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Human Interest

Author: Group of Humans

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Human Interest is the podcast of The Group of Humans, a network of industry-leading designers, developers, writers, researchers and other creative pros, who work together in distributed teams all around the world to solve problems for some of the world’s most innovative companies. In each episode, we talk with a different member of the Group. We hear some of their professional history, and how they got where they are today. And beyond that, we discuss what's important to them: what makes them curious, or passionate, and what worries or excites them, as they tackle some of the tricky problems around technology and how it’s shaping the lives of all of us.
12 Episodes
Today’s episode is the first after a long break, during which the coronavirus pandemic has upended pretty much every aspect of modern life. For the Humans, a lot of that time has been spent trying to adjust to this new reality, and to contribute what we can to a solution. So today’s episode focuses on one of those efforts — a website called FrontlineLive that uses social media and map-based sharing to connect medical personnel and other frontline workers in the UK with the Personal Protective Equipment they need to do their jobs.FrontlineLive was founded by Katz Kiely, a UK-based entrepreneur with a long track record of using open platforms to drive institutional change, and she’s one of my two guests today. The other guest is Gina Soloperto, a Group of Humans member who’s worked with Katz over the past five months to get FrontlineLive started, and growing. We talk a little bit about their own professional backgrounds, but the bulk of the conversation is the behind the scenes story of launching the website, quickly and with an all-volunteer team, and all of the ways it’s evolved and grown since then. There’s a lot of insight here for anyone looking to use technology and behavioral insights to drive positive change, and we also talk a little bit toward the end about the positive and negative potential of social platforms, and the responsibility they bring for those who set them up.
Today we’re talking Jason Mesut, a London-based design consultant, one of the early members of the Group of Humans, and the head of the London chapter of the IxDA. Jason’s also got a particular knack for assembling design teams, for both internal and agency work, and it’s something he’s done successfully for over a decade. So much of the focus of today’s conversation is on what makes a good team, why it’s so hard to get it right, and the challenge of identifying capabilities and working styles in creative professionals. To that end, Jason’s also been working for the last several years on a side project called Shaping Design, which provides tools and platforms that help creative professionals identify their own strengths, and where they fit in a team setting. It’s a bit of a labor of love, and something Jason’s presented and led discussions on many times. It’s also the focus of the first half of today’s conversation.The second half is on how to run a successful remote conference, something that’s uniquely relevant as we move into our eighth month of a pandemic that’s moved most group events online. Jason was recently co-chair of the 2020 EuroIA conference, which took some atypical approaches to remote gathering, and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews. So if you’re curious how they pulled that off, or if you’re organizing your own remote event and want to take some notes, this one’s definitely worth a listen.
Today’s episode comes in the middle of a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has spread to every country on earth, and much of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown as countries and states try and fight the virus and deal with the impact of COVID-19, the disease it causes. So obviously it’s not business as usual. Like a lot of organizations, the Group of Humans has had to refocus our communication in response to the crisis, meaning that most of what we’re publishing right now revolves around healthcare in some form.So today’s guest reflects that. I’m talking with Lisa deBettencourt, a design strategist who’s spent the last eight years working primarily with healthcare organizations and startups. She has a background in user experience design, but as you’ll hear, she’s also quite a polymath, with a solid understanding of genomics, clinical diagnostics, data privacy, and especially in the systems-level issues around healthcare, especially in the US. She’s also an adjunct professor at Northeastern University in Boston, where she teaches a course on the ways technology impacts culture, and how to shape that impact for the better.Most of today’s conversation focuses on the design challenges posed by the pandemic, both short-term and long-term; and that ranges from digital tools for managing chronic health issues, to telemedicine, to some of the likely lingering effects on the way we work and receive services. For designers and design-driven organizations, the discussion highlights some areas where we might be able to do some good, if not in the immediate struggle, then in the long aftermath, when so many human behaviors are guaranteed to change.
Today’s episode is largely about fire. Specifically, the growing problem of wildfires in California, and how good design, combined with improved data analysis tools might help reduce the dangers they pose. The guest I’m speaking with is Kevin Farnham, who might be more familiar as the founder of Method, an integrated design agency that broke a lot of ground, creating design systems for companies like Autodesk and Quicken, then expanding into a global consultancy with clients like Hitachi, Kenwood, McDonald’s and The Economist. So Kevin and I talk a little about Method, and also about Mirra, his more recent venture that seeks to productize the creation of 3D environments.But the bulk of the conversation is about his current project, to create a set of data tools that make it easier to fight wildfires, and to manage forests so those fires aren’t so destructive. It’s a great example of how design principles from the business world can actually have a big impact on society-level problems—and it points out some of the unique challenges you face when dealing with such a diverse group of stakeholders.For designers, it’s an inspiring discussion, that really reinforces the idea that good design can solve real problems and have a large scale positive impact. And for anyone who lives in California—or Australia, or anywhere else dealing with a climate-change induced wildfire crisis—it’s a reason for hope, and a call to action too.
Episode 8: Suki Fuller

