Now more than ever, as we create the next generation of products and services that are lasting longer, reaching wider and impacting more lives - we need to break out of our bubble of culturally homogeneous product teams.
As practitioners, it’s our duty to bring together teams that better represent the people we are designing for. We need to create better grassroots access to jobs that are currently privileged opportunities available to the few.
That's where Flipside comes in – the agency-led learning programme that launches diverse talent into digital careers.
Last month I spoke at the launch event for Flipside hosted at ustwo's London studio. The event opened up the conversation between digital agencies and young Londoners around the gulf between traditional education and the types of skill set our industry values when hiring and building teams.
I shared a story about my own pathway into a digital career and what Made by Many has learned from working with young adults and growing our teams.
Back in 2009, the economy was taking a complete nose dive during one of the worst economic downturns the country had experienced for decades. I'd been let go six months into my first Junior Designer role and it felt like no-one was on the look out for Junior print / graphic designers at that time.
I'd always had an affinity with the internet and websites, no doubt spurred on by tinkering with MySpace layouts and re-creating CD covers with heavy Photoshop filters and posting them to DeviantArt. I never thought I had the right skills to work in the digital design industry, let alone get a job there. But I found myself joining a team of three other fresh-faced designers taking part in the BBC UX Design Trainee Scheme.
As part of the scheme, I worked for 12 months in teams across BBC News, Food and Springwatch. It was an amazing experience that helped me transition from my traditional graphic design background, to learning the skills necessary to design and create digital services at a massive scale. A full-time role followed, with the opportunity to work on a full re-design of BBC Weather.
So I understand first hand the impact that digital trainee schemes have on people: it has shaped the way I think and approach problem solving for digital stuff. And it has set me up for a resilient career in design. Without the Design Trainee Scheme and the belief and guidance from my mentors there, I doubt I would have ended up where I am now: as a design lead at Made by Many.
Learning by doing
Our belief at Made by Many is that making products together with our clients and their customers can effect real change. This emphasis on learning by doing has been a core value when we run our summer internship programmes.
Treated like any other project team, we bring together students from across disciplines: a designer, a developer and a product manager – who work together to tackle a big problem or opportunity area.
This has proven successful for us. Hackaball, a programmable ball that teaches kids the foundations of code through active play, began its life as a summer internship brief to explore 'play'. Fast-forward two years, countless hands and iterations later - it culminated in us successfully funding and launching Hackaball to backers on Kickstarter. We shipped 3,000 balls in time for Christmas last year.
Fostering transferable skills
Beyond that success story, the theme that has shone through the most in our internship programmes has been the need to foster transferrable skills beyond someone's core discipline.
Students have come to us lacking skills such as effective collaboration with others, presentation and communication, receiving and acting on guidance, time management and plain old punctuality.
But once developed, these skills maximise a person's readiness for work and effectiveness as part of a team.
Why diversity matters
We believe small empowered teams can achieve great things together. And this really highlights the importance of teams being made up of diverse individuals, from varied backgrounds and experiences that can look at problems through different lenses.
Therefore hiring people is one of the hardest things we do at Made by Many. It's expensive to get wrong, time consuming to get right, but is vital to building great product teams. We are only as good as the people we hire.
But despite our best efforts in improving our hiring process: such as the language we use in our job adverts, where we post and advertise our job ads, through to the questions we ask and the people in the room at interviews - we continue to struggle to get a diverse talent pool to begin with.
Looking to the future
That's why at Made by Many, we are incredibly excited to be a part of Flipside. To develop future opportunities for the next generation of product people, that will go on to create the next generation of products and services.
Find out more about Flipside at anewdirection.org.uk/flipside to see how you can get involved.
Read more from Charlotte on Building a Human Company
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