Agents of Change

Why designers are moving into other industries

Dane Howard is the Chief Experience Officer at Trov, the world’s first on-demand insurance platform.

Dane Howard: Chief Experience Officer at Trov

Dane Howard is the Chief Experience Officer at Trov

Insurance is not what most people would connect with the ‘design industry’. Nor is investing, transportation or hospitality. However, when you think about every day, life-changing technologies across those industries, the likes of Acorns, Uber, and Airbnb will spring to mind.

What do these business and industries have in common? Not much at first glance, but when you peek beneath the surface, they have all been ripe for disruption at one time or another.

Quite unexpectedly, designers have become the agents of change, transforming the perception of these once stagnant industries and driving innovation to create genuine value to both business and consumers alike. They have been recruited by CEOs and now have a seat at the table of change affecting the global industries of investing, healthcare, utilities and insurance.

Over the course of my career my perception of ‘uncool’ companies and industries has changed, and I’ve become more attuned to the way in which good design can affect business. I’ve grown to appreciate those ‘unstylish’ industries. In the past, a sturdy, profitable businesses didn’t need design. Today, however, they are scrambling for it. Here’s why.

Being customer-centric is disruptive

More traditional business models are being disrupted than ever before. Their industries are being transformed by a new business model that places the customer experience at the centre. According to the Design in Tech report, Gartner claims that 89% of companies believe that customer experience will be the primary basis of competition in 2016. That’s up from 36% just four years ago, a staggering statistic by any measure.


If you had asked any designer in 2009 if they wanted to work in the paid transportation and ‘taxi’ industry, you’d likely have gotten crickets. Today Uber is changing transportation. It has a world class design team that aims to make on-demand transportation a better alternative to taxis for both driver and passenger. Just a few changes in the experience and the ecosystem can disrupt everything, and more importantly, they disrupt at scale.

At the centre of any industry shake-up you will usually find a more empathetic and empowering experience, enabled by a more customer-centric company.

Designers are naturally ‘curious’

At the confluence of these universally difficult, complex and interesting problems is the curiosity of the designer. This change started with Google, when we first began to see the difference between a poor interaction and good interaction which can impact hundreds of millions of people at a time. The Google experience — like so many others — began with a curious mind.

Designers are naturally ‘curious

A curious thinker finds problems wherever they turn. It turns out that some industries have many inherent problems, some of which have been part of a legacy of a different time and infrastructure. For the designer this offers an interesting challenge to find a creative solution.

Because the historical & global impact is infectious

Traditionally, working for a large company has brought with it the possibility of making a large impact. The ebb and flow of a company culture may find favour on your time there. Did you spend time at Apple? What years were you there? Did you spend time at Yahoo? What years were you there? The world of electronics, social media, and software have been in vogue for a while, but these are still young industries from a historical perspective.

There has never been a greater opportunity to design something new and drive a real impact in an industry. Personal investing is an intimidating industry; tight control by financial advisors and lack of welcoming design has been an obstacle for years. However that changed with the arrival of Kate Aronowitz, former lead designer at Facebook. Leading the design team at Wealthfront, Kate has helped make investing more approachable for everyone using the principles of simple design to make investing less intimidating.

Kate, like many others are changing perception of some industries such as finance, insurance, venture capital and more. They have the experience and leadership to recognise interesting problems and attract talent to those problems. Soon we won’t be thinking of industries as cool and uncool; rather we’ll be looking at designers and thinking ‘what will they think of next?’

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