Allow more playfulness in your work

Stephen Hay, Creative Director

Stephen Hay is Creative Director at Rabobank. Originally from California, Stephen has lived and worked in the Netherlands for some time. With over 25 years of experience in the field, Stephen gives many presentations and keynotes on design and the design process. We talk to him about a number of statements he made during these presentations over the years.

Nothing exciting happens in your comfort zone

Your comfort zone can be a dull area. Little happens, your work is based on rituals and habits, but you don’t really move forward. It’s good to look for the edges of your comfort zone every now and then. I did this myself when I had a conversation with my a former manager. He asked me if would ever work at a bank. My answer was pretty quick “I’m never going to work for a bank” but then I thought about it some more. There was this challenge in the question that appealed to me. Look where I am now. I can do the things I’m good at, and I have an impact on millions of people. I help with products for a bank that really mean something to our customers. It’s new territory for me to work on such a large scale. It brings me to the edge of my comfort zone.

Question things in your industry

I constantly ask our team why they make certain choices. We are so used to choosing certain solutions to specific problems. But why do we pick that solution? Is it really the right solution for us, as a bank, with our audience and our specific questions? Or is it a solution you choose because everyone else in the industry does this? Because it is an accepted solution to the problem? There was always someone who was the first to come up with a certain solution to a problem. But that solution was for the problem at that moment in that situation. For instance the way your banking app shows the overview of activities on your bank account. Is it the same situation as we have now? Is it really the same problem?

It’s good to look at other disciplines as well. In the design world, I think we stick to the same processes and working methods for too long. As a designer I therefore look a lot at programmers, how they make their work easier. We can learn a lot from them, I’m always looking for ways to do something smarter or different.

Stop focusing on the solution, and start focusing on the problem

The solutions we often choose because it is the rule or convention, do they really solve the problem? I constantly try to really think about the problem with my colleagues and work on this. We can be very hands-on, for example, by asking customer service which barriers our customers encounter on the site or the app. We then find out why they encounter these problems. The why question is very important to us, it brings up the real problem. I like to challenge people to think about the why that can lead to better solutions.

You can learn a lot from colleagues who approach a problem differently by asking the question differently. For example, I once sat at a job interview where a colleague asked: “If your colleagues are at the coffee machine and they’re talking about you, what do they say?” I think that’s such a nice question! It  brings the focus on your points for improvement, but you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and how they think about you. That rethinking is a valuable quality of people here at the bank.

I’m a perfectionist but nothing I do is perfect.

I want to do everything right here at the bank, but you can’t do it perfectly. This can be frustrating, because I’m quite a perfectionist. Perfectionism has good aspects, because you want to do your job well. But the danger is you never think you’re doing it well enough. That’s why I’m so happy with my colleagues. They notice when I don’t feel so good about myself. They can put things into perspective and help me where I’m lacking in my work. My colleagues tell me when something is good enough. That’s how we look after each other and make each other better.

You’ve got to be open for the unexpected

This is a quote from David Carson, a designer I admire very much. Within many companies there is a focus on processes and output. That’s good, but sometimes it makes it impossible to be open to unexpected input from outside. Carson just observes. Just relax and allow the playfulness in your work. This gives room for new ideas. I want to do more with this way of thinking. For example, by looking at the profession and work of people who have no direct relationship with a bank or the work we do here. This provides a lot of inspiration and insights, as does the bank’s focus on greater diversity and inclusiveness. By opening up to other perspectives, you can gain new ideas and connections in your work. We really need that openness.

About Stephen Hay

Stephen Hay is the author of Responsive Design Workflow, a book about content-first design, with a strong emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration, content-first design and prototyping. In the past, Stephen worked with his own company Zero Interface for the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Ministry of Finance, Nuon/Vattenfall and Zalando, among others. After working at Catawiki as Head of UX, he has been Creative Director at Rabobank since 2019. Stephen is also co-author of the web quality and accessibility guidelines of the Dutch government.