Designer Talks Podcast

Designer Talks podcast Ep. 6 - Anthony Dalby FCSD

February 10, 2022 Chartered Society of Designers Season 2 Episode 6
Designer Talks Podcast
Designer Talks podcast Ep. 6 - Anthony Dalby FCSD
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Show Notes Transcript

Anthony currently works as a Design Leader, Vice President for the LEGO Group. He is currently focused on experience design and leads the LEGO Group’s building experience teams.

Anthony has been working in the design industry since leaving Central St Martins in 1989 and worked as a product designer for a decade before moving into design management and leadership.

He has managed and led design in highly commercial environments with Nortel, Nokia, Microsoft & currently the LEGO Group, and across the full spectrum of skills and expertise from product, graphics and digital through to end to end consumer experiences.

Anthony is extremely passionate about design leadership and the diverse skills needed to succeed and deliver the best consumer experiences possible.

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Membership csd.org.uk

Lefteris Heretakis:

Hello, and welcome to designer talks podcast from the charter Society of designers. I'm your host Lefteris Heretakis and our guest today is Anthony Dalby Welcome, Anthony.

Anthony Dalby:

Hello, there.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Great to have you. Tell us when did you realise you want to become a designer?

Anthony Dalby:

Well, I think it wasn't the word designer didn't really come into my vocabulary until probably way into my teenage years. But before then there were a lot of signs, I think about where I was heading from an early age, and I think, probably the word maker comes to mind. So I was really into making things, whether that was kind of formal models of things, like a lot of kids, you know, especially my generation would do. But then I also very quickly got frustrated with that and would make things just from scratch myself. With any spare bits I could find around the place. My dad was in insurance and would bring home sort of claim, sort of radios and high fire and cameras that people that were broken that people have claimed on. And, and I spent hours and hours taking them to pieces and sort of curious to find what was inside them and then often have sort of, you know, boxes of bits and pieces that I would then try and do something with and create something new from it. So that was probably from about the age of seven or eight I was I was doing things like that. So it was a very, for me a very sort of three dimensional puzzle and a curiosity to know how things worked. And then, and then invent things from that. But it didn't really sort of mean anything more than that until I was then sort of, you know, my high school, my secondary school where I definitely liked the whole idea of designing something and being set a brief. And it was a very sort of three dimensional passion I had, it wasn't so much to do with sort of 2d and graphics, it was very sort of like, you know, creating interesting forms or, or, to be honest, mainly solving something, inventing something new, or something that would sort of be useful. So, so that's where it really all started. And then and then it was by sheer sort of serendipity that as I was going into my A levels. A new teacher started in, in, in design craft technologies, they called it then, who had come from Central Saint Martin's was educated as a as an industrial designer, and just said, you know, I reckon you should look into industrial design. And that was actually the first time I've even heard the phrase. And so I did my A levels and actually applied direct to the central and got a place. So I skipped foundation and went straight into sort of this degree course, and loved every minute of it. And then yeah, that's that's how it all began. Really?

Lefteris Heretakis:

Fantastic. Fantastic. That's a bit more about your education. At the time.

Anthony Dalby:

Yeah. So you mean at the Central? Yes. Yeah. So at the time, it you know, the Central Sun Martin's was about 30 students, you know, very different from, I think, in most courses that you would be on today. And when we had our own studio, we had our own desk each and drawing board and when I started at the Central, it was very early on with sort of computers. So we were still being taught, you know, drawing technical drawing, how to illustrate all those things. It computers when really coming into it. I think it was my second year when actually, the central bought its first sort of 3d computer, which costs a quarter of a million pounds and took about a week to draw a sphere. But really, that really fascinated me a lot. And that would be something I'd come back To again, and again, I actually did Computer Sciences in a level. So computers have always fascinated me as well alongside design. So, so that we sort of were very much a generation went through the course scaling from quite traditional skills through to seeing the first emergence of sort of computers and, and sort of the hint that they would be sort of, you know, quite big in the industry eventually.

Lefteris Heretakis:

That's thick. So what happened after after the central.

