Helen Wallace is a creative director at Deloitte Digital UK and Deloitte’s global lead for Adobe Creative Cloud. In her day-to-day role she helps clients imagine exceptional experiences through data and insight driven design, content and marketing, while modernising in-house studios through the adoption of AI and automation technologies.
All of which puts her in a prime position to discuss some of the biggest topics among the converging worlds of design, creativity and technology.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to get her insights on cloud-based working, how AI tools are impacting on intelligent use of data, in-house creative capabilities and much more.
LBB> Should we start off by sort of defining what your job is? And how has it changed since you’ve worked at Deloitte?
Helen> It's not straightforward. I am a creative director at Deloitte Digital, sometimes Deloitte, and in Deloitte world I'm a director in the business. I think the biggest change for me coming from an agency background and going into consulting was the depth and breadth of the opportunities. The challenges that clients come to a consulting firm with are so much broader than the brief that you might get at an agency. Creative and design thinking is part of a much bigger solution to help our clients with whatever challenge they're facing at the time.
I feel very lucky to be able to work across so many different sectors. With so many different skills inside the firm. When I joined about nine years ago, design as a practice was very new. Whereas now we're very mature in the business. We've got a lot of different capability sets, which is great. We can create a lot of different teams.
When I started we had Deloitte Digital in the US and I started as part of the team building out Deloitte Digital in the UK. So it's been a journey for me as well, understanding and growing into the role of a creative consultant and not just a creative. But I like that. I like meeting clients, seeing their businesses, and working with them directly has been super interesting.
LBB> What have you found most interesting to work on recently?
Helen> What's super interesting for me at the moment in the work that we're doing with Adobe is how the pandemic has forced digital to be at the top of all of our clients' agendas, across every industry, every sector, every project that we do. Particularly with having to work remotely, digital was the only channel.
Some of the things that we're doing with Adobe just at the moment are around understanding how Creative Cloud as a platform can empower clients to still stay connected, stay creative, and still deliver, even through the pandemic. XD is one of those design tools we use a lot but I think what's interesting is when you see XD in the bigger picture of Creative Cloud, how being able to co-create in real time on the cloud – that's just been a game changer over lockdown. I've always had teams in the UK. And with us all working from home, I'm now on an engagement where the client is in America. I've got teams up in Cheshire, Spain, Bucharest, and it really doesn't feel like we're far apart. We feel very connected. It's been really interesting for me, especially with diversity being so high on clients’ agendas, getting different perspectives on a piece of work has never been easier – to collaborate with people in different areas. We have a lot of global clients. They have global audiences and the barriers between the regions are breaking down. So creating and designing with cultural nuance and relevance has become way more important. It's very, very cool.
LBB> You were founding creative director at Deloitte Digital UK. What were the priorities then? And what have been the huge changes?
Helen> Understanding how to elevate design in a business that isn't from a creative heritage was really challenging. But one thing that it taught me, that I’d not have been able to experience anywhere else, is the rigour and care around clients' businesses – understanding risk, compliance. We have a lot of clients that are in financial services or regulated industries, public sector and the government. So just being more professional about how you handle your clients' business. And following a process. The scale of the work is mind-blowingly large and you can understand how a client would feel about working with a consultancy to make sure that personal data has been securely looked after, that the sensitivities around the business are respected. That has been a real journey for me.
It's a balancing act. The business has evolved and I've evolved. The business has learned to embrace design thinking at the beginning, not as an afterthought. And creative has grown up and has a seat at the table and can have those very senior-level engagements and conversations.
One of the other things that I've come to really love about where I work is they really try to deliver on their promise around looking after their people and working with purpose. They have the most amazing programmes in place to support employees. We had to help so many Ukrainian families who work for Deloitte who've had to flee Ukraine. Other Deloitte employees have put them up in accommodation and helped them move out of Ukraine, still feel supported and have done so quickly. That is so incredible. I think working for a firm that truly wants to look after its people in that way is quite something. It forces companies to work with integrity, and to deliver and look after the people. The pandemic was also a sign of that as well.