Episode 8: Suki Fuller


Today on Human Interest, I’m talking with Suki Fuller, who just joined the Humans a few months ago. Suki’s located in London, although she largely grew up in the US, and has worked there, in China, and a few other places as well. And her expertise is in something called competitive intelligence — not intelligence as in smarts, but more in the information gathering, secret finding sense. She was actually trained in a university program that prepared students for both government intelligence and the corporate world, and she’s used her information gathering skills for a wide range of industries, including advertising, automotive, pharmaceuticals, and currently she’s active in the VC and startup scene in London, helping investors figure out which founders are worth backing.So we talk quite a lot about the process of finding information and the need for due diligence, as well as the role of trust in decision-making, and how branding plays into that. We talk about mentoring—which is something she does a lot of—and why it’s worth doing even when you’re short on time. We also discuss imposter syndrome, why it’s so pervasive, and about the tension between owning your own capabilities and being realistic about the expertise around you.
Chris is a Creative Partner in the Group of Humans, with a background as a copywriter and creative strategist, in both the UK and Sweden. Having worked in big agencies like DigitasLBi, and as an independent, he's spent the past twenty years observing how different organizational structures enable or hinder creative work.So this episode's conversation revolves around big ideas and big questions: What's the right kind of structure for getting creative work done? What’s the right kind of hierarchy for a creative organization, or do you need hierarchy at all? Does a creative organization need departments? Does any organization? How much should we specialize within teams? And how about physical offices or studios, now that we’ve got hyper-distributed teams and really good communication tools? As one of the founding members, Chris is extremely active within the Group, and very committed as well:  he actually has a Group of Humans logo tattooed on his arm.
Episode 6: Adah Parris

Episode 6: Adah Parris


Today we’re talking with Adah Parris, a strategist with a truly fascinating range of interests and insights. From a background in primary school education, she's gone on to work in marketing and advertising, design education, and more recently consults with organizations as a sort of professional storyteller, helping them sort out some of their internal alignment challenges. Adah also writes and speaks extensively on the role of technology in society, and is particularly interested in what she calls Cyborg Shamanism—the use of rituals around technology as a sort of substitute for religion in Western societies. So we discuss that, we hear about her own professional story, we talk about the Group of Humans as a kind of “human blockchain” for establishing mutual trust, and we get into the uses of story as a problem-solving tool.
Episode 5: Rob Noble

Episode 5: Rob Noble


Today’s guest is Rob Noble, who founded the Group of Humans, so he’s the primary person responsible for the way it’s structured, the way we work, who’s in the group (though that’s not entirely up to him), and ultimately, for the existence of this podcast.We talk a lot about the original idea—a sort of globally distributed creative super group— how it came up in the first place, and all of the groundwork that had to be laid to make the structure work. We also hear about the group’s first year in operation, and the kind of client work we’ve tackled in distributed teams. More broadly, there’s a lot of discussion about traditional creative agency models vs gig economy ones, and the process of building distributed community—including the challenge of trying to keep 80+ designers happy, whether that’s through work opportunities or other kinds of benefits. So if you’ve been looking for a clear explanation of what this whole thing is about, and how distributed creative teams might work in the future, look no further. 
Episode 4: Jinal Shah

Episode 4: Jinal Shah


Jinal Shah is a marketing advisor and team leader who’s worked with finance, beauty, fashion, and wellness brands over the past 15 years. She started as a reporter and fact-checker for InStyle magazine, then went on to do brand strategy for brands like Revlon, Unilever, and MasterCard. She’s done some fairly transformational e-commerce work with Amazon, and currently runs her own omni channel marketing agency called S’well. In this conversation, Jinal talks about her experiences working with a multi-timezone team on a recent Group of Humans we project, her own professional history, and about the challenges of brand-building in an age of extreme skepticism—especially among younger consumers. We also discuss how building a good creative team is like being a professional chef, and about the inherent advantages of being a single-product, direct-to-consumer brands, and what lessons they hold for bigger, more established brands.
Florian’s a Creative Partner at Group of Humans, and even for a design professional he’s had a pretty extraordinary career. Originally trained to be a car designer, his entry into the creative professions actually started in music: he was signed to the legendary UK dance label Ninja Tune in the late 90s, and that whole scene is what eventually led him to motion graphics and web design. This turned into a creative studio called Hi-RES, that grew to several dozen members in London, Berlin and New York, and ran for nearly 20 years.Florian’s now in a sort of self-imposed “retirement”, but only loosely—he’s still got tons of projects going on, including collaborations with startups exploring new ways of using blockchain, a new music album, a website, a sustainable tech initiative called Sovereign Nature, and of course his work with the Group of Humans. So part of the conversation is around the arc of a creative career, and the challenge of reinvention after constantly doing new things for your whole adult life. We also talk a lot about his studio Hi-RES, and what it is that makes these kinds of loosely defined, passion-driven creative collectives succeed or fail. We talk about London, and what makes it such a great place to do creative work, about the value of constraints, and—once again—about why there are so many digital designers who were trained in physical product design. 
Today’s guest is Alessandra Lariu. Ale is an advertising industry veteran, and consultant who's worked in creative direction, communications, strategy, and coding for nearly two decades at this point, in the UK and US. She's also the co-founder of SheSays, the world's largest network for women in the creative professions. Since setting it up with co-founder Laura Jordan Bambach 12 years ago, the network has grown to over 50,000 members in more cities than we can count, and it shows no signs of slowing. So we talk a lot about that, about the difference between a creative network and a creative community, and about how you develop shared values and trust with remote partners — which is something Ale’s done quite a lot of, in SheSays and in her professional life.
For many listeners, Simon may not need much introduction. He’s a bit of a legend within professional creative circles, in part because he co-founded Deepend, one of the first true digital design studios in London, back in the mid 90s. He went on to start and run Poke, another well-known agency, spent several years at legendary advertising studio Mother, and his clients have included Coca-Cola, Vevo, Airbnb, Verizon, and Intel, where he was vice president of their media arm. Simon is also one of the small team of partners who worked with Group of Humans founder Rob Noble to plan out the group's details, so we talk a little about what makes GoH unique among design networks. Mostly, though, the episode is a series of stories and lessons from a long, extraordinary creative career. We discuss the early days of digital design in the UK, the benefits of having an industrial design background when doing digital work, the unique working culture of Silicon Valley, and what it's like to manage a project team when everyone working with you is a principal.
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