The perfect blend of brand and user experience behind top companies, with Frank Fenten
54 min Frank Fenten
Frank Fenten, digital director at Manchester-based Dinosaur advertising agency, has worked as a content producer, written code, managed digital products, and – in his current role at Dinosaur – supports campaigns and brand strategy for companies including BUPA, Co-Op Bank and Marriott Hotels. Here, he tells Andrew what user experience means to him, what he believes some of the world's top companies get so right ... and why a metaverse headset isn't on his wish list!
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My advice to someone starting out in digital? Learn lots of stuff from lots of different disciplines and then become really good at one thing.Frank Fenten Tweet
Andrew: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Clientside Podcast. Thanks for tuning in today. I hope you're doing well. I'm your host, Andrew Armitage, and also the founder of a digital agency called A Digital, who are the sponsors of this podcast.
Andrew: And in this episode, I'm excited to be joined, as usual, by a special guest. So today I'm joined by Frank Fenten to talk about user experience or UX. Frank is the digital director at Manchester based advertising agency Dinosaur. Prior to his role there, he's worked as a content producer, he's written code, managed digital products, and in his current role at Dinosaur, he works alongside brands including BUPA, the Co-Op Bank and Marriott Hotels, supporting their campaigns and brand strategy.
Andrew: So in our conversation we talk about what user experience means to him and why companies that put a simple customer-led mission at the heart of their brand are so successful. Frank talks about loads of great examples of companies that so many of us will be interacting with on a regular basis. To support his argument, that brand should run through every aspect of product marketing and customer service, he says that a marriage of brand and user experience lies at the heart of many of the world's most successful companies.
Andrew: We also talk a lot about the emotional decisions that people make in their interactions with the brand and why user experience needs to be a two-way street ensuring outcomes for both the vendor and the customer, that leads to a win-win situation for both. So let's meet Frank. Welcome to the show and thanks for joining me today.
Frank: Yeah, great to be here.
Andrew: You're sounding a little bit croaky, but we're hopeful that you'll be able to make it through the episode. We were just saying off-air that the COVID impact has not quite left us just yet, has it? But hopefully it's not having too much of an adverse effect on you.
Frank: So if I'm sounding a little bit like a 12-year-old boy at the moment, that's why. But still, it's not too bad. We'll battle on through and hopefully it won't affect the content of what I'm saying, even if it just sounds a little bit strange.
Andrew: Fantastic. Frank, just introduce yourself to listeners. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Dinosaur.
Frank: Yeah. So I'm a digital director here at Dinosaur and Dinosaur's a creative comms agency – an advertising agency in old money, if you like. And basically, I nowadays spend a lot of my time thinking about what appears on people's screens, why it got there, how it got there, why they're watching this instead of something else.
Frank: And all of the plumbing behind that, you know, from like strategy to rollout. And then the analytics and the data and the making it all fit together. I still do a lot of digital, as in web, still do a lot of UX, but we're thinking an awful lot more these days about end-to-end brand experience because, you know, we do more on the advertising side, but increasingly we're looking at the whole journey because, what's the point of doing this gorgeous, gorgeous brand advertising, which gets people excited to go, 'Ooh, I like that. Ooh, I want that. Oh,' And then they try and go and they try and buy the product or interact with the company, and immediately the whole thing falls down.
Frank: Because, I mean, I don't know if you experience this, but like almost every day I experience something that's slightly broken and it's always in digital, it's always slightly broken. Today I was trying to pay for some domains and some domain renewals off a well-known domain registrar, which we've used many times before, and it's like, Click Oops, something's gone wrong. Well, what?
So I open a support ticket and they go, okay, you know, the end of all this process is I've spent 30 minutes trying to do something that I've done many times before, that should take less than a minute. So you do all of that amazing brand work upfront, which is about getting people to feel something, feel something emotional about your brand, your product, and then they encounter it in real life. And you've just wasted all that time because they're just going at the end of it, so frustrated.
Andrew: And it's not always something that's just outright broken. Sometimes these things can just really rough around the edges. And what you expected to get isn't what you actually get. And you can't help but feel a little bit disappointed.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. Or really respectable companies that then do like dark patterns to – sorry for the people who aren't UXes amongst us: dark patterns is a pattern of behaviour or a design trope that actively is bad for a commercial reason.
Andrew: Think Amazon one that we must have all seen Amazon Prime, as you go through the checkout process, that's the one that really sticks in my mind.
Frank: Yes, yes. Yeah. And suddenly it's like, 'what am I doing? Hey, hey.' But the one the one that really sticks in my mind is The Economist, because they do all this stuff about, you know, smart people read The Economist, and they have a million imaginative ways to do this. And then I will not subscribe to The Economist because they make it so hard to cancel, right?
