Reasons to be cheerful

by Robert Jones and Sami Mallis

There’s no industry that more needs to change its game than financial services – and yet that seems so unlikely to do it. This is not because of the conservatism of banks, but because of the conservatism of consumers. In many ways, it’s a justified conservatism – ‘don’t mess around with my money’ – and yet things could be so much better for all of us. Cash machines and credit cards revolutionised money in the 1960s. Since then, we’ve had great but relatively small innovations, mostly from smaller players. In the mainstream, little has changed. But there are three signs of hope.

The revival of ethics

Why do we still so mistrust banks? In the UK, only one in ten people say they trust bankers to act in their best interests, according to Which?  But one global bank is trying to do something about this: Barclays. Through its Transform programme, led by CEO Antony Jenkins, Barclays is shifting its culture towards making money ‘in the right way’. Employees who don’t accept values like integrity are told: ‘Barclays is not the place for you’. The change will take time, but it’s certainly in earnest. And around the world, Islamic banks, like Noor Islamic Bank, are becoming a mainstream alternative. They don’t charge conventional interest, they invest ethically, and they share profits and losses. Ernst & Young predicts that Islamic banking in the Middle East and North Africa will double in size between 2010 and 2015. Expect more banks to take ethics much more seriously: but who will do it best?

The transformation of payment

Why do we still carry a pile of coins, and a stack of plastic, around? Here’s where there has been change, with online payment systems like PayPal, contactless cards, person-to-person payment devices like Square, and mobile systems like M-PESA. Square, for instance, now processes $41 million in payments every day. And we’re on the brink now of cashless, cardless payment, as our phones and credit cards converge with innovations like Apple’s Passbook, Google’s Wallet and AmEx’s partnership with Isis Mobile Wallet. Expect rapid change in the next couple of years. One brand will probably emerge as the standard: which one?

The modernisation of advice

Why is there still no big, branded financial advice service? Financial advice is a huge industry, and the demand is growing – yet it has shown few signs of entering the modern world. When people don’t know which advisors they can really trust, alternative sources are doing well, often with a lot of peer-to-peer content. in the UK reaches 13 million users a month. CaféMom is a successful forum on family financial issues targeted at mothers. SALT is a free membership programme from the non-profit American Student Assistance to help students manage their loans and take control of their money. These examples are promising, and expect much more. But which big brand will really grab the still-open opportunity for good, sensible, large-scale, mainstream financial advice?


Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins. Sami Mallis is a marketing associate at Wolff Olins London. 

Image via SALT and American Student Assistance

Bright Eyes

By Bethany Koby

What does one do on maternity leave? Beside the obvious which is having a baby, transforming your entire life and learning how to be a mother…you start a business of course!

Well, at least that is what I did. After being on maternity leave for about a week, a germ of an idea which I had been developing, began to take flight. After finding a computer in our trash can, my partner and I began an intense conversation about how a business could begin to address our disconnection with technology. In addition, my growing belief that enterprise is the key to unlocking some of our most fundamental social issues gave way to our business, Technology Will Save Us.

TWSU is a haberdashery for technology and education. We design and manufacture DIY technology kits to help demystify technology and help people become creative and productive with it, not just consumers of it.

All of our kits are vehicles for education that help people to learn skills as well as create something useful and fun with technology. They range from experiences like Electro Dough Kit - which is conductive play dough that helps you learn basic electronics; to DIY Speakers Kit where you solder an amplifier and make speakers out of any material!

In just over a year we have designed 10 kits, sold over 40 products and tools, built 4 kiosks (shops within shops) and host regular workshops in London and globally.

Our latest kit, Bright Eyes, is our first experiment in teaching programming through a kit experience. We at TWSU believe programming is a hugely useful skill that goes far beyond apps and websites into our physical world. These skills are often challenging to pick up when people do not have a project or a specific idea in mind. Bright Eyes is a platform to help inspire people to learn programming because it is so cool! 

It is a pair of glasses which have 174 LEDs (light emitting diodes) on them for you to program. These LEDs can play back graphics and videos off a micro SD card (video player), or be controlled using any microcontroller platform. Best of all, we’re making them Arduino compatible! So, if you want to add a microphone or an ambient light sensor to make them more responsive – you’ll be able to. If you do not know what Arduino is you should learn it!

We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to coincide with the launch of Kickstarter in the UK. There is only 2 more days left for us to raise the funds we need in order to bring Bright Eyes to the world.

We think this a perfect accessory for any budding techie or a fabulous holiday gift for someone special. If you’d like to support us on Kickstarter or buy any of our other kits online, please do!