Anthony Dalby:

So, I finished there in 1989. So, sort of working that out, it's about 32 years ago, now, I think. And was very, very lucky to go straight into a consultant job up in Cambridge industrial design. And was there probably only a few months when the recession hit. And the guy who was running it at the time, Peter Harris had to pretty much get rid of everybody. I was cheap, I was just coming out of college. So I was a good person to keep on from that point of view, but it, you know, that created an environment where it was just a few of us there, as an industrial design, consultancy. And it gave me huge looking back now, it gave me huge opportunity to, to do every part of the sort of creative process from ideation and technical drawing, all the way through to sort of selling the ideas, but then also doing the model making, so I was also through the central trained as a modelmaker. So, so I was doing the sort of, you know, final model, sort of, you know, product for, for the, for the customer to see. So, that was about six years, I guess I was Cambridge design. And then within that time, so, my, my boss and Peter Harry's, sort of recognised the value of 3d CAD CAM and bought into pretty much what was the first generation of computer. And, and, and so I trained on that, and really loved this whole idea that you could speed up the whole process of going from ideation through to data that could be used, you know, by five axis milling machines that were emerging, not in the UK, but in China, by the way, things like this. And so that really then took me on to my second job, which was northern Telecom, which was a Canadian telecoms company, doing a lot of the sort of backend, switching gear and antennas and this kind of stuff. And they took me on with the intention of moving into actually the first generation of mobile phones, when even sort of, you know, people like Nokia was still sort of finding their their way. So we actually, I ended up designing a couple of generations of the first mobile phones for the northern Telecom, using all the all the CAD gear and again, doing the whole process around sort of concept through to sort of manufacturing and checking tools, all this kind of stuff, which you wouldn't do today, it would be given to an engineer who knew actually knew what they were doing to do that, so but it was a very steep learning curve. And then that actually, after, I think about four and a half years, took me on to Nokia, who I reached out to them and and they were looking for somebody to actually manage their team in in Copenhagen. And so went for the job, got it, and found myself in this amazing company, this Nordic company that was on a very, very steep growth curve, sort of had discovered the power of mobile phones and, and yeah, it was a crazy time. Designing phones just literally one after the other. And me doing less and less of the design work and doing more and more of the sort of managing a growing team of designers. Excuse me. And Yeah, so that lasted a couple of years in, in Copenhagen, I was sort of living there with my wife. And then we decided that we needed to come back to the UK. And there was a very, very big r&d centre based out in Farnborough for Nokia. And so I moved there and to cut a very long story short over time, became the vice president of multimedia devices on the design side. And so we were coming up with all kinds of really sort of fascinating sort of shapes and form factors. And it was a very experimental period in the in the telecoms industry, where we were working on folding phones and sliding phones and double sliding phones and, and the even crazier shapes, there's some really funny reports in newspapers about, you know, what are the Nokia guys doing? It's, this is just a crazy shape. But we absolutely loved it. And it was, you know, easy to forget that where we are now everything falls into just a few monoblock, as we call them shapes and things like this, but back then it was a really crazy time. So

Lefteris Heretakis:

wonderful. Yeah. So then you you went more into design, managing of design?

Anthony Dalby:

Yeah, so by that stage, I'd been through quite a transition from sort of hands on designer and, you know, really understanding deeply processes and tools and, you know, sort of hands on to then sort of transitioning into sort of what I would call first and managing designers, and eventually becoming a leader of designers. And, and I make that difference, because I think, you know, one is about being very operational and tactical, in the way you sort of lead design. And the other one is much more than about being tactical and strategic. So the thought leadership, I think comes in as, as you sort of shift towards being a design leader, as opposed to a design manager in my head at least.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Right? So you see yourself more as a design manager, as a design leader, as a leader. Yes, yeah. And yeah, and how, how the different internal thinking, compared to thinking as a designer.

