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Interview: Martin Darbyshire of tangerine

Interview: Martin Darbyshire of tangerine

30 November 2017 Written by By Abid Gangat 2017-18 Media and Communications Manager

If you heard someone say ‘tangerine’, you would assume that they were talking about the fruit and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, for us at Design Council ‘tangerine’ is much more than just a fruit, it is a London based global design agency, specialising in product innovation, brand strategy, industrial and experience design.

We caught up with tangerine CEO, Martin Darbyshire to gain his insight on the Spark programme, and to find out what design and innovation means to him and tangerine from a global design perspective: 

What does design and innovation mean to you?

Innovation is a complex word. You first need to distinguish between whether you are talking about technological or scientific innovation – which is a breakthrough in knowledge. Or whether you are talking about innovation as a process; something that businesses put in place internally to improve performance and their ability to create innovative solutions.

For innovation consultancies, innovation is often about helping a brand to determine what to do next. Working strategically with top level management, this might be about determining what markets a business could enter, or what they should be doing in a particular market to deliver a distinctive offer. For me, this is all about helping businesses to understand what they do next, setting objectives and starting to think about the roadmap that will help them to get there.

Design on the other hand is about creating a solution once you have defined what you want to do. At tangerine, design often overlaps with innovation and strategy. We question the context of a problem that a client presents to us. They bring a need and we help them to find the best design response in any given circumstance.

Who are tangerine and what do you do?

We are an international strategic design consultancy involved in innovation, strategy and design, with a strong focus on customer experience. We work with global businesses who are retailers, service providers and manufacturers, across a range of sectors including retail, transportation, electronics and consumer products.

What have been your proudest design moments/achievements over your career?

Our two biggest successes are for British Airways and Sky+. For British Airways, we created the world’s first fully lie-flat bed in business class, which revolutionised commercial flying. Whilst for Sky, we designed the world’s first combined set-top box and digital video recorder and created a visual language for time-shift TV. The distinctive ring of LEDs has since become a hallmark of the Sky+ brand.

Both examples demanded a significant insight and a significant innovative step in terms of the customer experience. They gave new meaning to the customer and created something really powerful and distinctive in the market, while leveraging a significant return on investment.

We see ourselves as a boutique consultancy, a small but highly skilled organisation, that is proud of its pioneering culture. For us, working closely with clients to deliver an exceptional customer experience is key and being people who big brands want to work with is so important.

Why do you think programmes like Design Council Spark are important?

Spark is important because the UK needs to be innovative, SMEs are a crucial part of our economy and developing a new idea and getting it to market successfully is complicated. People need support and there is no one obvious place for people to go to get that support.

The Design Council is bringing together a lot of mentors and experts who are providing a relevant and focused support at the early stage of development, where lots of crucial decisions need to be made that will influence the success or failure of an idea for a business.

It’s exciting to see the diversity of ideas that come through the programme, from people developing a holding device for a wheelchair to scientists who are growing things in hydroponics.

How does a programme like Design Council Spark contribute to the future of design across the UK?

I don’t think Spark contributes to the discipline of design itself, but that’s because I don’t think that is really the intention of the programme. Spark’s goal is to help people (designers or not) to successfully launch a new product and create a business. The programme helps participants to ensure their design credentials are good, but actually the main benefit is support for business creation.

One of Spark’s sponsors is Arthritis Research UK. The platform that the programme gives to specialised or niche sectors like restricted mobility, that tend to get less attention because of lower commercial returns, is really beneficial. If the focus that Spark brings to areas like helping to improve lives of everyone affected by the UK’s most common condition – arthritis – then that’s a good thing for society as a whole.

Can anyone be a designer/innovator?

Anyone can be an innovator, if you have a good idea you have a good idea. Normally this comes from identifying a problem that hasn’t yet been solved. However, executing the solution to a problem is an intricate thing that demands a particular set of skills and experience. So, you need to reach out to the right people to help you to do that.

The issue here is that its good if people understand design and the potential of design for business better. This is what ‘design thinking’ does – it helps orientate your thinking towards a highly subjective evaluation of things that are often less literal.

A mistake that designers have made historically, is that they like to have a big reveal for their designs a rabbit-out-of-a-hat moment. The downside of this is that people do not understand the process that led to creation. The benefit of ‘design thinking’ is that it exposes people to the diversity of the issues that designers think about and the complexity of the decisions that are taken.

The curious thing about ‘design thinking’ is that, just as reading a book on accountancy doesn’t make you an accountant, the same principle stands for design. So no, not everyone can be a designer.

Do you have an idea that you would like to pitch to the Design Council Spark team?

I’ve had an idea for a bicycle accessory, if I ever have time to do it! If I need assistance, perhaps I’ll pick up the phone to Spark. However, I can’t disclose what it is at the moment.

What advice would you give to anyone who has an idea, but is unsure about applying to the Design Council Spark programme?

Apply! Spark provides an excellent integrated support network. At a minimum, it will really help you to sharpen your thinking and clarify your offer.

Anything else you would like to add?

Starting a business always takes a lot more time and effort than you think. Do not underestimate what it might take to get something new to market. Looking back, it will be worth it though.

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