Frank: Because sometimes I'll get really busy for a few months and I won't have time to read it and I'll go and I want to be able to dip in and out and go, 'I'll subscribe for a few months, I'll cancel for a couple of months, I'll resubscribe again'. But what they do is that thing where you have to phone them to cancel even though they made it super simple to sign up online. It is not beyond their wit to.
Frank: And so they've lost a lifetime customer. Certainly for the foreseeable. Because I just can't be bothered engaging with them, because they go, 'oh well if we let people cancel easily, then ...' Well no that's daft. And it's the gym model, the gym subscriber model. And that's why I like PureGym and the Gym Group and people like that have done so well, because they make it easy for people to dip in and out of that service. And The Economist don't do that. So I'm going, 'I don't want to pay for four months of a service I'm not using for the next three months when I do.'
Andrew: Yeah. And you want that flexibility to manage the account in your own time and to be able to dip in and out of it. And I think of a lot of the digital apps that I'm sure in your agency you use as well. Slack, for example, is one that we don't use much now, but Basecamp that we've used in the past. If we've cancelled mid-term, they've given us a refund. And how rare is that? And it really makes you think that's a company that I'm happy to spend money with because I know I can dip in and out of it and they're not fleecing me as I go through.
Frank: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I love Avocode for that reason, which is a utility that will slurp in Photoshop files and turn it into CSS. I use it less now that we've migrated over to Figma at Dinosaur. But still, you know, it's just that on Figma again, you know, they allow you to dip in and out, it's flexible, it's easy. And so you feel good about the service.
Frank: And I mean, we're going to come on to the role of emotion and UX, I'm sure, because that was kind of the core of where we're going with that. It makes good business sense if you take a big picture view – short term, yes, it makes absolute sense for The Economist to try and lock me in, but over time, no, this is a lifetime. I would be a lifetime customer. You know, I started reading it when I was doing my degree – because I've got a politics and international relations degree, which has nothing to do with UX (laughs).
Frank: And I got into tech a couple of years later, entirely self-taught, and it's like, you've got to take the big picture view and ... it's kind of like that old trope, ‘If you love them, let them go,' right?
Andrew: Yes. Yeah, yes. Don't hold them prisoner.
Frank: That's right. They'll come back. If it was meant to be, they'll come back.
Andrew: Yeah. Well, otherwise that frustration builds and builds and then eventually you do break free, sticking with that prisoner analogy. But you don't want to go back, do you, because again you feel that tie-in to commit.
Frank: That's right.
Andrew: Interesting. So yeah, so some interesting points there. Let's just go back to basics and let's just define what we mean by UX – user experience is what we understand the term to be, but what's your definition of a good UX?
Frank: So, I want to chuck away the user bit, right?
Andrew: Okay. Interesting.
Frank: Well, you know, there's that old trope which I don't entirely buy into that there's only two industries that describe their customers as users – drug-dealing and tech. (laughs) I don't entirely buy into it, but it's a nice little hook. So I want to focus on the experience, right? So it's about directing attention, people's attention to achieve a desired outcome, right?
Frank: And that's the same as advertising, really. We're trying to direct people's attention to it to achieve a desired outcome. But also, experiences are inherently emotional. And this is something I think that's often lost when people think about UX, because you see these technical diagrams of learn, iterate, test – like Scrum, Agile, all of that kind of stuff – they're capturing a truth, which is that if we look at something from the point of view of the people using it, and we test with those people and we iterate and we look again and we try and we improve, then the experience gets better.
Frank: But what I think most of the UX industry misses is emotion in this process. So if you look at the language that's often used for UX – and it's like SRO conversion rate to optimization and AB testing – and these are all very much about efficiency, even empathy mapping ... it's like, 'yes, I'm going to map your empathy, now, I am a scientist mapping your empathy' ...
Frank: It just makes me cringe a bit because what we're actually really trying to do is get people through the process – slickly, efficiently, yes, but also feeling good about it. Yeah? When you've gone through a really nice process that you're just like, 'Well, that was nice, that was straightforward. Oh.'
Andrew: It's a bit like a breath of fresh air, isn't it? Sometimes because there's so many things in life that are just a bind. It's a pain. Any utility company that you have to ring, you just know you've put it off for as long as you possibly can because you know it's going to be a bind. And when you have those moments that things just go swimmingly. Well, yeah, you do have that, 'Oh, wow, well, how easy was that?' And that's really, I suppose, where you make the transition across the brand, isn't it? Because it gives you that warm feeling towards that brand and therefore that company's brand value goes up in your estimations.
