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Meet the Technologists: Kathrin Hoffmann


Havas CX US’ head of experience and systems design on solving real struggles, the future with AI and the story of a Steve Jobs surprise, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Meet the Technologists: Kathrin Hoffmann

Kathrin Hoffmann is an executive director and head of experience and systems design at Havas CX US. With 15 years of industry experience, she has a proven track record of working in a variety of sectors including tech, finance, e-commerce, CPG, retail, and health, and in the last decade has held roles at TBWA, BBH, Droga5, and now, Havas. 

Kathrin prides herself on creating meaningful end-to-end products and services at the intersection of physical and digital. She’s passionate about empowering and supporting the development of teams and individuals, and in her spare time, she serves as a mentor at AIGA NY and the ADP List.

During her career so far, she has created experiences for leading global brands such as IBM, Apple, Chobani, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, Nike and Nissan among others. Her work has been recognised at design and advertising awards including the One Show, D&AD, Cannes Lions, and Clios, as well as by the late Apple founder Steve Jobs - hear more about that later! 

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Kathrin discusses her culture shock experience when moving from London to LA, the creative tech that is making her excited but apprehensive, and why the 'Staybl’ project is Havas’ “pride and joy”.

LBB> Early in your career, you specialised in interaction design at BBH and R/GA in London. What did you learn from these experiences? What brands and tech were you working with at the time?    

Kathrin> My time at R/GA was an incredible learning experience. I was a junior designer when I joined the interaction design team and the learning experience there was steep. My stint not only taught me the foundations of what I know now but also what it takes to do great work, and the importance of collaboration and communication within a team dynamic.

When I joined, the office was still pretty much in its infancy, meaning I got to touch and influence work for the likes of Nokia and Nike. The work with these clients focused on large platforms and systematic design thinking. The Nokia work in particular was the first of its kind, pairing visual storytelling with the latest technology. For the launch of the latest Nokia mobile phone, we created ‘Nokia viNe’. Users could create a visual vine of memories comprised of photos and voice recordings. Each memory was tagged to a GPS location on a map, creating the vine. The work was the first of its kind and was awarded with many design and advertising awards.

LBB> In 2009, you made the jump stateside and joined TBWA\Chiat\Day LA as a UX director. How did you find these geographical and occupational changes? What were some of the biggest changes when becoming an experience director – and, then later, a creative director?

Kathrin> Ultimately, working on Nokia and Nike paid off and I got headhunted for a job in LA. It was always a goal of mine to work and live in the States. The move from Europe to the US to pursue my career was life-changing. The cultural differences weren’t always easy; the culture shock was real. 

The biggest shift, though, was occupational. Not only were the brands I worked on bigger and more powerful but coming from a product/digital design-focused agency and moving to a traditional advertising shop took a lot of adjustment. I had to think and approach projects in a different way. Educating client and account teams about UX and how to best work with my team became part of every day. Speaking of teams, leading a small team was also a first for me. I took away many lessons from my experience as a first-time manager - lessons that I still think about now. The main one being: you’re never done growing as a manager; there will always be an unexpected curveball. Expect the unexpected! 

LBB> Working in the realm of experience for TBWA, BBH, Droga5, and, of course, Havas over the last decade - what are some of the projects that stand out to you now as pivotal moments in your career and in the experience sector? How have you seen the approach to experience design change in that time?

Kathrin> The design and tech spaces are forever evolving at what feels like an increasingly faster pace. Brands’ ecosystems have exponentially grown, making a linear customer journey close to impossible. This is where strategic design thinking comes into play. CX strategy paired with experience design no longer feels like the ugly stepchild in the agency landscape. Agencies and clients understand the importance of customer experience and its expression - in the shape of content and design.

Looking back at my work, there are so many projects that come to mind. The ones that stand out do so because we were trying to solve audiences’ real day-to-day struggles.

- At BBH, we created a nonpartisan educational platform for the Commission on Presidential Debates to educate citizens on all topics and issues in the upcoming election. 

- While at Elephant, I worked on the team that brought to life ‘Marcus by Goldman Sachs’; Goldman Sachs’ first step into the world of consumer banking.

- Our pride and joy at Havas is the ‘Staybl’ app we created last year. We created this new browser in app format that helps stabilise digital content on the iPad for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

LBB> Tell us a bit more about ‘Staybl’ and the creative tech that’s involved in the project!

Kathrin> ‘Staybl’ has been an incredible success story for our team. I cannot express how proud I am of this work. In our industry, we don’t often get the opportunity to work on something as meaningful and potentially lifestyle-changing as ‘Staybl’. In fact, it is the perfect work example, sitting at the intersection of design and tech. In terms of tech, we used what already exists, built-in to the iPad, the accelerometer. When a tremor occurs, the accelerometer counteracts the direction of the tremors, thereby stabilising the content. We have been getting incredible feedback from the Parkinson’s patients who helped us develop this app and cannot thank them enough.

LBB> What other creative tech is impressing/exciting you at the moment? You recently judged at the Dubai Lynx; was there any innovative design tech on display there?

Kathrin> Generative AI comes to mind, of course. I am equally excited as apprehensive. Geoffrey Hinton leaving Google and warning about the power of AI is most definitely concerning. Working through a responsible approach will be key as we head into a future with AI.

Jumping to your question about Dubai Lynx, there were some interesting tech executions among the submissions, but what was more attention-grabbing and unexpected were the pieces of work that brought awareness to political and social misgivings in the Middle East, such as women’s rights and freedom of speech.

LBB> What do you find to be the most useful resource or area of knowledge to draw upon in your work? How do you stay on top of the fast-moving world of creative tech?

Kathrin> I have subscribed to so many newsletters and regularly go down a rabbit hole of information on social platforms. Let’s also not forget the importance of talking to younger generations in the creative industry. Mentoring students and listening to their ways of thinking can be an incredible source of inspiration.

LBB> While speaking about creative tech, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Steve Jobs once presented your work during one of his last Apple keynotes. How did that come about? 

Kathrin> Steve Jobs showing off some of my work was a total surprise and absolutely unexpected. At the time, we were working on the launch of the new Nissan ‘Leaf’. One of the launch executions was to target consumers via the newly launched iAds (a now long-dead ad format) where we integrated unexpected functionality into the ad, for example shaking your phone would change the colour of the Nissan Leaf, via a comparison tool showing how the Leaf matches up to other cars in the gas mileage department, etc. I guess Steve really loved those unexpected interactions and decided to show them off.

LBB> What do you nerd out on when you’re not thinking about work? And what makes it so interesting to you?

Kathrin> I am into a variety of things outside of work, from interior design to plants, travel and wellness. The industry I work in is so fast-paced that being able to take it slow and be purposeful with my spare time is incredibly important to me.  

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Havas North America, Fri, 09 Jun 2023 16:31:00 GMT