these things that don’t make it feasible to make certain changes that for a designer might seem obvious. So maybe adding this depth to a designer’s perspective allows the designer to create or design an experience that takes this into consideration.

[13:58] US: That’s true. That’s true. Because sometimes designers get frustrated because it’s very obvious as you say, as to what a company should do in order to create a better service for their customers. But if they can’t get through to the top management with this idea, maybe it could be the best idea in the world. Right? And the best concept and well thought through and well-designed and everything. But if they can’t make it fly from a business perspective, then it’s not going to be implemented. And I think a lot of services on projects have actually stagnated because of that. This is not because you have to change maybe the organizational structure which is a very long process, very cumbersome and nobody wants to do it. But that’s one of the things that we experience as well is that hey, changing the silos is not done overnight. 

[14:45] US: It’s not necessarily because you can’t make the business case for it, but maybe it’s because of the politics in your organization, who has the power, you know, and just understanding the power games. Designers don’t get these power games. They don’t care about them. They don’t want to do power games themselves, but they exist on the client side. So just understanding the politics and all the stuff that’s going on, is something that I think would be really useful to actually get through with the real message, which is creating more meaningful processes. What do you think Jan Walter?

[15:25] JP: We often had projects where we worked with our project facilitator in order to run a successful projects. We do see that seeing people’s need and designing the right solution for them are just two of many success criteria. So we do focus a lot on building great process facilitators in EGGS. We call them process facilitators, but much of the time they might be business people or they might be organizational developers. Some of them have gone to school such as the Chaos Pilots School in Denmark or similar process facilitator schools. And I agree with your observation there, Mary, earlier.

[16:12] JC: Looking at this experiment, what were some of the things that came out that you think are threats to innovating by design or some of the things that you think are the biggest challenges that exist as companies are thinking about embracing this idea and better connecting design innovation?

[16:33] JP: Yeah, well one is the classical one that everybody’s been talking about for years is the threat of implementation. Designers are good at spotting needs and coming up with new solutions, but those solutions, as we’ve already discussed, are most of the time very difficult to implement and to realize. So one of the threats is definitely ability to execute, basically. So let’s say you’re a technology company, you have a set of a range of products. Designers come up with a proposed new product. Obviously that’s going to take a great deal of further development budgets, skills, timing, go to market strategies, etc., in order to be released in a successful way. That’s definitely one challenge we almost always face, be it a new service or a new product as an example.

[17:30] MD: Do you think there’s a threat of, I mean I’ve read some other designers talk about how there’s this threat of the non-designers that kind of try to get aboard the design thinking, buzzy train, let’s say, where everyone’s like, oh no, we have to do design, so let’s do design even though I have no qualifications and no skills whatsoever. And I’m going to do design. I’m going to slap a label on this and yay, and it doesn’t work out. Does that happen? That happens a lot in customer experience. [18:02] US: It happens a lot. Everybody’s talking about customer journeys. Everybody’s doing customer journeys for example. [18:08] JP: We see it all the time. I think it’s a good example of watering out our profession basically by lowering the quality. And we have always thought about delivering quality being basically the decisive point in whether design is going to succeed or not. So we applaud around those. We applaud all great design projects that we see, not just our own – those of our competitors, those of people working as designers in house. We really, really love all great design projects that we see out there and applaud them. And then we are slightly more skeptical to do the ones that blame to apply design thinking or design approach without really delivering great value from it because that gives a bad impression of their approach.

[18:58] MD: Now, after I started this podcast, I started reading a lot of customer experience books, like way too many. One thing that I noticed is kind of this trend of books that teach companies how to design their customer journey, so most of these publications are trying to deliver a kind of do it yourself solution to companies. How do you feel about that Jan as a designer where companies are like, oh, well let’s do it in house. I’ll just buy this book and there’s a playbook here on steps one, two, and three. Do you think that that hinders the company more than it adds value? [19:36] JP: I’m biased in my answer. I realized there’s both feelings in my head. And I recognize what you’re talking about. I see it with concrete clients of ours that want to build things themselves.