Frank: Yeah. And, you know, the companies that get it right, I mean, they massively outsell, you know. There are the obvious ones, okay, let's cover off the obvious ones: Apple. Yeah? They've got the emotion and they've got the tech and they put them together and everybody wants the shiny.
Frank: And that's why Huawei can make a 5% profit margin on their products and Apple make a 39% margin on every iPhone they sell. It's because they marry the slick end-to-end physical experience with the emotional – it's shiny and nice everything lovely – even right down to, at the Apple event a couple of weeks ago, they collaborated with Twitter so that when you hit the heart button, there was this amazing little animation, and you're like, 'That's nice. Yeah, I like that.' And they really understand that.
Frank: But also, let's look at something as dull as finance, yeah? Klarna. Now, I don't particularly like Klarna as a business model. It's buy-now pay-later, and if you forget, then they whack you with fees and that is the business model, right? So it's almost like payday lending. However, they have spent millions optimizing the checkout process. If you go to the Klarna channel on YouTube, they've got a side-by-side video of them versus another payment provider who is sort of blurred out. But I strongly suspect it's PayPal.
Andrew: They've not blurred it out that much then! (laughs)
Frank: Yeah, and the two side by side. And you're done with Klarna in a minute and a half and you're done with the other one in 3 minutes because they've gone through and tried to make every single piece of that experience really slick. And they've gone from being a $0 start-up in 2006 to being a $41 billion company today.
Frank: So, you know, that focus on a slick experience and bringing that emotional stuff in really works. And just to loop back to Apple for a moment, the person behind a lot of the original Mac user interface, a chap called Don Norman who's written a book which I recommend everybody on brand and design and UX and tech read, called Designing for Emotion, and his other book, The Design of Everyday Things.
Andrew: Yeah, I've read the latter one, The Design of Everyday Things.
Frank: Yeah, read the follow-up. Brilliant, because they did some testing that a car that's been freshly valeted, people report that it handles better when they drive it.
Frank: And he has the insight, attractive things work better.
Andrew: Yeah. I can say for myself, when I've had a clean-out in the car after the kids – you take the car seat out and you find untold horrors from underneath them – the car feels better to drive after you've given it a clean. I'm sure other people have felt the same, so I can absolutely agree with that.
Frank: Well, it's been proven with science.
Frank: Validated in testing ... or Coca-Cola in controlled taste tests, tastes better when it's drunk out of a Coca-Cola-shaped glass, or the original coke bottle, than it does when drunk out of plastic cup. And they did it with all kinds of controlled testing. And it's fascinating. Why does it taste better? Because our brains trick us, yeah?
Frank: We are emotionally driven far more than we're rationally driven. So, we've kind of wandered a little bit. What is UX for me, which is, it's about creating an experience. And that experience is not just about, can the person get things done efficiently, but also does the person who's using it then feel good about it. Do they enjoy it? Because if they don't, if they can do it but they don't enjoy it, you've missed a trick and ...
Andrew: ... it becomes utilitarian then, doesn't it?
Frank: It becomes utilitarian. And in that trick you're leaving money on the table because people who enjoy interacting with you as a brand, as a company, as an app, will do so again. And they will do so with more joy in their heart, yeah?
Andrew: Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. And I just want to pick you up on something you said, because you were sort of suggesting that you drop the user element and focus on the experience, but then you talk about outcomes. So outcomes for who? Because I presume, you know, in The Economist example that you gave, it's got to be an outcome for the user. So you've got to somehow include that user element in there, somewhere. And, presumably, ultimately the Holy Grail with the UX is to provide those outcomes for both sides – you know, the vendor and the customer?
Frank: Yeah. Because it's a win-win, right? Yeah. So when you align yourself and your values and what you want people to do with what the people themselves want to do, then that's why it results in outsized profits and outsized customer growth and things like that, because you've successfully aligned your goals with the customer's goals and that's the thing that works.
Frank: And so we've been toying with this as a kind of a concept of Dinosaur for a while. And we say, what is it? Brand experience? So we haven't quite nailed the right, term, yeah? It's not going to be brand experience because that shortens to BX, which sounds a little bit like BS.
Andrew: Yes, exactly!
But it's about it's about learning user outcomes and your desired outcomes, yeah?
Andrew: Yeah. Okay. And I mean how does UX become validated? How do you prove that you are going on that direction to achieving those outcomes? Because you could go into design, you make certain assumptions, there's untold amount of research that you could potentially do. So, you know, if you are to really put this user experience or just the experience really at the heart of what you do – and, you know, we've talked about examples like Apple and so on – where do companies start with doing that?
