Kicking off our industry expert series, we caught up with Archie Tep, the head of product design at Fave Asia. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Archie manages and designs products for three countries: Malaysia; Indonesia; and Singapore.
Fave, is the leading mobile O2O platform in Southeast Asia making 'cashless rewarding'. Providing solutions to merchants in the three aforementioned countries, 'Fave Consumer' allows for payment, loyalty programs, cash back, voucher deals, and a whole host of features for merchants to run business effectively. At the other end, 'Fave Pay' allows the consumers to take advantage of such deals and connect customers directly to sellers for an easy purchasing experience.
Having previously worked in Cambodia, one of the many remaining legacy's of his work can be found in the widely used ABA app:
I think it's actually what has helped the bank to scale - now reaching the billion dollars club.
I'd say I received the biggest impact from creating that product. I still receive feedback from it, it’s been a really good experience.
With such accolades in his product design career, we enquired to Archie's journey— as to how his career has developed and the challenges he faced.
Originally, Archie started with an advertising background as he worked as an art director and designer. Whilst working for such major clients as KFC and Samsung, Archie had a minor epiphany whereby he realized he wasn't delivering the kind of impact he wanted to.
Advertising is a lot about assisting a company, to maybe be a little bit better by 1% to 2%. So I couldn’t really measure the impact that I was trying to create.
That was the moment in my career where I decided to completely switch from advertising to doing something with a more measurable impact, which for me, lies in human centered design.
Archie then recalibrated his career towards human centered design, discovering 'design thinking', which became a catalyst for further fueling his career switch.
It was more like a switch in my mindset of working to deliver what matters for people.
It was then, that Archie found his desired impact by building digital products, products for daily use, and importantly— products that solve consumer problems.
Success and Challenges.
Discussing success, we asked which qualities he considered key for his industry. After some thought, Archie identified alignment and persistence.
I think everybody, without exception, faces frustration everyday because like I said, there are a lot of challenges.
You need to educate people. You need to align the different stakeholders.
Expanding further, he conceded that frustration is a normal emotion in busy industry environments, yet persistence is key as challenges are there to be conquered. If your sights are clear, and you have a great product planned for a great cause, it's all worth it, mused Archie.
He added that the lack of 'design culture' in Asia has been a particular hurdle for product design. Much more time has to be invested in educating stakeholders to invest in the business via design as great design can solve present and future issues succinctly.
It’s very challenging when the business industry as a whole, doesn't see the real benefits of design yet and how it could impact their business.
Building on some of the 'design thinking' principles and insights, we discussed the progress of product design and various tips for heightening productivity whilst overcoming potential barriers, like top down management structures causing red tape:
The problem is that during a meeting or a review process, it turns into the highest paid’s opinion meeting, meaning, whoever is the highest paid is the loudest in the room.
Archie went on to suggest replacing traditional meetings with new structures to heighten alignment. One such strategy he found was the design sprint.
It’s more about the core framework of the design sprint - which is the “working alone together”; it’s basically the client process and structured process of working together towards an outcome.
At Fave, he revealed that they no longer run feedback review sessions and instead have created 'poking hole' sessions instead. He defined this a more structured concept, that involves a brief design presentation followed by ten minutes of 'working alone together'— writing down what does and doesn't work, what improvements can be made and any other general suggestions.
This written practice allows for turn based equality, whereby everyones voice is heard with the same merit, avoiding some of the major meeting pitfalls Archie identified:
Usually the highest paid guy talks and nobody else talks. People go into silence mode and listen to the highest paid.
A structured meeting helps you shape the meeting and to receive a meaningful outcome— not to waste time during those two hours meetings whereby no decision may come out of it.
With a better system in place to hear the voices of the whole team, we posed the question of how to then manage potentially incorrect or damaging decisions from stakeholders— as ultimately, they will have more sway on the chosen direction of a company.
Noting that he generally believes everyone in business has good intentions, Archie referred back to alignment and empathy being crucial for steering good decision making.
I think we, as product designers, have that luxury of knowing the frameworks and processes— and part of our role is to help communicate this to the management to guide them to see from that different angle that they can’t otherwise see.
Archie referenced an interview with a chief digital officer at Barclays, whom reinforced this idea of alignment. For digital transformations and progression, it's important to get everyone on board with definable goals and visions, all the way from top management and flowing throughout technical teams and various stakeholders. By taking the time to invest in aligning the organization, you can be confident that the business will be moving in the right direction consistently from the combination of multiple team outputs.
Archie summarized the discussion point with a concise reiteration:
Alignment sessions, and making [stakeholders] see from a different perspective, could minimize bad, damaging decisions. As a designer, you should be able to communicate that vision, that different angle, consumer perspectives, and consumer pain-points to your stakeholders.
Managing Design Teams.
Managing and designing products for three countries, a core skill Archie possesses and highlights is empathy. We discussed how teams can be build, steered and managed by effective empathetic leadership:
When you start to build a team or join a company in a leadership position, the first mistake that I think a lot of people make is that they start to change things right away, without even understanding how the culture works or without even understanding what the team is doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, etcetera.
For team management, he notes the importance of observing and understanding individuals, to help steer them towards success areas built with their strengths in mind. Adding that frameworks and strategies are key, Archie advises team managers to carefully listen and observe team practices to identify potential problems and weaknesses early on, and create a better or more flexible framework geared towards team member skillsets.
