We talked to Dennis Lenard of Creative Navy on how the user experience design agency adds value to digital products.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dennis Lenard: Lovely of you to ask about them! Everyone’s in good health, thankfully, although I don’t think my mother’s ever baked so many pies before in her life.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Creative Navy.
Dennis Lenard: I founded Creative Navy 10 years ago, back when everything UX related was a complete novelty to most people. Our approach was based on a combination of engineering and cognitive science. We’ve had to fight our fair share of battles when arguing for UX that is done systematically and methodically. We rely on facts derived from research and science to justify our design decisions. This has always brought us amazing results and set us apart from our competitors.
How does Creative Navy innovate?
Dennis Lenard: We use the double diamond model and push ourselves to innovate with every project we take on. Creative work can get chaotic without a pattern, so we follow these predictable steps in order to maintain efficiency. Of course, we often find ourselves jumping back and forth between them, but every stage is immensely important. We’re happy to put in the work for our clients.
The amount of effort a task requires tends to mirror the quality of the results. We treat every project as an opportunity to prove ourselves and grow, both as individuals and teams.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dennis Lenard: It doesn’t affect our work dynamic: we’re a decentralized team, scattered all over Europe. We have offices in London, Berlin, and Basel. We were used to working with clients and each other online. Our entire business is the creation or improvement of digital products.
The biggest challenge was maintaining a steady flow of projects coming in. Finding work became more difficult than ever before. When COVID-19 hit, people were very cautious about investing in new ideas or setting out on novel business ventures. For two months, it seemed that the demand for our services had run completely dry.
Misfortunes never come singly. As we were getting ready to wrap up a project for a certain company, their $1.3 billion hidden debt came to light, and they went bankrupt.
Things started going back to normal in July. It seems that it took everyone some time to process what was happening. We’re glad we managed to pull through.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dennis Lenard: In the beginning, nobody knew what would happen. We were all dabbling in presuppositions about the future state of the economy. Will everything be frozen for a few weeks or several months? This uncertainty was tough to process, and it prompted a series of difficult choices.
We had to figure out effective risk management strategies. We went for a prudent approach, of course, but we also kept working and holding ourselves to the high-quality standard that defines our UX agency. We couldn’t abandon our partners in their hour of need. We chose to make ourselves available and check-in to make sure that everyone was doing okay. This strengthened our rapport, and all parties involved came out of the situation feeling stronger.
Our clients were also fighting their own battles. We had signed a contract with an event planning company. COVID-19 practically erased the need for such a business and threatened their economic viability. It was also a drastic setback in terms of cash flow for us. We would have lost the equivalent of 5 months of work. The predictable solution would have been to drop this client. On the other hand, we’re designers, so we chose a different approach.
It was critical for our client to rebuild their digital space. They needed an amazing website in order to successfully relaunch in 2021. We didn’t want to abandon ship. Instead, we found a solution that worked for both of us, even if it meant that we would only get paid in two years’ time. Our move convinced their development partner to follow suit, and now they’re getting ready to launch their newest concept in January.
Our support helped their team regain some of their hope and motivation. The shocking situation they were in had taken its toll on their morale. They also managed to retain most of their employees, which is an amazing feat.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Dennis Lenard: We strive to maintain a healthy balance between work and leisure time. We’re careful not to put too much pressure on people. We’d rather work under capacity than bring our employees to the point of burnout. It’s counterintuitive and less profitable. Mental health comes first. We also try to make room for human contact as often as possible, even if it’s on Zoom.
The possibility of negative outcomes is a big component of stress. We must accept that life is unpredictable, and those undesirable occurrences are simply part of it. During times like these, we have to focus on being there for each other and doing our civic duty.
We’re pessimistic at heart, and we expect the worst. It’s design thinking that causes the paradigm shift: we’re always wondering what the next big challenge will be and how we’ll be able to solve it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dennis Lenard: We’re running against all other big UX agencies in the world. We stay relevant by constantly optimizing our processes and our approach towards UX/UI design. We focus on strategic projects. We’re passionate about difficult situations that require informed and witty solutions.
Your final thoughts?
Dennis Lenard: The only difference between a group of random strangers and a cohesive team is collaboration. Perhaps COVID-19 can also serve as a reminder that we should all take care of each other. During times such as these, we must act decisively for the good of our employees, our clients, and our community. My best piece of advice is: Be good to one another.
In the end, we’ll learn to roll with the punches.