Frank: They start with the vision at the highest level. I mentioned Klarna before because we've recently done a deep dive dissection of their brand here at Dinosaur – 'let's go right from the top, right to the bottom'. Their whole trope is smooth payments, and that is the heart of their brand promise. Smooth payments.
Frank: And there's a thing that was written by their agency – which is DDB, one of these huge, mega-global agencies – that says this idea of smooth has to run through everything. It runs from marketing, it runs through our UI, it runs through our UX, it runs through how the CEO does PR, it runs through everything. It is an all-encompassing vision.
Frank: And you see that with Apple and you see that with all at Nintendo, where they've got this kind of idea of being very cutesy, but also very nice and very bright-coloured. Everything is consistent. So it starts with that vision of consistency and then it has to be applied single-mindedly throughout the business. And this is why so many businesses don't do it, because it's a really hard trick to do.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. And it gets harder as companies get bigger and their audiences get bigger and arguably more diverse as well, no doubt.
Frank: It does. It's not so much that their audiences get more diverse because it's more that the company gets bigger. And of course, fiefdoms start to emerge and internal company politics start to emerge. And people want to do different things. But also it becomes harder if you aren't super, super clear about what it is that you want to do. So, you know, it's like when you see companies with mission statements that are like ten bullet points or company visions that are something like, you know, we want to align our shifting paradigms to synergize, or ...
Andrew: You've lost interest already by that point, haven't you?
Frank: Yeah. When the company has a really clear vision, it can really achieve what it wants to do. So let's go right back to the to the early 90s. Bill Gates said Microsoft's vision is a computer on every desktop.
Andrew: Yep. Famously reported, isn't it.
Frank: And then in the 2000s, when they'd achieved that, the company famously lost its way for a decade. It was like, 'What do we do now? Do we do mobile? Do we do what? What, what?' And Microsoft lost its way. And then Satya Nadella came back on and he was like, 'Oh, this is a sprawling mess of burning platforms', and then actually weirdly focused Microsoft on design and user experience. Now, there's still a lot to hate about Microsoft's user experience, but I don't think anybody can deny that it's a million times better and their profits have rebounded, grown, market share ...
Frank: And I think it's arguable now because they've taken it right through the stack. So, you know, we've been doing a lot of elevating our tech security over the last few years in Dinosaur as an agency, partly in response to GDPR, partly in response to doing a lot of work for customers like BUPA and Co-Op Bank, who are obviously very, very, very particular about customer data and things like that.
Frank: So we've been elevating that and I was looking at the mess that is enterprise cybersecurity, and then it was working through what we actually had to do through the Microsoft stack. And they've made it so much easier than it was a decade ago to implement this stuff. And I'm not going to say it was a pleasure to do, but certainly it was certainly many times less painful than it could have been if we'd been piecing together solutions from 15 different vendors or even trying to do it with the Microsoft Toolkit. That was a decade ago, yeah?
Andrew: Yeah. And it's a very technical area, isn't it? So you've increasingly got non-technical people doing this kind of stuff, haven't you? So you've got to be able to level up again against companies that people are using other platforms from. So I don't know whether it's just buying from Amazon or whether it's going in and using platforms like Xero for accounting and so on. You've got sectors or platforms that have made doing something that was once complex, now a lot easier. So it stands to right that Microsoft need to do the same sort of thing, even though at enterprise level they've probably got Microsoft-certified engineers. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's ultimately who's going to have to go through the motions to tick all the relevant boxes.
Frank: Absolutely. Yeah. And Xero is a great example, actually, because if you look at their mission, it was making accounting software beautiful, yeah? Actually that was their strapline – making accounting software beautiful. Now, I used to run a small business. I used to use Sage, and oh God, is Sage horrible to use!
Andrew: You'd rather stick pins in your eyes, from my experience with Sage ... and I've been using Xero for about ten years now and the thing that I loved with it, as soon as I started using it, I was either spending money or I received money. It spoke in my language. None of this 'debits and credits' that I was thinking, 'Oh, is that debit or is that credit?' And that was an accountant's language. And that's fine because that was very much their audience. But as a small business owner, I just needed something to speak English to me. And that's where Xero really came. Invaluable.
Frank: Yeah, yeah. And that's at the heart of their success because they've recognised that there is this emotional response that we have. And if you annoy people enough that no matter how locked in they are to you, eventually they will overcome that pain barrier of breaking free from you, as you were saying. And once they've broken free from you, they ain't never coming back.
Andrew: And no, it's a relief, isn't it, at that point? And you think, 'thank goodness I'm free from the shackles'.
