5 minutes with… Bron Thomson
What led to you founding Springload?
Pretty selfish reasons really, I wanted to work with talented, kind, curious and fun people, doing work that I loved, helping clients that were on inspiring journeys and also having the autonomy and freedom to design a workplace in a way that I felt worked best for the culture of everyone on our team. I figured that if I designed a workplace that I loved, then chances were that other people would love it too. Luckily that seems to have been true!
You wrote that Springload feels more like a group of friends doing what they love. What kind of workplace culture have you fostered in your business and how does the culture fit into your recruitment and growth strategy at Springload?
I don’t have a growth strategy, and never really have. I don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake – I believe in creating things that are good enough that people will naturally be drawn towards being a part of them. I’ve always worked on the assumption that if you create a business focused on doing great work for great clients, and looking after your team really well, then people will naturally want to come on board with what you’re doing. Especially now that we’re focused on prioritising work that has positive social or environmental impact in the world – lots of incredibly talented people are very keen to be part of that mission.
With 25+ years of working with the web you have seen a lot of technological advancement… What advice do you have for designers struggling with the pace of technological change?
If you’re not naturally curious about technology or excited about the pace of change, then I would suggest perhaps picking another industry! Change is part of our world, and it’s especially part of the tech world. I think it’s worth noticing how we behave around change -and trying to deeply understand what is driving our default fears. It’s pretty natural to want things to stay comfortably the same, but there’s a lot about our world that isn’t good enough and designers are needed to really push for change. That’s going to mean questioning all our old thinking and old ways of doing things, and actively exercising our ‘change’ muscle. Giving ourselves a new and positive narrative around change is so important.
Speaking of change… Our clients are leaning heavily on designers to help them reshape their businesses and brands to meet new market conditions. What opportunities do you see from the shake-up 2020 presents with COVID, social and economic changes?
Well, they say that during a recession is when you should really double down on your marketing spend. I know that this feels scary when you’re running a small business and don’t have much spare cash floating round, but I do think it’s true. Well crafted, beautifully designed messages, presented in the right environment can be so critically important for any business right now. I also think that it’s at times of extreme adversity that often the best ideas emerge. Get your teams together and brainstorm ways to pivot, reshape, and communicate to new audiences. It’ll help empower them to feel included and if they’re well supported they can really help drive a business to succeed during hard times.
Has the pandemic response changed anything for you? How have you adapted?
The biggest changes have been around how we’re being more remote-work friendly. Being a digital company we’ve always been pretty good at this, but not to the same extent as we had during lockdown. Even all these months on, the office space has been pretty sparsely filled. The team are loving the flexibility of working from home when they need. But it has had impacts on culture and collaboration, so we’re working hard on creating new rituals and communication techniques to mitigate these. We’re getting better hardware in all our meeting rooms so that people can dial into meetings and not be any worse off because they’re remote. Our group meetings are all being designed to be remote-friendly, including using tools like Miro to collaborate in group workshops together. And of course improvement in company-wide comms is a given. And the bigger you get as a company, the more times you need to repeat messages, and the more different channels you need to use. Remote work has made this even more critical. Group All-Hands meetings, internal newsletters, slack channel comms, face to face etc. The more the better! I heard someone say once that the job of a CEO is to be the ‘Chief Repeating Officer’. It’s true – and even more important given the current crazy times we’re living in.
Your profile positions your work “in the pointy intersection between business value, customer experience, and digital delight.” Can you give an example of where Springload has delivered an unexpected return on investment for your client?
We worked closely with Customs on an app for their front line staff. It took away a bunch of menial paper-based admin, and we found out later that it saved on average 2 hours per day per person, freeing them up for more high-value activities. We were all blown away! Another example is a prototype tool we built to help diagnose a condition called CVI in children. Kids with CVI range from functionally blind to having almost normal acuity. Often it’s misdiagnosed and incorrect medication prescribed, with potentially detrimental effects. Our tool uses the camera in an ipad and a special card game app to diagnose this condition. We built the first prototype as part of a hack day with the client (and creator of the diagnostic card game), but now, through the digital tool, the diagnostic process can be scaled up. Something that started out as a bit of a punt/experiment has the potential to really help lives.
And can you tell us about a Springload project that was memorable because it was particularly delightful or innovative?
Well I guess I can’t go past the Klim Type Foundry website for this one. It was a hugely challenging project for the team because the design and build of the site had to be exact to within a pixel. And the stunning design belies the fact that it was also a complex beast, with the OpenType tester, the ability to purchase any number of combinations of fonts, the fonts in use section and more. A true labour of love.
With a large and diverse team, how do you manage the transfer of information/thinking (or the collaboration) between strategists, creative and developers on a project at Springload?
Communication on projects definitely gets harder the bigger they are. We’re working on a particularly huge one at the moment, involving multiple stakeholders and partners. It always surprises me how on large projects, especially at the start of the process, you almost need to spend as much time meeting as a team to talk about how to run the project as you do actually just doing the project work! Being super clear around roles and responsibilities and what expectations are set for those roles, the cadence of meetings, methods of communication to support diversity and remote-work, and good structure that gives people a framework to trust so that they can then do their craft on top of is all critical. Process sounds boring, but there’s nothing worse than having to do the creative parts of your job AND reinvent the way in which the project should run each time. Process should free people up so they can be their best selves in a way that helps them connect and collaborate effectively.
Which other speaker at Semi Permanent are you most looking forward to seeing and why?
I’m really looking forward to hearing Lisa Reihana talking about contemporary Māori art, and the intersection of gender, colonisation, indigenous design and identity.
What are you optimistic about for the future of Aotearoa Design?
I’m optimistic about the people I’m seeing come through the design community. There is a passion for purpose and strong activist voices woven throughout these young people’s career path choices. I feel like they will carry the torches that are needed to change the world for good. We’re in safe hands.
Finally, where can we see more of your work/connect with you?
Visit our website www.springload.co.nz, sign up for our newsletter, and follow me/us on LinkedIn! 🙂
Semi Permanent Aotearoa. One day, ten hours, 27 speakers and performers.