PAGE Magazine

Interview with Jessi Pervola


PAGE Magazine spoke to Jessi Pervola, our Director of Design, about the changing role of design and how designers can help infuse more effective strategy and innovation thinking into organizations.

How do you think about design?

For us, design is a method to create meaning and answer complex questions for organizations and their customers. This is where magic can really happen, when a business need lines up with a human need. Design is often thought of as bringing the “desirability” lens to a product – i.e. you make it beautiful, you make it work well – but it can, and should, be much more than that. Design can bring clarity to a problem or give insight to a need that might otherwise be difficult to measure with standard business practices.


The design process almost always starts with empathy – we always try to understand the needs and desires of the people we’re solving a problem for, and this includes the people who work within the organizations we partner with. I believe it’s this empathy in combination with a natural creativity that allows designers to solve larger organization and social problems. It may be designers’ personalities or the way we’re trained (or maybe a bit of both), but we’re good at stepping into the shoes of other people in a way that lets us see many solutions from their perspective. We then add our perspective and training and diverse backgrounds to the mix to determine the best way to solve the problem that considers every angle – technical, business and human need.

Our internal culture at Smart Design also allows us to continually question the meaning of what we’re doing. From the moment a client walks in the door with a request, we analyze and challenge it. During the course of a project, we constantly question the value the solution we’re working toward will bring to our client’s business, brand or customers. It must always bring value – and we look to prove that value as we work. This questioning isn’t meant to slow down a process, but rather, help define what it means to be a good partner to our clients. In the end, we want to be sure that they’re doing what’s best for the right reasons – not because it was faster, or easier, or would help create short-term gains versus long-term value.

How has your worked changed in recent years?

We have a 30-year history of human-centered design with a legacy in product design and development. The way we used to work in designing products really mirrored the way our clients did business years ago. They made a thing, a product, and delivered that to their customers – and the transaction was over for the most part. But with today’s technology, the customer journey is vastly different from what it used to be in almost every industry imaginable. Organizations are no longer having one-way transactions with their customers; rather, it has become a continuous, two-way relationship. This has influenced the way their brands are perceived, the products and services they choose to develop, and the way their businesses make money. So it’s natural that our business has shifted along with our clients’ to become not just about a product, but about a holistic service, positioning, and business approach that supports the two-way conversation.

How has the appreciation of design changed?

In recent years, there has absolutely been a shift in the appreciation of design, which really points to the success of design-led companies like Apple or Spotify. Our clients see this success and ask, “What are they doing that we’re not doing?” And often, the answer is that design is viewed as an equal to the business or technical teams at these organizations. That is a relatively new concept. Companies are also beginning to bring the design process into how they run their business, beyond what they make or sell. We help our clients design all kinds of “intangibles” from the way they measure success, to how a new approach to their business is messaged internally or externally, to how they can engage their own innovation process. We can really inject a different point of view into our clients’ businesses than what they’re able to simply because of their size, internal culture, or inexperience.

What does it take to work at Smart Design?

We purposefully hire people from all over the world with a diverse range of backgrounds. We have people who deeply understand design, technology, and business, but can also stretch into many types of roles depending on the client need. But that kind of stretching takes experience, and of course, we hold the craft of design in the highest regard, and this is the value that designers with less experience or are new out of school will bring.

I have a degree in graphic design, and I worked in that space for about six years before I joined Smart Design. This helped me hone my skills and expertise in one area, which I bring to my work every day. The rest of our team has a range of experience and expertise – for example, all types of design and tech backgrounds, MBAs, design as a second career, you name it. We don’t have a mold that our designers fit into. We look for people who are creative, excel in their field, and are inspired to stretch much further.

How do you work on a project?

We don’t have one set way to proceed with projects. I know that’s a slightly boring answer, but it’s true! Every project is vastly different from the one before, even if it’s for a similar industry, product, or service. All of our clients come with a different set of goals, a different brand, unique technical constraints and challenges, different customers, internal cultures and on and on. We approach each project in a bespoke way that allows us to deeply immerse ourselves in the business and its customers – the empathy I mentioned earlier. If we find that we need to change course as we go along in the process, we do. Of course, we have set project phases, and use an approach that pulls from proven tools and methodologies, but really, it just depends on the project needs.

How do you help your clients bring ideas to market?

We help in a variety of ways. Sometimes we are a quick creative “spark” for them, advising on what they could do, services they could offer, product development opportunities, ways to shift their business and position themselves, etc. Then the internal teams might take it from there. In other cases, we’re partners from beginning to end, developing the opportunity space, the idea, refining and building the idea, then launching products, digital services, and/or internal initiatives. And lately, we’ve been helping our clients build internal capabilities, such as UX or around research and customer insights, which are similar to what we offer. We’re seeing this more and more as companies start to give design that equal role that’s been traditionally reserved for business and tech.

Do you have any examples you can share?

Yes, please see our work on HP and Hyundai Card.

Please visit the PAGE website to access the full interview, which is written in German.

Mar 2015