Frank: Absolutely. So again, there's the rational. And here I'm going to kind of divert, seeing as we're talking about money, you know, the transition from classical economics to behavioural economics. I was like, 'Oh, what's this all about?' And so I've done a bit of reading about economics. It's part of a politics degree as you are given the bluffer's guide to economics.
Frank: I'm looking at classical economics and going, 'This is actually a giddy laugh riot, because if you look at their fundamental assumptions, 'humans are rational actors who act to maximize their marginal utility by ...' no! No human being I know works like that. Maybe the companies do because they employ people who are highly trained and specially trained to work like that.
Frank: But when was the last time you heard somebody going, 'I'm going to go to Lidl rather than to Morrisons because I am looking to maximise my marginal utility.' Now, that's just not how people work. I am a rational actor. No, people say I like this. I don't like this. This is good. This is fun.'
Andrew: Which, ironically, is the Aldi advert that you've just read out, isn't it? 'I like this one. I like this one, but I like this one more because it's cheaper.' But yeah, I mean, I think the point you're saying is that it's not down to any one factor. And particularly, as we've seen platforms proliferate, we've got all of these different touch points.
Andrew: As you were saying earlier, there's no point having this fabulous-looking advert that really turns people's heads if they go to start a trial or their first experience, the first touchpoint they come into contact with, feels a little bit rough around the edges – or broken, as you were saying at the outset.
Andrew: So, yeah, we really do have to think of that bigger picture right across the board, across multiple platforms, multiple touch points. And that, I suppose, is where a lot of the complexity comes in. As you say, particularly as a company or as a platform or a service scales, because it becomes more moving parts associated with it.
Frank: Absolutely. And this is kind of another current issue with UX. I think often UX looks at things in microcosm ... and it's going to sound like I'm dunking on SRO because I've mentioned it twice and sort of said it's not ... I absolutely agree that CRO is a really useful and vital part of ensuring people that people can get from A to B seamlessly.
Frank: But it often focuses on a small, tiny thing. Like, you know, the stereotypical example is, should the call to action be red or green, right? But it misses out too many companies. They have people who focus on that, but they don't have anybody who focuses on the overall brand experience. What happens if I go and raise a customer query on Twitter?
Frank: What happens then? Do they direct me to their phone lines or do I? What happens if I raise a ticket? And then, you know what, all the different paths, possible paths through this experience – that takes looking at a holistic like brand level, which is kind of where we're going, kind of where we were throwing this idea and ideas around. This has to be a brand experience. You have to look at it holistically. You have to look at the big picture. And too many people focus on optimizing each of the individual moving parts and then don't notice that the overall experience no longer works.
Andrew: That no one's getting to the page that's got the red or the green button on it.
Frank: Yes, quite literally! You know, a few years ago we had exactly this issue with one of our ... I won't name the customer, but we did this amazing brand advert. I can't really say much about it because ... anyway, it got, like, outsize engagement. People were sharing the advert on social, yeah? Which is always when you know you've won, right?
Yeah. And it was for a subscription product, but the sales needle didn't move at all and they were, like, really asking us questions, really quite serious questions – 'this advert hasn't worked'. So we're looking into it, we're really quite concerned. And we went through their checkout process and we found that several people within our company tried to complete this checkout process and nobody could, so their offline sales of the subscription product went up because they did have an in-store channel where you could do it in-store, and a phone channel where you could. But their online sales remained almost zero. But that's because nobody....
Andrew: ... can complete the checkout, yeah.
Frank: Nobody had thought to check that you could actually complete this now, especially for something that you're advertising largely on social.
Andrew: The natural click-through is going to be to the checkout isn't it? So it's a pretty foundational error really in that sense.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. We had not quite double-digit click-through rates because that's the Holy Grail, right? But certainly singles, and then they're all just disappearing between click and checkout.
Andrew: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about what you see as CX, then, because that's another experience that's bandied around. And if you're talking of user experience or brand experience, where does CX come in? Is that a derivative of brand experience?
Frank: The purists will scream at me. I don't really see a huge difference between customer experience and user experience. It's just a different way of saying, 'Well, they aren't our users, they're our customers, or if they aren't our customers now we hope they'll be our customers.'
Andrew: So they're essentially going through the same motions, aren't they?
Frank: Essentially, I mean it does build in a bit more of a holistic view and it does try and think about the people involved. I don't mind what's in front of the word 'experience', but it's the 'experience' word I focus on.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And where do you stand on simplicity when it comes to experience? Because I think, you know, there's this huge value in turning something complex into simple. Is there a risk that, you know, in terms of making something too simple, we're almost sucking the life out of it, and we can make something very easy to do, but it's got no real experience to it, still. Is that something that you've seen?
