Adrian Peter Tse
Nov 20, 2015

Asia needs design-led thinking: Accenture company Fjord

HONG KONG - Fjord, an Accenture Digital company, is launching its regional office in Hong Kong at a time when both companies say they see growing client demand for design-led innovation. But is short-term-focused Asia really ready?

Asia needs design-led thinking: Accenture company Fjord

Accenture acquired the design-thinking firm two and a half years ago. Since then Fjord has been integrated into Accenture Interactive’s experience, marketing, content and commerce business.

“The reason for Fjord and Accenture coming together is because design thinking and customer-centricity, for all Accenture clients, is becoming more important and prevalent,” Olof Schybergson, CEO and founder of Fjord told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “Accenture needed a best in-class capability and it would be too slow to grow it internally, so they went out looking for an external acquisition target.”

Since joining Accenture, Fjord has grown from 200 people to over 600 people and from nine studio locations to 17. “We already work with the majority of Accenture’s largest clients—the diamond clients,” said Schybergson.

Bringing Fjord’s design thinking to Asia

According to Schybergson, Asia has been on Fjord’s roadmap for over six years, even prior to the acquisition by Accenture. Inaki Amate, head of Fjord Hong Kong, believes that the time to launch in the region is now ripe.

“Locally there’s an interest in how design can transform business,” said Amate. “Most clients have heard about it, but here in Hong Kong there isn’t anyone to show them what it means for their business.”

Amate, who has opened Fjord offices globally, including Spain and Turkey, observes that many local companies in China are “wondering what else they can do to catch up with innovative companies in the east of China.”

At the same time many Chinese brands want to go global. “They know how the local market works in China but still struggle to understand why they’re not successful in a market like Brazil,” said Amate.  

Considering the size of the economy of the Greater China region, Schybergson highlighted that the number of local Chinese brands that have become successful globally is relatively low. “But that will change in the next 10 years, and we want to be a part of that,” said Schybergson.

When it comes to the paradigm of “design thinking” however, Asia presents certain challenges. Amate said clients in Asia want to see “immediate results and tangible outcomes” but the early phases of the “design thinking” don’t necessarily provide for that.

“For one, Chinese culture tends to be impatient and very pragmatic,” said Amate. “The fact that you need to spend time understanding the customer, create prototypes and do trials that you will later tear down is something we need to educate the market on.”

“The key will be to show that design thinking drastically increases the chance of success compared with when you just go to market or create a new product without using design thinking,” Amate added.

To that point, Schybergson commented that there are two parallel tracks in design practice: “design thinking and design doing” and that the latter will be emphasised in the Asia market.

WATCH: Campaign Asia-Pacific headed over to Accenture's Hong Kong office and asked Schybergson about the greatest myths and misconceptions regarding design thinking:

The difference between Fjord and other design-thinking firms

There are, of course, other design thinking firms already operating in Asia, including IDEO, Frog Design and Nurun. But Schybergson believes the difference between these firms and Fjord is heritage.

“Internationally IDEO and Frog are quality firms, and we actually educate the market together. We help each other,” said Schybergson. “I certainly respect them. At the same time we compete for the same work and talent. So we’re kind of 'frenemies'.”

According to Schybergson, IDEO and Frog Design’s heritage is in industrial design and product design, while Fjord is more “purely digital”.

“Our medium is digital," he said. "We don’t do industrial design, electrical engineering and that kind of stuff, although we do overlap a fair amount in what we do and deliver.”

In addition, Schybergson said that IDEO has “a bit of a reputation for not bringing things to market and often ending at the design-thinking phase.”

“The ‘design doing’ is left to others," he said. "Often we get feedback from clients saying that it was great working with IDEO and that they excited the C-level. But that the clients themselves didn’t know how to bring anything to market afterwards.”

That’s a reputation Schybergson and Amate are keen to avoid.

“I think Accenture gives us that ability to execute and do large-scale transformations. Accenture has been behind some of the biggest in the world. You might not know it because they haven’t talked about it,” said Schybergson.

'Design thinking' versus 'design doing'


The acquisition experience

Schybergson said that from Fjord’s perspective, the differences between Accenture’s mainstream business and Fjord’s specialisation in design were “fascinating yet synergistic”.  

“Of course as an entrepreneur that runs your own business, you’re excited,” said Schybergson. “But you’re also hesitant in some ways because you don’t know what the future will bring from joining with a company as large as Accenture.”

While the last two and a half years have been focused on integrating the essential functions of Fjord and Accenture, including “going to market and approaching clients together” as well as “linking back office systems”, some things have remained separate.  

For example, Schybergson explained that for Fjord to “do its best work” teams are located in design studios rather than on site with clients—a modus operandi common to Accenture’s business consulting practice.

“In addition, we’ve continued to use the brand Fjord, which is positioned around creativity and design and is different from the core Accenture brand," said Schybergson. "We continually invest in this to ensure we continue to attract the top talent in our space.” 

“Not to say we don’t live within the broader value system and culture of Accenture, but Fjord is still unique and noticeably different,” he added.  


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