LBB> Which takes us back to the cloud-based tech you mentioned and the Connected Creative Studio. I'd love to hear some ways that you felt creativity has been augmented by that connecting technology.
Helen> I'm actually on an engagement at the moment where we're working as a blended team. I'm getting a lot of those now, where the client has in-house capabilities as well. So we're co-creating together. We've talked a little bit around some of the cloud enablement that lets us share and also have centralised files, which makes things a lot simpler and less duplication. A lot of the work we're doing right now is looking at how to elevate human experience through personalization. That personalization is delivered in many ways. It can be delivered in the messaging and the content we see all the way down to understanding you opted in, what you want, and how you need supporting and helping as an end user.
A lot of that is driven by data, as well. What I love about Adobe is how you can start to extract the data, as well as getting insights from user research and starting to make data-driven decisions as a designer. Rather than it being based on personal preference (and clients traditionally used to do that – "I don't like green." "But your brand colour is green! “But I don't like green.”), now there's real rigour and a real rationale as to why something is the way it is.
There's a lot of agility, watching the data, understanding how people engage with your creative, doing things like AB testing, multivariate testing, and it no longer being just in the domain of the data analyst. How can data be disseminated in the right way and used as a tool to make really great design decisions? I think we're going to see more and more of that as people go more online.
They won't have one persona either. I've got many personas: I work, I'm a mum, I'm at home, sometimes I don't want to be at home. Getting into my mindset at that moment and being able to deliver an experience that really taps into all of that nuance and feels relevant to me is going to really help deepen relationships that I have with brands. That's becoming more and more of a challenge online in particular, especially with clients like retail, where price is no longer something that you can compete on online. You can browse and get a competitive price anywhere. Being able to form a relationship between a customer and a brand is so vital to to keep that loyalty and keep customers engaged and retained.
LBB> All of which requires tech – to understand that quantity of data. How are you approaching that aspect?
Helen> The technology for us has been about using data to help shape the design. But if you're going to create highly personalised messaging across multiple channels, how can you use technology to create all the different messages that need to go out in all of the different channels again and again and again? So the sheer volume of the content.
A big thing that's emerging with Adobe is using artificial intelligence and automation. It will really help to streamline a lot of very repetitive manual tasks that designers are having to do more and more of these days to try and create all of the collateral that you need to have a conversation on all of the different channels where your users are. I love that because designers don't want to just end up spending their day churning out lots of different assets for lots of different channels in all the variants. That is not a creative job; that's a production job. So being able to use automation in a way that frees up a creative's time so that they can be more creative and design more. I think it's very, very interesting.
AI has been around for some time. There's been a lot of fear that robots will replace people and we'll all be jobless. I think it shouldn't be viewed that way. I think it should be seen as an extension of your design toolkit to help you focus your time and your energy on the things that you know people are good at – ideation, innovation and being able to think way more strategically about the brand and the experiences that you want to craft for your audiences. That's where it gets really exciting because that's what people want. They don't want to just be blasted out the same message on every single channel. It's about creating really intelligent design and communications.
LBB> How has the world of design changed to accommodate those ways of working?
Helen> We've gone through a phase where there's been a split of product and service design – and marketing, advertising and content. And I think we're getting to a point in time where those two are way more interconnected now. When you get both product and service design right and your content, advertising and marketing connected, that is a holistic user experience.
In-house is really interesting because they own everything. I've worked with financial service clients who have an internal studio that's about crafting an experience. That experience could come all the way from their digital banking product all the way through to the customer service messaging and support which has been so critical over covid as well. And also the marketing and the advertising, where social is becoming the primary channel, particularly to financial services. Clients have a slightly different view on it than agencies have historically. They just see it as one. It's got many different facets and capabilities that are needed, but it's the digital experience of their brand.