Anthony Dalby:

So I think, you know, as a designer, your day to day is all about your either sort of ideation, so having lots of ideas, sort of thinking about different ways of looking at the world, looking at the problem you have in front of you, trying to bring something sort of different in some of these solutions that you're bringing forwards. And then going into that sort of, you know, production mode and delivery mode, to actually sort of deliver something. So that whole process, I think, whereas, you know, as a as a manager or leader, then, you know, you have to leave that sense of being involved in the creative process, as a sort of sleeves rolled up hands on, behind. And I can actually remember having this, this kind of moment in my career where I had to just, I realised that actually, you know, if I accept this role, then I am, within a very short space of time, probably not going to be able to say that, yeah, just give it to me, I'll do it. Because you just, you know, you lose the sharpness very quickly. And, you know, and it was a very conscious decision for me that, you know, what I'm at a point in now, for me personally, where it's the right time for me to move from being that hands on designer, leaving that behind and moving to the sort of management and leadership of, of designers. But that was a very, you know, there's no right time, I think you just have to, sort of I've worked with designers who have wanted to make that move, have tried to and then actually decided to go back to being a designer because it just, it either wasn't the right time or didn't suit them to, to become that hands, more hands off person. You know, they wanted to stay in that deep in that creative process.

Lefteris Heretakis:

But that's thick. So what kind of additional skills do you I mean, can you become a design leader without being a designer, or do you need some other skills?

Anthony Dalby:

I think this probably plenty of people who have become design managers or leaders who haven't actually practised design, I personally couldn't do that. So I think it's, I call it sort of head in the clouds feet on the ground, sort of, I need to, I need to be close and tasting what the design teams are doing and understand what they do. And they need to know that they can speak to me, you know, the way a designer speaks to somebody. And I'm nodding and understanding what they're saying. And it's that it's not the sort of technically what they're saying, it's the kind of emotional connection that I have having been a designer, I understand. There's that emotional process that you sometimes go through, when you're creating something, I would say, it can be even stronger. in a corporate environment, which is where I've spent most of my career where, you know, there's a performance environment you have to deliver, you're always working to timescales, you're always working to quite complex briefs, commercial briefs, and I think that can put a lot of strain and stress on on on a creative team in that in that kind of environment. So sort of understanding where they're coming from and, and that they have high, you know, good days and low days, and you have to give them lots of slack, when things aren't quite going right, the worst thing you can do is kind of come in and push too hard. You know, you just have if you if you get that because you've been there yourself, then I think that's a huge superpower, as a design leader to bring to the table, I

Lefteris Heretakis:

think, fantastic. So but what kind of skills would you say that one needs to develop?

Anthony Dalby:

I think what I've developed over the years is is a sort of understanding of business. So you know, again, in the environment, I've sort of designed lead in, then it's always been an environment where there's metrics, and there's sort of business goals to be met. And so I think it's really important to understand, how do you take those goals and strategic a matrix and actually translate them into something that is tangible and real, both to then sort of brief, a creative team and designers but then also, to actually have an output from that an outcome which is meaningful, and actually delivers on what the business is asking for. And there's a whole series of skills within that, which is not, I think, something that you're typically taught, you know, when you're first starting out in a design college, I think you get a little bit of a taste of maybe understanding the value chain around design that, you know, you're you're rarely a designer on your own, there's maybe a marketing person and sales team and knew the factory that production. But But I think, you know, to understand design, management and leadership is, is I think we could be doing more to, to ensure designers understand the business side, that they're, you know, typically somebody's got to fund what you're doing. So, you know, it's very important to understand what you're delivering back.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Brilliant. So what what more could we be doing?

Anthony Dalby:

I think, as I say, I think, you know, I ended up being very self taught when it came to sort of business understanding, product, marketing, understanding all these things. Over time, of course, you get trained, you know, in these corporate environments, but, but a lot of it at the start was self taught and just absorbing. So I think there's a lot of that, sort of, you know, teaching are different levels. So it's like, if you want to work for yourself, that's fine. You know, if you want to work in a consultancy, that's working with typically sort of, you know, very often larger companies, then understanding how they function, understanding the culture you might be needing to work with, it can only be a benefit. If you're in that environment, then it is also a huge value and benefit to to understand how how that type of organism works. And you know, so I think, yeah, there's a whole There's a very, very interesting, I think, sort of part of the education system, which is, which is not directly design, which would help designers a lot, whatever type of designer,

Lefteris Heretakis:

wonderful, has been a design leader made you look differently at design itself?