Bethany Koby is a social impact specialist at Wolff Olins London.

The 7-Election

By Spencer Phillips

Never mind a Gallup poll, 7-Eleven, the self-proclaimed largest chain of convenience stores in the world, has once again predicted the next president elect with its “coffee-campaign-turned-election-poll” called 7-Election. 7-Eleven admits that the poll is “unabashedly unscientific,” but it’s been correct for the past 4 elections.  

The process is simple: When 7-Eleven customers buy a cup of coffee, they are given the choice of either a blue cup for Obama or a red cup for Romney, to show their support (you can also purchase regular “nonpartisan” cups if undecided).  People are able to cast their coffee cup vote between September 6th and Election day. When the UPC code is scanned at the time of sale, the vote is counted. 7-Eleven keeps track of every purchase made across its U.S. stores and publishes the results to the 7-Election page at the end of each day.


In the last two elections, the  7-Election poll results mirrored data collected by statistically valid polls. This year, the 7-Election had Obama with 59% of the vote, and Romney with 41% where as the popular vote results were 50% for Obama, and 48% for Romney. Why is the spread greater than the legitimate results? Laura Gordon, VP of Brand Innovation for 7-Eleven explained that ”the majority of stores operated and franchised by 7-Eleven are in urban and suburban areas, compared to those considered rural, which are reported to favor the Republican candidate.” Regardless, she added that “bottom line, we have some fun with 7-Election and, if we reminded people of the importance of voting in the ‘real’ election, even better.” 

We think it’s a great move. The campaign imbues the 7-Eleven shopping experience with a little democracy, making the customer feel that engaging with 7-Eleven’s products can be an avenue to engaging with the American political process. It’s this kind of integrated strategy of transforming a standard activity (buying a cup of joe) into something greater than a transaction. It’s also a novel way for a brand to collect, leverage and play with data to delight an audience.

Spencer Phillips is an intern at Wolff Olins New York.

5 principles to designing better service experiences

By Manlio Minale

If you take a moment to think about what your favourite brands are, chances are they are also the ones that give you the right level of service and value that you are looking for at that particular instant.

Whether it’s enjoying a nice home-cooked meal at Virgin Atlantic’s clubhouse or being able to chat to someone who actually knows you at First Direct to sort out your financial woes or finding a trusted cab in seconds on your Hailo app. 

We now live in a service economy with 80% of GDP in the UK and 65% of GDP in the US being generated by services and growing rapidly year on year. However, in general, people’s experiences of services are often poor.

When CEOs were surveyed, 80% of them believed that they delivered an excellent service experience to customers, while only 8% of customers believed that were receiving one. And 64% of these people actually switched to a different company because of this bad service experience.

The problem lies with the fact that businesses often think too narrowly about service. They often see it as ‘customer service’ (which although is very important) is generally thought of as fixing problems and a cost centre whose bottom line needs to be reduced and even outsourced.

Whereas designing ‘service experiences’ is in fact critical to the growth of a business, powering existing and new revenue streams and should be placed at the heart of a business. Better service design can help businesses attract new customers, keep them for longer and stretch into new areas to create value for them. The prize is indeed significant with 84% of customers saying they would pay more for a better brand experience. (Scroll down to read our 5 principles of service experience design).

Service design is about re-orientating your business around the user. Using insights gathered about the user to design even more useful services and tools for them, to enhance their experience of your brand. The democratisation of technology and abundance of data makes this even more possible for businesses to do. The best brands now involve their users upfront in their design process to co-create and rapidly test services and tools with them across the whole experience.


1) Nike’s Fuel Band motivates its users to lead healthy lifestyles by connecting its shoe products to its Nike+ GPS/social media tool to measure how well you are doing in training and let you share that data with your friends and peers.

2) Hailo, the amazing taxi firm app, allows you to quickly find a trusted black cab who will whisk you home without the need to pay cash. It then lets you rate the driver, so the next customer can see what they are like.

3) Square is a new way for small businesses to let their customers pay for services through their iPhone, in a cost effective, smart way. It allows payments on the go and helps companies track their most loyal customers.

The common thread between all three of these examples is that they are all trying to crack a bigger user need or challenge. They aren’t focusing on small, incremental product improvements or features (which businesses often do because they are less risky).

They want to revolutionise the way things are done and create better experiences and realities for their users. They realise that it’s the products and services that people now talk about – rather than their adverts! So this is the key battle to win.