Frank: Okay, so there's a continuum, a design continuum that really goes from powerful and complex on the one side, to simple and easy to use. And really, really, really great design makes complicated stuff feel simple. So it gives you a golden path. But then if you know enough about it, if you can unearth the bits, the controls that you need to...
Frank: But the default experience is so good that most of the time you don't have to. So, I make music and I'm used to Cubase and Ableton and all these digital audio workstations that have a bazillion controls, and you can do absolutely anything imaginable in them. And then Propellerhead, which is a really good music app vendor and software vendor, they released a $0.79 app for the App Store called Figure, and it was amazing, right?
Abstracted away all of the complexity, gave you exactly the sounds and the tools that you wanted and built this wonderful little music box that my four-year-old son at the time could go on to figure, and he could make a functioning tune in 5 minutes, which sounded good. And it's like, 'Oh!' It was just like one of those perfect pieces of design.
Andrew: Yeah. Totally stripped back, without all the complexity.
Frank: Totally stripped down. And at that point, the temptation is always futurism. And the temptation and the resisting that is so, so hard. It's like, 'Can you add a feature? Oh, it would be lovely if it could do this, but wouldn't it be nice if it could do this?' And so it goes back to that single-minded vision. Does adding something take us away from that vision or does it take us closer to that vision?
Because there was a revelation that I realized when I joined advertising from tech, which I didn't actually get to sort of come back to that we're going ... might have been David, it might have been Ogilvy ... and he said, 'the ad is finished when you can't take anything else away'.
Andrew: Yeah, I've heard that before, but I think you might be right with Ogilvy. Not 100%.
Frank: Yeah, it might be Ogilvy. It might be Winston Churchill or Oscar Wilde, one of the other people to whom quotes are attributed. William Shakespeare said ... (laughs)
Frank: And that is a powerful insight, because in tech we love adding complexity because we're geeks and – or I'm a geek – and I love control. And I love being able to dig down into the settings and find exactly the thing I want and then change it and go, 'Oh, that's exactly the experience I want'. But most people don't work like that. We are outliers. Sorry, I'm including you in that – I am an outlier.
Andrew: I think I could probably put myself in that camp as well, so yeah, you're more than welcome to include me, but I think, you know, what's really fascinating is, as we've gone through this conversation, you keep talking or referring back to examples where it is that sort of simplicity, that clarity is in their DNA. They are pursuing almost relentlessly one single purpose with what they want their product or their service to provide.
Andrew: Klarna the smooth checkout process. Xero making your accounts look beautiful. Microsoft making that user experience beautiful, arguably more accessible, as well as ... obviously more and more people have had to get involved in tech. Perhaps not so many out outliers now, but certainly during the pandemic there was a lot more people got into tech and using computers, using online banking than perhaps they would have felt comfortable doing.
Andrew: So, you know, these are organizations that have really put that front and centre in their mission and they are sticking to it. And that is ultimately ... they're measuring that in terms of loyalty, retention and profits.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. Because, you know, there's ... again, the disruption thing is overdone. I don't like Uber as a company, but there's a great Rory Sutherland talk on why Uber have succeeded. And they've succeeded because they make you feel better than the previous iteration did about every step of the process of getting a minicab.
Frank: You know, everybody over a certain age remembers back in the 90s when you'd phone a cab and the cab firm was like, 'Yeah, 10 minutes, mate'. Okay. Is that a minicab 10 minutes or is that an actual 10 minutes? And then the cab would arrive and it was entirely questionable whether it would be hygienic and not have ripped seats and whether, you know, how much it would cost.
Andrew: And you're climbing in drenched because you've been stood in the rain for an extra 20 minutes.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. So they've taken every aspect and they've put you, the person using the app, in control – or the feeling of control – of the whole process. So it's like making people feel better about things, and they have had that single-minded vision about that and ... you know, horrible company, but great psychological insights.
Andrew: It's really fascinating, I love that we've referred to so many examples that people will no doubt be able to appreciate. But we are running out of time. And, Frank, I've got a series of questions that I want to put to you before we close out the show today. So we're going to get into that section now and then we'll wrap up. So, first question that I've got for you is, what is your favourite app or the one app website or piece of software, personal or professional, that you feel you couldn't live without?
Frank: That's a really tough question. Okay. This is not one we could live with or we couldn't live without, but it's one that we're using a lot at Dinosaur at the moment, Canva. I think, absolutely brilliant piece of design because what it does is – it's like Figure that I was telling you about, the music software – it abstracts away all of the hard stuff of doing creative social posts and/or putting together nice-looking collateral for your business.