Anthony Dalby:

Um, I think so. And of course, I'm being very kind of one dimensional when I say this, but for me, you know, because I've worked in kind of corporate, sort of big brand environments, it makes me look at design as something that, you know, where's the value? What, what does it bring to that business and to that brand, and I think, which makes it sound like money sort of coming at it from a business point of view, I'm not, I think, you have to marry that with my other passion, which is consumer experience. So you know, if you only get that value, if you truly deliver something that is a value to or appreciated by, you know, the right consumer. And that's where, you know, you're working at Nokia, I could believe in working in Nokia, because it was about connecting people. They had literally, you know, a very simple strapline, which is connecting, because that's what it was at the start, yes, the world has got more complex now. But at the start, it was about, you know, you to talk to somebody on the other side of the world, you had to go to a certain room in your house, of course, pick up a phone, because wired, you know, what we did was allow people to go anywhere in the world and still talk to the person, you know, anywhere they were. And, and that was a very powerful thing that was like, this is useful. This is something I can believe in. And, you know, so that consumer experience that just recreating designs that were actually useful to achieving that was what made me passionate, the same thing at Lego, it's about what is it that you know, is going to drive kids to want to have fun, you know, to want to be able to continue playing and building and being creative. And that's, again, important, but married with, you know, we only able to do that, if we're able to create a successful business. So those two things have to live in harmony, and that's how I very much look at design these days.

Lefteris Heretakis:

is the responsibility of designers to tell consumers what they need.

Anthony Dalby:

Oh, that's interesting question. I, I would really hesitate with that one. Because I think if you take it from a research point of view, we all know, I think that you can never asked somebody what they want. So, you know, it's you have to observe what they do, and then see what might make what they're doing easier? Or, you know, so I think from that point of view, you know, it's still based on understanding the consumer, it's not based on, on you as a designer, saying, I know what's best for you. So I think I would struggle to say that a designer could ever sort of say, This is what's best for you. But it depends on the design, of course. So if you're coming from the perspective of having a material that you think would really enhance people's homes, and you're able to do something different with it, and and then, you know, you're saying, hey, what do you think of this, this is bringing some new aesthetic to you, then, then I think it's possible. So I think a good example of that is, as I gave that example, I'm thinking of someone like Tom Dixon, who, who I think, you know, it's a bit of a hero of mine. So I think he takes a material and does something different. That's not been seen before. And I think and then delivers that in a way that people are, then looking at it and thinking, you know, I need that. So you could argue that's a little bit of what you're saying. But you know, in my world, no, I would always be consumer driven.

Lefteris Heretakis:

So do you miss designing at all?

Anthony Dalby:

Um, I think I went through a period of missing design, but now I am involved in a different way. So I still critique I still review work. It's very different today being someone like Lego than them being Nokia, so I'm not sort of designing, we're not designing a product in the same way that you do a toy, that but I still get, if you like my fix from being able to sort of critique and question and, and push and challenge, and by the way be pushed and challenged back as well. And that's really important to me is that if you want to really create an environment, then you have to have absolute openness and trust and everybody is equal. Everybody can push and challenge and come forward with ideas. And it's like, nobody has the sort of, you know, the the answer, it comes from everybody involved together. And I think that's probably where I get my motivation these days is, is creating a culture and an environment where that creativity can really kind of thrive. And people want to come to work and do the best they can.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Plastic. So how do you find your passion?

