Up close with Ben Ireland and Chris Marsh, Head of Experience and Creative at Splendid Unlimited

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11 July 2019

Talk us through how you first landed yourself a role in the industry?

Ben: I started off making tea and photocopies for my dad’s design business in Tottenham Court Road as a holiday job. Then I had extracurricular training with one of the designers there to design magazines and newspapers, and that’s where I really began to love design.

Chris: I had just finished an unpaid internship with a PR agency and I was working in a pub where one of the regular punters was a creative director. I struck up a rapport with the guy, and over a 3-month period – after giving him a lot of free rum – managed to persuade him to give me a shot. Like Ben, I made a lot of tea, and again like Ben, out of hours I did a number of short courses at Central Saint Martins whilst slowly grabbing any remedial design tasks I could.

What does a typical day in your role look like?

Ben: Chris and I have so much cross over here and are both typically one of the first ones in. Being early enables you to get an idea of what your day looks like, spot any problems early, have a cup of tea (coffee in Chris’s case) and get in the right mind set. Typically, meetings for us start at half eight – nine o’clock.

Chris: If we came later, we probably wouldn’t get to do the things we need to do…

Ben: The next thing is planning the day and figuring out everything that needs to be done– triage everything that is looking tricky or manage crossovers and meeting clashes. The triage process is really important and works both up and down, so we would certainly ask someone from the team to assist or maybe ask a little extra here and there. But equally the managing partners – Paul, Dan and Alex – are quite happy to muck in and handle clients or push back when we need them to.

Chris: Then we move on to a series of stand ups – each project that we work on will have a stand up to work out what everyone’s working on and if they’ve got any blockers and once we’ve sorted those out, we tend to walk into a series of design reviews, give any feedback and nudge people in the right direction when needed.

Ben: From then on throughout the day we have check-ins – whether internal or with clients to make sure we are on track with projects, with design solutions and to solve any problems that might have appeared. Any spare time is spent trying to expand reach and to figure out how we can talk externally outside of the business and pitch for new work. That’s generally what our typical day looks like – not to mention a lot of tea. Towards the end of the end of the day we might end up having a quick pint in the pub – maybe (:

What have been the greatest changes youve witnessed in the industry since you started out?

Ben: The biggest change for me is the convergence of technology and experience. Originally, they were very, very separate things – you were designing hard coded pages against a pretty rigid backend system somewhere, if you were lucky. Quite often that wasn’t the case – it was literally just hard code HTML. I think the convergence of technologies and the emergence of new technologies have led us to a point where the customer experience is better than ever. I think that is solely down to the understanding between the technology and experience and the way those two work together.

Chris: One of the big things from my perspective was the fact that digital used to be in need of company but now digital has become a business by itself. The interesting point that Ben made is that when we both started in this industry there were already digital businesses that existed like Amazon or Netflix, but the convergence of customer experience and tech is really what innovated these things.

What campaign has felt the biggest achievement since your time spent at Splendid?

Ben: Professionally, moving Splendid from the small-ish company it was when I started, we’ve now, thanks to our team, grown to be a player that can bloody the noses of the big boys and we punch well above our weight and that’s something to be very proud of in this competitive industry. From a client perspective we’ve had lots of great achievements – let me just point out some. We’ve designed the booking system for easyJet which in essence is still running 12 years after and makes them roughly two billion a year. We’ve launched extremely successfully an e-commerce platform for Boots that allowed them to trade well ahead of where they were in a very competitive industry, when we’ve got high street shops under a lot of pressure and closing all the time. We’ve enabled their digital side of business to over perform. I believe we delivered a lot of value for SSE to maintain their position as the second biggest provider in the UK, and that was a very difficult ‘start from the ground up’ project. Looking forward, one of our achievements is the relationship we have with Barclaycard, which has been running for 8 years so far. We have ordinarily become the innovation partner for Barclaycard, looking at what they could be doing quite soon. Nowadays we’re also moving that into more of a production role as well. One of our key things definitely is being able to help Barclaycard as a forward-facing financial services organisation under a lot of regulatory pressure – helping them to move forward.

Chris: I think that moves us to the team – I’ve been here a little over 18 months and having worked with a plethora of clients, the relationship with Barclaycard is the one that sticks out to me as well. We have worked on numerous projects with them, and we’ve actually just launched our latest piece of work called Finance Coach – you’ve probably seen the advert knocking about with Simon Cowell. The piece of work that really stuck with me, however, was one of the first experience pieces I worked on with Ben – it was a North Star project about the future of repaying credit cards for Barclaycard. Essentially, in a two-week period we had to deliver an eight-week project. To see the team running around in the build up to Christmas and pull together what turned out to be a really beautiful piece of work, it was a proud moment that really showed the true colours of Splendid and what we’re about.

If you could alter one thing about the industry for the better, what would it be?

Ben: I’m going to cheat a little bit here and answer in three ways. I believe that the biggest change we could make that would help is education. It works in a number of different ways – we can start at the grassroots with universities and colleges, and end with clients. We have worked with a fair few graduates over our time and generally, the training provided is very very siloed; it’s really specific and that’s keeping the industries separated, which I think is a problem. Secondly, we should try and educate both our clients as well as students, on customers life cycle. You need to think about how what you do fits into a customer’s life.  Deeply understanding how what we’re doing fits a lifecycle and what all the components of that lifecycle are, is incredibly important.

Chris: It’s a slightly ironic statement coming from two chaps that never went to university but Ben is right – I think education is such an important part of this particular industry. As in our relationship with Barclaycard, quite often we’re working on projects that are dealing with a very small part of the scope but actually, the impact of that project can have such broad implications across the entire customer lifecycle. Having an understanding and training your mind to think beyond just your own brief is such a critical aspect of what we do.

Finally, across the digital transformation industry we are not great at using insights for a valuable purpose. Often research and testing are done merely as a tick in the box rather than to truly understand what we need to get out of it. We’ve been working very hard with our counter parts in the Unlimited Group to try and work out how we can utilise insights in the best possible way. The more we work together, talk together and understand each other, the better our products will be – again, another form of education.

Ben Ireland is Head of Experience and Chris Marsh Head of Creative at Splendid Unlimited – Unlimited Groups digital transformation specialists.

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