Frank: And it makes it so easy. It makes it so easy that we're currently delivering an annual content calendar and content plan for four Marriott hotels in the UK, where the individual brand managers and hotel managers – because they have a lot of autonomy – they're using it to take templates that we've given them, and straplines that we've given them, and things like that, to create their own beautiful brand.
Frank: But on-brand posts, with no training, no Photoshop, no nothing. Even if they took footage on their camera phone on the camera, you know, we can still produce something that works and looks on-brand and looks Marriott and feels Marriott. So we did an hour training session just to take people through – 'Here's the nuts and bolts'. But so, so easy.
Andrew: Well, that wouldn't have worked out as well if you'd given them access to Photoshop, would it? And that's the perfect example. You know, you take away a big chunk of what is not needed for the 80–90% of people doing 90% of their day. And Photoshop remains that specialist tool, but Canva becomes the mass-market tool that is quicker and easier to work with and iterate with. So that makes sense. I'll be with you on that. Tell me what excites you in digital at the moment? There's all sorts of talk of Web3, the Metaverse and things like that. So what's exciting you in digital?
Frank: The Metaverse doesn't excite me at all at the moment. I just can't ... until you don't have to strap something on the front of your head to access it. I just can't see it taking off because you look like an absolute twit.
Andrew: And you'd think that there might have been some lessons learned from 3D cinema.
Frank: Yeah. And it sort of divorces you from the world. So I'm not excited about that. What am I excited about? I'm excited a lot about the No-Code. You look at tools like Zapier which allow you to do API integration without writing a single line of code.
Andrew: Just point and click, isn't it?
Frank: It's just point and click. And you know, this is how it should be. Tech should be easy to use. I'm not dissing developers. I did five years at the code-face myself. But there's so much stuff that is wilfully hard that actually conceptually is really easy. It's hard because there's no standardized abstraction layer. There's no standardized method of interaction. It doesn't have to be that way. And I have had long, long, long arguments with – very passionate debates with – friends of mine who are developers about the command line interface. The unique command line or the DOS command line ... the blinking cursor.
Andrew: There's definitely no UX there!
Frank: No. Well, there is. There is.
Andrew: Well, for a certain kind of person, maybe (laughs)
Frank: Yeah, I think as well, talking about emotion, there's very much – in developer communities – there's, it's like, 'I am a wizard with a special kind of magic' ... and I'm spelling magic with a 'ck' there. You know, it's sort of the lore, you've got to learn the runes to be able to do this thing. And it's like, that is the command line. It's tremendously powerful. But ...
Andrew: My first emotion with the command line isn't power, it's fear. But yeah, the things that could go wrong and that you can't see have gone wrong as well, more to the point.
Frank: So when you achieve mastery over the command line, that feels really good because you can do anything. 'I am the lord of my domain. I can do anything. Now I have the power' – and it is just a really good feeling. But I don't want to spend five years learning that 'squiggle-dollar-sign-exclamation-mark-dash-dash-minus-sign' equals reformat hard drive. ah, oh, Christ! ...
Andrew: ... Yeah, you've just deleted everything! So let's move on. How have your working patterns changed since the pandemic if they have changed at all?
Frank: Oh, I mean, obviously we went fully remote and we did so in about two weeks flat, which was not a shock for me because, you know, having worked in tech for many years, I was quite used to working with people who I never saw. But to a lot of the people in the company, you know – advertising is a very high-touch business, it's very about people – so it was quite a shock for a lot of people and we had to work through it.
But I think ultimately we've come through it stronger and actually much more efficient, and working much better, because we talk to clients four or five times a day, you know, instead of having to arrange a meeting and get everybody in the same place. So, I actually think it's brought us closer to our customers, paradoxically, because the barriers to talking to them have been lowered so dramatically. Whereas before the pandemic, if you wanted to do a teleconference with somebody, it was such a hassle to go into the room, make sure the microphones worked. But now everybody's ...
Andrew: ... That's all a lot more familiar for people, isn't it?
Frank: Yeah. And so actually it's made us better. And it's meant that I can still do this podcast with you even though I've got COVID, you know, and I can still talk to our customers, because I'm well enough to work. But of course, I wouldn't be able to do because I'd have to stay home.
Andrew: Okay. Yeah, that's good. And what about if you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend that time?
Frank: Obviously, I would spend it in zen mode (laughs). It's a good question. I mean, realistically, I think I'd probably spend it working, right? No, no, I wouldn't. I would spend it doing the things that I love doing. So photography and music and spending time with my kids and cooking and, you know, interacting, enjoying the many wonderful aspects of life that ...