Anthony Dalby:

Um, I think, as I said, it really starts for me. Firstly, with believing in who I'm working for, so it can come across a bit like, you know, is that a bit cheesy to say that, but I think, if you don't truly believe in the brand that you're working for, then then you'll never really truly be motivated or passionate. To dotes, probably number one is the most important thing. I think, then my motivation actually comes from working with generations. You know, and I say it that way, because it's, it's people have every expertise and experience that really sort of coming together, that motivates me a lot. So I can get just as motivated by working with a student who's just out of university, as I can with somebody who's sort of, you know, my generation who's been in the industry for 2030 years. So it's, I think, it's that kind of melting pot of people and expertise, which, you know, then when we come to an idea where we say, you know, what, this is actually really up there as something that is going to make a difference, then, then I that's what still gets me motivated. If that makes sense.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Yes, of course, absolutely. What has been your biggest influence? Or who, someone who

Anthony Dalby:

I think I'm gonna be really sort of mushy with this one and say, it sits sort of, really across everybody I've ever met. So I don't, I don't in general, sort of name. I don't have named designers or people that have influenced me on their own, I think, to be really honest, it's a combination of many people and influences and cultures. And it's so it's really hard for me to sort of say, it's these two or three people, I think, you know, to some extent, good or bad. Other people that have either led me or colleagues that I've had around me have formed, sort of, you know, influenced who I am and the way I think, if that makes sense.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Absolutely. Should we be should we be embedding design leadership within design education?

Anthony Dalby:

I think I think we should, I think, and it's more that it's not that you are trying to then drive a culture where everybody becomes a design leader. Because because that will never happen. Because I would say the oval pairing majority of creatives often want to stay creative. They don't want to move away from it. And that's absolutely fine. But I think what it does, too, is even if you're creative, then it gives you an empathy towards, you know, somebody needing to bleed design to manage design. So you at least you understand, you know, the other perspective. And for those who think actually, this is quite interesting, sort of paths to go on, then it's then I think, useful to create that conscious decision, that as you go forward with your career, because you're not going to become a design leader straightaway. But it allows you to stop and think about the decisions you're making if you've had that awareness in your education. So I think either way on The Roots, I think you end up appreciating, having had the opportunity to think about it and understand the way it works.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Yeah. I mean, designers in general tend to be quite individual. Is it challenging managing designers?

Anthony Dalby:

Oh, absolutely. Better. And very emotional. But, no, I think that's actually again, probably one of the things that, you know, motivates me is, you know, the very worst thing you could have, whether it's corporate consultancy, whatever, you the very worst thing you can have is cookie cutter people. Yeah, you know, you actually need to be able to celebrate the differences. And, you know, I think, you know, whether it's Lego, or Nokia, or Microsoft, after a short while I was there, you know, it's, I think we've always been in the 20, to, you know, the high 20s In terms of, you know, nationalities and, you know, cultures and, you know, happy people, sad people, people who, you know, designers who prefer working early in the morning designers who don't get up until midday, and then work till midnight, you know, and the more you can celebrate that and embrace it, the more you've got, you know, an incredible creative workforce. So, for me, essentially, you know, what motivates me is that is that sort of explosion of sort of people being different. And just to say, I think, you know, sometimes, so in the UK, our education system can, cannot approve of, that, sort of, you know, being an individual. So, I think, you know, I think that's where our colleges have a huge role to play in taking kids who have been told just to conform, often, and then it's like, you know, go wild, you know, you know, because it's, it's no good coming out being the same as everybody else. Because that's not interesting.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Brilliant. So how do you see the future of design?

Anthony Dalby:

I think, design, you know, goes through different sort of trends of, sort of, you know, theories and, you know, sort of your company's sort of being warming to design and then not woman design, and, but I think if you just step back, I think, you know, the, what creative brains can bring to any business is a huge value. And I think, you know, again, very much coming from my perspective, and what I've seen, and what I see, I think, you know, increasingly, you know, big brands are recognising that they have to foster that culture, whether it's kind of internally or then the connected, sort of, you know, freelancers and consultancies that often, you know, surround that core team internally. I think, you know, it's a very rich and wonderful future in my, in my humble opinion. But I think it's shifting, you know, towards having to increasingly understand what digital means. So, and then also, sort of how digital sort of the juxtaposition between digital and physical. So, you know, you know, obviously, that's a big thing for some Lego, for instance, absolutely. But it's any industry, I think, is understanding when something should be a digital experience, you know, is an increasingly important question to answer. And when is something best a physical experience and, you know, just digital health and sustainability, you know, so there's some very important questions that you're constantly needing to ask yourself as we look into the future, what is the best thing to do so there's a sort of consciousness I think, in design that is only going to keep growing. Probably one other thing to say is, I think, you know, design is very, very agile, there are designers, the design thinking, the way we solve things, I think is is only going to be come more valuable in you know, the sort of VUCA world as they call it, you know where you know that volatility, as we've seen over the last couple of years, I think, you know, is it suddenly becomes very important, because not everybody can think that way. So it can be become very important.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Absolutely. Well be your advice to someone to starting out as a designer.