[19:51] JP: On one side we often see the effect that once companies become more design savvy, they require more help from external agencies such as ours because being savvy themselves makes them apply that design approach even more. With other examples, we see that the quality of the design is reduced in some cases, but I am sort of forcing myself to think positively.  [17:30] US: I think if you compared with a lot of other disciplines, like everybody wants to code, right? But you need to be a damn good programmer to make really good code and be efficient and all that. So it’s the same kind of thing. But you want to learn about technology, but you don’t necessarily want to become a great programmer even if you understand how technology works. And I also think, if you’re thinking

[20:48] US: about photography, for example, everybody’s a photographer these days, even a video producer, we all do it right? But we aren’t great video producers or great photographers because of that. But I think that also requires the need for real good photographers and real good video producers because you understand, it has a lot of effect when you make photography or video productions because you get an audience, but if you  want to do something great that kicks ass, you need a professional and I think that’s the same. You can compare those things. If you start loving to work with the sign and you understand it could do so much more than what you used to. Then when you really want to kick ass, you hire a real designer. So I think you can compare it to all the disciplines really. [21:46MD: Yeah. I like that. I like that form of speaking. I like the analogy with photography because you know, everyone’s a photographer nowadays with Instagram. [21:51] US: But I know I’m not a great photographer. [17:30MD: Absolutely.

[21:55Voices of Customer Experience is brought to you by Worthix. If you’re interested in customer experience, behavior economics or data science, follow Worthix on social media or subscribe to our blog for the best content on the web.

[22:14] JC: I wanted to ask you as well. I saw your Tedx talk. I thought it was fantastic. You talked about culture, and I feel that you have also a personal mission in what you’re doing at EGGS as well in building a fantastic culture. I wanted to get your thoughts on the importance of culture as we think about delivering great customer experiences and thinking about it in that context. We’ve talked to some of our speakers this season about employees and how to get them engaged and how that will ultimately deliver fantastic experiences, but I’d love some comments from you on the importance of culture in the organization.

[22:53] US: Oh Wow. That’s a long topic. Do we have another hour? This is one of my favorite topics, but definitely employee experience is the other side of the coin to customer experience, isn’t it? Because the customer experience basically if you think about a bank service or whatever service you really want to help yourself . You don’t really want to talk to anybody until there’s a problem and then you really want to talk to somebody who understands you and gives you great answers right back and helps you. Right? Isn’t that true? When you call your telco or whatever and you just get a voice, some kind of automatic robot or something like that and you’re super frustrated because it doesn’t work. You just get so mad as the customer, you know, if you get somebody and you know the difference yourself, you rent the car it doesn’t work, something like that.

[23:47] US: If you get somebody that gets you on the phone, you’re so happy and you want to go back to that company, even if you’ve been pissed off the first time, you want to go back. And it takes a culture to breed that kind of people. You’re really lucky if you get them once in a while, but if you don’t have a culture that breeds that kind of understanding to the people within your own organization, you can’t have great customer experience because otherwise they’re just going to be like robots. They follow rules. They don’t need to know how to break rules, when to break rules, and when to follow rules. They need to know how to really get into the customer’s shoes when needed. And I think it’s really important with culture when it comes to creating great use experience, not just great digital interfaces, but also meeting with the people that you get there.

[24:32] JC: That’s a great, great point. [24:34] US: That’s my five cents for right now. And then we can pick up from there later.  [24:35] JC: And people can check out your tedx talk. There were a lot of good insights in there as well. [24:44MD: Well I feel like what you both are doing and I think that you probably compliment each other really well, Ulla from a business point, and Jan from the designer point. And I think that as we advance and we move forward in customer experience, I don’t think the need for designers is going to go away. I think it’s going to multiply. Can you talk a little bit about how this most recent hype of adding design thinking to customer experience has changed your agency and whether it’s caused more demand or whether it’s caused more interest and how that’s affected the way that you do business.

