Listen to the Training-Led Growth Podcast (Episode 3, with Richard Banfield):
Raven360's CEO, Joe Moriarty, takes time to chat product, design, and the importance of empathy and mindset with Richard Banfield, V.P. Design Transformation, at Invision – everyone’s favorite design collaboration platform.
They say having a diverse background gives a person a unique perspective on the world. And Richard Banfield, Invision’s V.P. of design transformation, certainly has that.
Born and bred in South Africa, after training as a biologist, he joined the South African Defense Force. A couple of career shifts later and he found himself across the Atlantic – first at the helm of Boston-based UI and UX design company, Fresh Tilled Soil, and more recently at InVision – the renowned design collaboration company.
However, while his work isn’t tied to InVision’s product per se, his consultative approach to business transformation is very much aligned with the SaaS company’s focus on proactive problem solving.
“Customers aren’t really buying software,” says Richard. “They're buying confidence, skill or ability – or some combination of those things. That's why they buy our software.”
Breaking Away From ‘Boat Maintenance’
As he sees it, the key starting point for any product design projects is to understand the problems customers are dealing with and how to resolve them. In this respect, a designer is like a scientist – they need to have a hypothesis and a way to build an experimental design to test and validate it.
This perspective clearly resonates with Richard’s biology background. When he first ventured into product development, he witnessed a lot of people creating designs based on assumptions rather than using the tools available to them to test ideas. Engineers, doctors, and scientists don’t work in this way – so why should designers and developers?
He likens a lot of traditional app design – the iterations, updates, and releases – to the Ship of Theseus from Greek legend. The revered king’s boat was maintained by his subjects long after his death, and over time each part was replaced – until it was essentially a completely different boat altogether.
This tendency to rely on legacy practices, to maintain a structure rather than to question its effectiveness and purpose, is something Richard sees in a lot of digital platforms today. Developers are fixated on problem-solving and iterating releases rather than addressing how effective a particular design is holistically. A legacy idea that doesn’t keep producing something valuable for customers can’t be disguised with a shiny new veneer.
Developers and designers working in many enterprises may simply want to do something superficial – like updating an application’s user interface (UI) or add new features – to evidence change and avoid the challenges of negotiating with numerous stakeholders and layers of bureaucracy. However, the fact remains that users need to see the benefit or relevance of these efforts.
This means speaking directly with customers to truly understand their needs. Often, tough conversations need to be had, with equally hard decisions needing to be made internally – around legacy programming and infrastructure, as well as those delivering it and what they need to deliver in order to maintain a market lead.
However, transformation is no snap decision, nor can it be solved with a single methodology. After all, every action has a consequence that needs to be addressed. It's a gradual, consultative approach.
Moving Past Products & Towards Purposeful Conversations
Although Richard’s work is closely aligned to InVision’s product, his role is not to sell ‘design transformation’ or push the SaaS itself. He sees himself as more an ‘enterprise therapist’ than someone working in design.
“My job is to make our customers successful. Customers call us when they’ve already started on a transformation journey. They want to know what they can do to make things better and easier and faster. A lot of that has to do with people and emotions.”
Most of InVision’s Fortune 1000 clients are dealing with people problems. Trying to get those inside an organization to adjust how they operate in line with customer needs, company objectives, and how to move forward isn’t easy.
While many business leaders would often be more inclined to think that transformation means investing in a new ERP platform, for example, Richard’s convinced that the strategic aspect needs to be addressed first. This begins by having purposeful conversations.
At InVision, purposeful conversations begin with a process called a maturity assessment. Richard and his team consult directly with clients, look at where they are, how they operate and where they're going – and while they shape the direction of conversations to some extent, a lot of the time Richard’s role is to facilitate these conversations.
Often, just getting 20 product leaders in a single space and helping the right people have an honest conversation at a critical point in a company’s evolution is enough to help spark realization, action, and momentum.
Mindset Over Matter
An interesting point Richard makes is how he sees the future of work evolving. He believes that as Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes sophisticated enough to take on and automate more mundane work, there will be an even greater focus on companies needing to manage ‘human’ interactions.
He is acutely aware of how people as individuals perceive each other – particularly as someone who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa. Everyone has their own struggles, family lives, opinions, and viewpoints.
This is why, as Richard sees it, the notion of mindset is the most important part of business success. In an enterprise environment, navigating different personalities also means navigating cultures, beliefs, differences, and experiences. Being able to do this, and to help every one of those people share a mindset for success that will drive the company forward, and resonates with hundreds of individuals is critical.
Richard likens the idea of mindset to sporting success.
“You can work with a top athlete – one that’s got the best genes in the world – but with the wrong mindset they're not going anywhere. But an athlete with mediocre genes and a great mindset has a much better chance of being the next world champion.”
His biology background gives him a good perspective here too; particularly when it comes to understanding how people fit into an environment, how they interact, form networks, problem-solve – and what that means. Having this point of view has really helped him in his work.
The True Purpose Of Technology
When asked how all of these topics relate back to the world of technology, or more specifically, to data, Richard’s opinion is no less intriguing. Data, as he sees it, is entwined with the idea of Big Data – vast amounts of incongruous spreadsheet information that only data scientists can extract anything tangible from.
However, a company that is ‘data-driven’ is simply using market feedback and insights learned from customers' conversations to solve the right problems – for themselves and their customers. It’s just as much about understanding human connections as it is proving ROI.
In a similar way, Richard believes that there’s too much focus on ‘product’ as technology or an engineering-only phenomenon in modern enterprises. For him a product is a platform for success or achievement: depending on what its overall purpose is.
InVistion’s SaaS product is great for large complicated organizations because it provides a connected workflow. It's built for designers and for those they collaborate with – engineers, developers, product people etc – it’s cross-functional, as Richard sees it.
This is in contrast to how many of InVision’s competitors are evolving – preferring to focus on a specific area of UI or coding: to address a specific problem or user need. However, for InVision, the management of complexity itself remains the broader challenge the company is committed to – both via its technology offering or its design transformation work.
It All Begins With Empathy
In this respect, by helping customers – internal and external – have more purposeful conversations, they are better equipped with the tools and skills they need to navigate a variety of different situations.
The best way to deliver this, for Richard and his team, is through Train The Trainer initiatives The focus here is not on creating ‘experts’ but to in helping people become the best purposeful conversationalist they can be – so that whatever situation they encounter, the more empowered they feel to address problems, to ask the right questions, to find out why things are happening in cross-functional teams in large organizations.
However, ultimately the best tool anyone can have is empathy. It’s the root of understanding, listening, trust – and therefore brings about better collaboration; which is what helps organizations develop and grow.
If you can truly understand the mindset of a person and take time to understand different perspectives and motivations – even when you don’t agree with them – the chances are you’re going to learn something. And ultimately, learning is at the heart of development.