Andrew: ... Are sometimes hard to reach.
Frank: We always wish we could spend a little bit more time with our mates, you know? And there's so much in life to enjoy.
Andrew: Okay. Sounds good. And I'm nearly there now. But what's the most important personal attribute that you feel you bring to your job as a digital director?
Frank: Shona, Our Head of Accounts – she has a proper title, Group Account Director, that's it – she was kind enough to say recently about me, that when Frank explains something techie and complicated to you, it stays explained.
Frank: And actually, since I stopped developing and started being like a product lead and head of product and then an MD of my own company and things like that – translating between tech and business and people, and helping everybody understand ... you know, when the developer looks at you blankly and goes, 'Why do they want that? Or the MD goes to you, or the CMO of the company goes, 'Why, why does it take three months to build a website?' Because you don't know who will be using it yet. You don't know what you want to say. 'Why is the website not done on the live date?'
Andrew: You know about all the challenges and things that get thrown up in the meantime that all become potential blockers, or at least bumps in the road? And you've got that privilege of being able to explain it in a way that fits with everything we've talked about around user experience.
Frank: Yeah. And in a way that they can understand and relate to and fits with their lives, and fits with how they view the world, because people understand what they understand. And it sounds really asinine to say that, but translating between different people's sets of experiences is really what I aspire to do well, and on my day do quite well.
Andrew: Good. Excellent. Okay. Yeah, it's a good attribute to have. And then the final question for someone who is just starting their career in digital: what sort of advice might you give to them?
Frank: Learn lots of stuff from lots of different disciplines and then become really good at one thing. It's the T-shaped marketer or the old T-shaped skills thing, isn't it? If you're really good at motion graphics or if you're really good at data science, then if you have an appreciation of psychology and advertising, which is the art of persuasion and all these things, then you will be a better data scientist because you understand.
Frank: All of the things that feed into the numbers that you're crunching, and who are the people behind those numbers? What do they think about, what do they care about? What do they feel? Yeah? Be broad and then specialist.
Andrew: Nice. Yeah, I like that a lot. And that ties in very nicely with the theme of the conversation that we've had today. It fits in very well. Understand the big picture, treat UX as that more holistic activity covering all these different touch-points, all the different bases, and ultimately stay true to your brand, I suppose.
So thank you, Frank. We're up on time. We've finished the questions that we've got there. So thank you so much for taking the time to join me this afternoon. I really appreciate it. It's been a fascinating conversation. Loads of great examples that you've given me. So where can people catch up with you online? Where can they find you if they want to reach out to you?
Frank: Find me on LinkedIn. It's Frank Fenten. You can find Dinosaur at dinosaur.co.uk and also if you look up Dinosaur on LinkedIn, you can find us there. And yeah, those are the best places to find us.
Andrew: Really fantastic. Well, we'll put those links in the show notes, Frank, that we'll find on our website at adigital.agency/podcast, along with a full transcript from the episode today. And we'll put some notes in and links from things that we've spoken about. So that about wraps it up. Frank, really appreciate your time. Thanks very much for joining me this afternoon.
Frank: Well, thanks ever so much for having me. It's been a blast.
Andrew: So a huge thank you to Frank for joining me this afternoon from home with COVID, no less. I do hope he's well on the road to recovery by the time this episode goes live. And clearly the overriding theme from the conversation today is that UX is so much more than just design. It harks back to your brand, your purpose, and making sure that stays front and centre in all you do across your different channels and platforms for either on or offline.
Andrew: There are so many different places and environments in which people interact with your brands. Being consistent and making sure the experience is memorable for the right reasons, of course, is key to building that longer-term brand value. So as I mentioned previously, we'll add the show notes from today's episode onto our website. You'll find these and the transcript from the show at adigital.agency/podcast.
Andrew: If you've got any questions or comments from the conversation, then please do get in touch or leave me a comment where you first heard about the show. You can email me at hello@theclientsideshow or you'll find me at @aarmitage over on Twitter or on LinkedIn. If you can share a link to the show, to your friends, your colleagues, or even your clients, then please do. We'd be especially grateful if you can leave us a rating or a review on your favourite podcasting app.
Andrew: And finally, a quick plug from me, seeing as we've talked about holistic brand strategy this afternoon. If you're planning a website project, then my book, Holistic Website Planning, can be found on Amazon. How to position your website at the centre of your digital transformation, it covers some of the topics we've talked about on the show today, so do check that out. So that's all for now. Thank you again for tuning in and joining me on the podcast today. I'll be back with another episode in a couple of weeks' time, so I do hope you'll be able to join me then. Cheers.