Specifically looking at design teams, we asked for Archie's insight on the most important aspect of management:
I’m a big believer in learning the rules, and then breaking the rules.
Expanding further, he notes that whilst managers may love design thinking, they need to be flexible enough to realize what is best for the team as a whole. Finding particular disciplines that'll maximize success are key, as Archie notes that identifying bad habits (and why they exist) has been extremely useful for aiding team success.
When Archie first joined Fave, there was no product design team. Now he's expanded their team to five product designers but noted the initial challenges he had when building the team,
Product design is more than just pixel design. Product design is about strategies, etcetera, too.
By firstly observing the team in action, I found out that I had great product designers that were great at interaction designs, principle designs and system designs too. So, I then basically designed a discipline system completely from scratch for the team. I had to be flexible enough to design and create a space for all types of designers to succeed.
Crafting a product design strategy for product and critical thinking, he then produced a second discipline based on the 'design interaction craft' which he summarized as how they take their strategy and thinking into creating a great experience that offers the best possible interaction throughout their product.
Tools for Success.
Instilling extensive testing into the team, Archie referenced 'the squiggle' as a concept they closely follow; fail fast fail early culture.
As illustrated, the concept pushes teams to try as many radical ideas out early, to see what might work and importantly what will not. Once the research has been done, and various concepts and MVP prototypes created, the project will have a higher success chance as they define a clear focus.
Archie reiterated the benefit of this model, as without early research and testing you may waste masses of time, energy and resources building a misaligned product that consumers can't use, won't use or simply don't need.
You start with understanding what's the right problem, and then try to solve that problem and frame that problem.
Just try to find as many solutions as you can. And then validate those assumptions, those solutions as soon as possible.
He added that at Fave they have started to various testing strategies to protect their efforts from being wasted.
To aid how the approach tasks, the team also focus on what they'll use. With various software solutions available, we asked which tools Archie felt has drastically changed the way that designers work:
There are so many tools that are coming out every day. Even the screen design that we're using - we’ve switched to Figma lately for full online collaboration, etc.
But, I think the most useful one right now is Miro - the online board.
Noting the ongoing challenges businesses face due to the global pandemic, Archie highlighted the added benefit these software solutions had for remote working both as a team and with clients.
Miro just checks off every designer’s needs right now. We need a space to collaborate, to ideate, to write things without judgment, and Miro works perfectly well for that.
With most industries already disrupted by the pandemic, we mused future design trends with Archie and asked for his predictions:
One thing that is under the radar is UX writing.
I only started noticing this myself but copywriting is such an underestimated scope.
He went on to explain that without the right wording and messaging, no one would be able to understand what a company is trying to achieve. When Fave design their user experience, they consider various user personas and how they might interpret or digest various messages— this practice helps them tighten up the effectiveness of their output.
With UX writing likely to continue being an important scope, Archie predicts that more products will switch to becoming content based rather than 'brand based'.
We can already start seeing that now with the latest update from Airbnb or from Uber, that branding has become so invisible, and more focus is being placed on the content itself.
With an impressive portfolio, we wanted to learn more about what motivates and inspires Archie. Reaffirming that the love and belief in whichever product he builds is a driving factor, he then continued on to discuss his daily routine:
I go to the office at 8. Normally my team would arrive around 10 or 11, but I like to be early in the office because usually I have about 30 minutes to an hour to myself in the morning that I find really peaceful - just to look at design inspiration, design trends, listen to podcasts in a really quiet office, and try to just give myself some time to be inspired.
Once the team arrive, they'll start a daily 'stand-up' meeting to prioritize and organize tasks, whilst offering assistance to whichever projects or team members may require it.
Archie revealed he takes leadership inspiration from Julie Zhou, the VP of design at Facebook. Further to learning empathy strategy from her, he added that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive at Apple not only inspire via their design but through their mindsets.
The mindset of being curious all the time, of looking at a product from a beginner’s point of view, and that problems were there to be solved so that a user had the best experience possible. You never expect people to get used to a problem, so I think that core time period of Apple's journey, when Steve and Jony were working very closely together, is an inspiring moment.
As we discussed role models, mindset and leadership, Archie revealed two insightful books that have resonated with him and his approach to working:
The first one is Made to Stick by the Heath brothers - Dan and Chip. It’s about how when you have an abundance of knowledge in something, it leads to this phenomenon called ‘the curse of knowledge’ - where, despite having this abundant knowledge and despite it being really clear in your mind, you cannot convey or communicate it to people to make them understand it.
Further to learning effective communication externally, he adds that Simon Sinek's 'Start with Why' reinforces a great fundamental practice often overlooked in most industries. The book explores the importance and beginning a project with a solid grasp of 'why' the team is doing what they are doing. If there's no defined reason, the chance of failure, disinterest or misalignment will soar.
To end the interview, we asked Archie what he would like to see humanity achieve in his lifetime.
Considering what we are going through right now, I’d like to see this pandemic stopping and us going back to normal.
This crisis has not only impacted us economically, but it’s also a health crisis. I think in 2008 when there was an economic crisis, nobody was dying. But now, it’s a huge economic crisis, and people are dying. So I think if we could leverage technology and data, or whatever we have now, to predict and prevent such a pandemic from happening again, that would be great.
Besides that, I've always had passion about service design and design for good causes. So I would like to see big companies and design firms build better products for a better world where it’s needed the most; such as building a better health system or improving financial accessibility in Africa for example.
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