According to Ted Kilian, BB’s general manager and chief experience officer, the general trend of upward growth in Asia-Pacific has meant that brands haven’t had to worry about their digital products and executions as much as they could have.
“For strong brands, business in the region has been good in recent years even without well thought out digital products and online user experience,” said Kilian. But this is changing fast, and savvier companies are moving to develop this part of their business as regional competition increases and growth margins become tighter, he said.
Kilian cites increasing pressure from Asian startups that are “taking chunks of the market” as a key driver for pushing bigger, more established brands into action.
“The startup energy in Asia is more legitimate now,” Kilian said. Many of these companies are digital-first and focused on the customer experience online. With these traits they are able to capture niches that larger brands are either skipping past or missing. In some cases, it’s the top people on both the brand and agency side that are identifying market gaps and then launching their own startups.
“These are entrepreneurial times," Kilian said. "The attitude has changed, and the best people in the game are more open to the idea of creating their own start-up rather than staying in corporate roles and having the shine buffed out of them.”
BB is a digital design firm familiar with this notion. In 2012, founder Anand Verma and a team of senior executives in global consultancies and design studios launched BB in London. They’d identified a niche involving digital product design with a heavy focus on customer experience. Their desire was to combine “design-led digital products” with lean internal business processes that eliminate the clutter seen in traditional agency setups.
This kind of design-oriented thinking, applied to digital and internal work practices, attracted Kilian, who has an extensive background in experience design. Having worked for several years in Asia, he joined BB earlier this year from his role as regional creative director Asia-Pacific at SapientNitro in Singapore.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Brilliant Basics because the focus is really on digital work in the context of service design that merges offline and online.” The company has a multi-disciplined team of industrial designers, UI designers, front-end and back-end developers and architects that specialise in building environments.
“We don’t bring the traditional legacy of either digital or marketing,” said Kilian, describing the processes within the company that are directed towards simplicity and final outcomes. “Our younger heads question the way things are done and sometimes that involves creating new tools for ourselves that go on to support our clients and future projects as well.”
Junction (pictured at the top) is a tool the company created internally for managing the governance of digital assets across multiple stakeholders and projects. The platform eliminates the reliance on traditional brand-related style guides for creative consistency. It also neatly catalogues all digital assets, so that they’re never lost or forgotten and can be quickly reused or adapted. Some of BB’s clients have started using the tool as well. Another example is BB Welcome, an app the firm created for new employees and visitors to explore the company.
In Asia, BB’s aim is to establish a strong foundation in Singapore and Hong Kong. “We’ve done work in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, but we’re not concentrating on these regions yet,” said Kilian.
As for clients, BB has its eye on established companies in the region that Kilian believes increasingly understand the importance of user experience as a means of successfully combining product with marketing.
“It’s not that we’ll ignore companies that want us to fix a broken website,” said Kilian. “That’s usually a good conversation that leads to the root problem at the customer-experience level rather than the click.”
The company’s most significant client to date is HSBC. BB designed the bank’s global mobile banking platform, which has millions of users across 37 markets. Other notable clients include the Bill Gates Foundation, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Investec, McMillan Publishing, the University of Sheffield and Vodafone.
When asked whether smaller businesses in Asia will be jumping on digital products with a strong customer experience backbone, Kilian said: “Ultimately if anyone still thinks that they’re not part of digital, they’ll soon realise that they are.”
BB is headquartered in London and also operates in Norwich, Dubai and Hong Kong. It has 80 employees globally.