This is where we're gonna see the adoption of automation and AI embraced the most. The reason why they've built a lot of studios in house is just the speed and agility that they can move in. So to take financial service clients again, when the pandemic hit, being able to get messaging out the minute that regulations change, or they needed to talk about what services were available or were not available, being able to publish that in their emails, social, online. The speed they needed to turn that around and respond to conversations that were taking place on social – it's almost instantaneous. You just didn't have time to brief an agency. It had to be done straight away. But it also had to be compliant, it had to go through their risk framework and it had to still feel authentic and on brand. To be able to turn that round in the speed that they did, and all of the different variants needed and for all of the different channels that they're present on, you need to start using automation as a tool to be able to help that.
LBB> What work have you recently been most proud of?
Helen> The work that I'm most proud of is the Connected Creative Studio. This has been a really interesting experience for me working for a consulting firm. We get a lot of autonomy to go and explore new technologies. The experiences I've had working in clients' businesses and alongside their internal studios, I was able to see and experience first hand some of the challenges and the pain points that my clients have been facing. What really surprised me is that they were facing the same challenge no matter what sector they were in. That was simply the sheer quantity and volume of content that the internal teams had to start ideating and creating. It was just growing and growing and growing. And they had restrictions on headcount. It just wasn't viable as a business to just keep hiring people. With the work that I was doing with Adobe and starting to understand the new and emerging technologies that they were developing, it became really clear to me how these could become an enabler and a solution for clients.
But technology is only one part of it. And I think this is where it gets really interesting. What I generally find is it's always a combination of technology, people and process. You might have the technology in place, but unless you bring in people who have the right knowledge, and upskill them in those new technologies, they won't adopt them. And then once you've adopted them, you generally find that you have to recalibrate your operating model to make the most of the new technologies and the people that you've got in place. That's why I think consulting firms are doing some really interesting things because although at Deloitte Digital, I tend to come from a technology and design background, I'm working on an engagement now where we are redefining a new global operating model and I'm working alongside a human capital specialist. I think that's very, very interesting.
So I think for me, the proudest work that I have been doing has been around designing and creating a solution that is helping and empowering a lot of my clients right now. It feels very collaborative with them. It's a journey we're doing together, and I really like that.
LBB> That's something that so many agency people I speak to would love to get their hands on, I think. But being positioned where you are, you have the opportunity to work like that with your clients, which must be very rewarding.
Helen> We can get these very deep relationships. One of the clients I'm working with right now, the first time I worked with them was about five years ago. I don't work with them all the time. But when they hit a bump in the road, or they need to pivot the business in a different way or they just need different skills or different capabilities, we have a relationship where they can call on us to come back. Bizarrely it feels like yesterday I was there, even though it's been about five years. I feel very lucky that I've got clients that I consider friends as well. It's really nice working that way.
LBB> What are some of the biggest challenges or most knotty problems that you are trying to solve at the moment?
Helen> I think the most challenging thing that I've experienced in my career was working full time and having two children in a really demanding job. It has been very interesting to see a lot of women in particular, who when they get to their second child decide to leave the industry. It just becomes too much so they choose to go and raise their family. One of the really big things that we're trying to drive at Deloitte is giving particularly women who've chosen to take a career break over their maternity leave an opportunity to come back in and retrain. So they know that there is a place to come back to if they do choose to have a career break, it's not an all-or-nothing situation.
I think the change in the workplace because of covid, being able to to work remotely from home and have technology enable me to be just as connected and productive means I've never been in such a great position to work hard, but to also still be a very present mother and be around my children. And it feels fantastic. The pandemic's not a good thing, but if there was one thing that has been a surprising and delightful result of everything that has happened, that for me has been massively beneficial. And I think it will also change how companies view flexible working. It gives women a greater opportunity to be mothers and still have careers which I'm really excited about.
I hope to see more women feeling like they can return to work, even after a period of time out and still feel like they can fulfil both parts of their life and career.