When designing better service experiences, it’s helpful to think about the following five things:

1. People not products

Always design the service around the user and their needs. How do we want them to feel at each stage along the experience? What are their frustrations and needs, and how can we create services and tools to fulfill these in better, more effective ways.

2. Across the whole user experience

The best services look at the whole journey that users go through - from pre-, to during, to post-purchase. Businesses often just focus on the purchase or transaction phase, whereas it’s increasingly the pre- and post- user experiences that offer the best opportunities for winning and keeping customers.

3. Embrace new technologies

The cost of new technologies has reduced dramatically which means it is now possible to embrace these to create services and tools that give the power to the user, allow them to access these services at any time and in any place, and to react to the user’s needs instantaneously.

4. Test, learn and improve

No services are perfect. The key is to rapidly prototype them, test them in situ and use this data to continuously improve the user experience, creating new and more valuable services and tools for them. Being in perpetual beta, is an advantage and enables your users to feed into the process and create the services they want, rather than you trying to second-guess what they may need.

5. Build advocacy platforms

Word of mouth is the best advert for your service. As part of service design we need to think about how we create networks of advocates that can recommend, use and feed into your service development. We need to look after these networks and make sure they are getting rewarded for their continued loyalty with beta versions, enhanced features and offers.

With these ‘rules’ in mind, let’s all set about creating useful services and tools that change the way people do things and improve their lives – not just ‘slightly improve’ them. 

So hopefully we can say ‘Hailo’ to more great services soon!

Manlio Minale is a senior strategist at Wolff Olins.

Image via Hailo 

Stick to your 21st century knitting

By Robert Jones

The book that first got me interested in the whole idea of management was Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence, and one of its mantras was ‘stick to the knitting.’ But is that still good advice, 30 years on? Kodak, Xerox, Nokia, Kmart and Blockbuster all did, and look what’s happened to them. By sticking to their core activity, they failed to react to rivals coming from somewhere else. Google, on the other hand, has moved from its original search-engine knitting into every other handicraft, including self-driving cars.

We explored this topic at a breakfast discussion I hosted last week, exploring our view of the five habits that make 21st century businesses game-changing – which include ‘experimental’ and ‘value-creative’, by which we mean constantly searching for new strategies and revenue streams.

It’s also the topic of Repeatability by Chris Zook and James Allen, two consultants from Bain & Company. They say, in contrast: identify your core, simplify it, and repeat it.

So who’s right? We asked our excellent breakfast panellists came from Zipcar, Zopa and Google. Their view was that experimentation has always been important, and that the Internet now makes it easy to test new things very rapidly, with a huge population of testers. They believe that this kind of testing is natural to a 21st-century business, and that it’s so common that fear of failure – indeed, use of the word ‘failure’ – hardly exists any more. They also say that open experimentation – trying things out in the marketplace – is a great way to be transparent, to involve customers, and so to earn trust.

Where they differ depends on the life stage of their business. In the early years, they say, experiment around the edges until your core idea is proved, but stick to the core idea. ‘It’s a big enough battle,’ said one, ‘to establish our model’. In older age (and Google is a geriatric 14 years old), it become OK to experiment more widely and more radically. ‘Google is always in beta,’ said a panellist.

All three panellists, though, agreed that fruitful experimentation needs to be driven by a purpose. And that purpose can be hugely ambitious: Zipcar has its eyes on the day when there are more car sharers than owners, and Zopa on the moment when peer-to-peer loans outnumber bank loans. Zipcar, Zopa and Google all want to change the world for the better.

So maybe the answer to the conundrum is that Tom Peters was right. You do need to stick to the knitting – but don’t think of your knitting as your activity (which should change over time), but your purpose (which shouldn’t).

Illustration by James Kape.

How Google sets an example with wearable computing

By Sophie Gaskill

The debate about whether anyone would actually wear glasses designed by Google rages on, but what I find more interesting about the story is how it demonstrates, yet again, Google’s bold approach to experimenting, even at the risk of failure, just to stay ahead of the game.

Eschewing the age-old strategy of optimising a product behind the scenes and then launching it to market, Google’s strategy is just to put products out there and then work with users to perfect them. In a post shared on Google Plus, employees in the company lab known as Google X wrote: “We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input.” It is Google’s ability to do this kind of brand-led innovation that keeps things personalised around the product and around the customer.

According to an IBM CEO Study in 2010, 60% of today’s CEOs believe that being experimental is more important than having integrity, global thinking, influence or dedication. But how many CEOs are putting their money where their mouths are and leading the way with truly experimental companies like this one?