Anthony Dalby:

Apart from Go for it, I think, because, and joking aside, I think a lot of kids get put off before they even have the chance. So it really is go for it. And sort of know that there's a whole world of opportunities out there connected to design to the creative industry, it's, it's big, we don't always see just how big it is. And I think it would, you know, I've done a few talks in schools, just to kind of make sure kids are aware, even and sometimes teachers are aware that this is a big industry. It's everything from moviemaking, to advertising to product making to, you know, every time you drive down the street, there's an advert or, you know, there's, you know, everything has been designed. So I think it's just really important never to forget that it's always going to be there. So I would say, you know, don't, don't decide to quickly enjoy being on the journey of discovering what you're good at, and be open to the fact that perhaps by the time you've finished doing a degree, the world will have shifted again. So it's more important that you train your brain to think and to sort of see the world in a in a unique way. And then and then you'll always have those transferable skills to bring in when wherever, you know, follow your nose a little bit. And, and don't be too prescriptive about where you're heading.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Absolutely. What about the same advice as those that are dealing with design or the clients? Anything for them any advice you want to give to them? It's to say it again to the people advice for those that on the other side, the client, or the designer side to the client? So yes, how? The designer? Yes, yes, yeah. So

Anthony Dalby:

I would sort of say often as a client, there's not a lot, I don't know, because it's what I do day in day out, and, you know, spend many millions on research and, you know, etc, etc. So it's not about being, bringing, trying to be clever with new information. That I don't know, because I probably do know it. But where, where I, where it does help is to have a different way to take that information and do something different with it, and and sort of have a different viewpoint that might lead me to a different perspective that I hadn't thought of before, if that makes sense. Absolutely. So I have in the past work with sort of consultancies that tend to sort of come in and think they're telling you something new. And it's like, no, no, no, no, you're not telling me anything new here. So you know, but but when they come and say, why don't we sort of look at this from a completely different perspective? And just see where it takes us? Because it's the same information. But now we're sort of stacking it differently, to see if we can get somewhere different than then I think it's very useful to a client. Absolutely. That

Lefteris Heretakis:

makes sense. Yes, yes, of course. Of course. Of course. It should be about the essence not the packaging. Absolutely. Absolutely. We got to go to the essence of things. Yeah. And what is the most important thing you've learned or discovered as a design leader?

Anthony Dalby:

That it's nothing to do with me. So, you know, it really humbly mean that that my job is, obviously there's times when people need to look to the leader to make a decision. But most of the time, it's about the leader, stepping back and allowing people the space to really be who they can be and be creative and really let themselves sort of, you know, be the best they can be. And I think that, you know, it's it's, it's about avoiding that. That word ego. So to be a really good thing. Line leader in my opinion is about letting go of what you think is right or wrong and letting others shine. And I think then you end up with some really, really interesting results.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Anything else you'd like to add? And the last piece of advice or anything you'd like to add to the conversation?

Anthony Dalby:

Say Anything else you'd like to add? No, I don't think so. I think I'd say yes,

Lefteris Heretakis:

brilliant. Brilliant. Well, thank you ever so much. For your participation has been a fantastic conversation. And yeah, thank you.

Anthony Dalby:

Thank you. All the best you really nice talking to you.

Lefteris Heretakis:

Bye. Okay, I'm going to stop recording. Stop Recording recording stopped. I'm going to stop recording on zoom on audition. I'm going to delete the big coughing the big coughing session in the beginning. Don't worry about it. I'm going to take it because no, no, no, no, of course. I mean, thank you for the conversation. And of course I'm going to delete that so don't worry about it.