[25:24] JP: That’s sort of asking us to talk about the story of EGGS almost is what I feel. Ulla, you’ll fill me in. But the story of EGGS starts with 12, 13 years ago with people coming straight out from school and wanting to create a design agency and starting from scratch. And I think those 12, 13 years have been the growth of this design thinking way that I think we’ve, I’m not sure if I should use the word surf the wave because it sounds like it’s a easy peasy thing to do. But we basically built an agency that today counts 100 people across five locations, three countries. And yes, we should pat ourselves on the shoulder for that, but yes, definitely we need to thank the wave of design thinking for being able to do so. I think we’ll see the growth of more companies such as EGGS. Sizable serious companies who work much in the same way as management consultancies work with their clients over time with relationships that last, which enables us to work on product after product after product with our clients. And I think in house environments and design will also expand a lot. We already see that. That’s a trend too, and some designers even prefer to work in house

[26:44] JP: because it enables them to follow the same products and services all the way through, whereas externals such as EGGS are in and out again sometimes. So there is generally growth, and so far we don’t see it stopping. It might be changing ever so slightly in certain directions. One trend we see is the strategy trends that were being used more and more to devise strategies. I guess other trends are like nuances of what Ulla already mentioned. Another trend is using designers, not just to design the product or the service/technologically speaking, but you’re also using designers to help change the organization. We offer something we call learning journeys in EGGS, which basically is an offering from us that creates a bridge for people working in organizations from the existing service to acting in a good way in the new service that builds up under. It allows comment around culture that we also started to work on company cultures as part of making great new services. Connected services and connected products are one very, very big trend that we see, so I think designers are being used more and more widely and applied to all of these different walks of business if I can put it like that.

[28:14] US: Just to add that service design is also the fastest growing discipline in our company. I think it’s got an area that we’ve come very far actually with this discipline and we’ve worked with designing passengers’ experiences at the airport, for example, which is really great and also you should come try it and we worked with big, big banks and really huge organizations that are really embracing this type of method to implement new services, and they have gotten some great results. And there’s a lot of evidence now and in the early days it was really hard to find real evidence for success, but now it is starting to show that path for five years, I’d say.

[28:54] JC: That’s great. And I have one last question for both of you. If our listeners are thinking about design now – you’ve given them some really interesting insights here just in our short podcast – if they’re thinking about, okay, so how do I start to bring up this conversation in our organization to try to figure out how we’re approaching it? What should they do? Where in the organization are they going to get the greatest receptivity? And what would your recommendations be for someone that wants to move this topic forward within their own organizations?

[29:28] JP: Well, I think we can divide our answers depending on what kind of organization we are talking about. You have small startups. We work with a lot of startups in EGGS, and their decision structures are simple,. We might be talking about five, 10 people to work with and our clear recommendation there is that we see that startups who have one of their core focuses be design, they succeed to a larger extent than others. In the other end of the scale, we have big organizations – service providing organizations where a service design approach typically starts in the marketing department or in a, let’s call it innovation/development department. But obviously we prefer if they are anchored as high up as possible. And we see that’s a key success factor in projects that they have top leadership onboard. [30:25] JC: Okay, great.

[30:27MD: Great. Well, thank you so much for being on today. We really appreciate it. Jan, if our listeners want to hear more about EGGS, hear more about what you have to do, how can they follow you, how can they stay in touch?

[30:43] JP: EGGS, like many agencies like to show both the great projects that we are so proud to be part of. So we put forward on Facebook, Instagram, etc. Examples of the great companies that we work with and the products and services they offer. So social media is a great way to stay in touch with us. For designers out there, you are more than welcome to look us up and obviously if you’re in our part of the world that is a Norway, Denmark, or Brazil and that’s the building we’re in as we speak. But we really want to explore other parts of Latin America as well, but we cannot do too many things at once. So right now China or other things are not on our radar, but maybe down the road.

[31:35MD:Well that’s wonderful. That’s great. Well thank you so much for being here today, Jan. We appreciate Ulla coming on as well. James, thanks for joining us once again. [31:44] JC: Thank you and thanks Jan.

[31:46] JP: Thank you for having us.

[31:47MD: We’ll see you all next time for Voices of Customer Experience. Thank you so much.

[31:55MD: Thank you for listening to Voices of Customer Experience. If you’d like to hear more or get a full podcast summary, visit the episode details page or go to This episode of Voices of Customer Experience was hosted and produced by Mary Drumond, co-hosted by James Conrad, and edited by Nic Gomes.

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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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