In digital design, you need to keep a ‘watchful eye on ethics and impact’


20 Jan 2022

Elaine Devereux. Image: Lucky Beard

Lucky Beard’s Elaine Devereux discusses the ‘relentless speed of innovation’ in the digital design sector and the importance of ‘designing for good’.

Elaine Devereux is the managing director of Lucky Beard, a digital advisory and design firm founded in South Africa with a European headquarters in Dublin. Last year, the company said it would expand its Irish team to help it grow in the areas of user experience and digital product design.

In her role, Devereux works from Dublin to develop the business, build relationships with clients and partners, and help the team deliver its design work.

‘Digital design should contribute positively – whether using an app, website or any other online tool’
– ELAINE DEVEREUX

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Future Human

I get up early and start the day with yoga. I’m on my mat by 6.45am, then I get the kids out to school. We kick off the day with our check-in call at 8.30am where the teams from Dublin and London come together, plan the day and make sure everyone knows what deliverables they’re responsible for. This also helps keep each other motivated and focused as most of us are working from home these days.

The day then rolls into a series of client and partner meetings, where we drive new products out or find new opportunities for brands to reinvigorate their relevance in the world. Lunch happens on a bench in St Stephen’s Green or I duck out to Green Bench on Montague Lane, which sells the best sandwiches in Dublin.

Afternoons are often spent with the team to check project status, review new initiatives and plan the workload, making sure we keep things moving in the right direction and getting products to market. Some days, if the kids finish school early, they pop by the office with my husband and we walk home together to get dinner, do homework and the usual mid-week activities.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

As a digital advisory and design agency, the pace of change in our industry is always a challenge – the continuous, relentless speed of innovation. Managing this for ourselves and our clients while keeping a watchful eye on ethics and the impact of our work, both positive and negative, can prove challenging at times.

With our business, we strive to hire designers with a strong sensibility around ethics, who understand the importance of designing for good and making a positive contribution to the user and human experience. This means creating products that are useful, simple to use and, dare I say, delightful – products that ultimately make the user feel better and not products that are addictive or that potentially incite aggression or frustration.

We are passionate about ethical design – adding more empathy, consideration and humanity into the digital world. There should be joy in the little things in life and now, as we live in a predominantly digital world, digital design should contribute positively to that happy feeling – whether using an app, website or any other online tool.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

At least $87bn is expected to be invested in edtech over the next decade. Edtech is a big growth opportunity for us in Lucky Beard and a space in which we’re very comfortable, having worked with the Institute of Banking to deliver their online learning programme.

There is no question that the forced shift to online education during the pandemic has transformed the landscape and created a huge appetite to democratise education and make it open to all. Digital helps us achieve this goal and we are working with companies to help them reimagine how their offering can be changed or enhanced to take advantage of this.

Health-tech is another area we are targeting. A record $51.3bn was invested in global health-tech last year, up 280pc on 2016 levels. Not only do we see a massive business opportunity in working with innovative companies who are developing technology to improve the research, delivery and consumption of healthcare, but healthcare provision today is clearly broken and needs to be fixed. Like education, it needs to be accessible and affordable to all and not a privilege.

We also see crypto as another growth area – when the CEO of Santander talks crypto, it’s going mainstream.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I’ve always loved business, brand and design from a young age. I studied marketing and languages in Dublin City University, which lead me to work for the big telcos across the world.

I was part of the team that set up Vodafone Spain. We had nine months to launch – from winning the bid to actual go-live, so it was full on. Then I moved to T-Mobile where we did lots of pioneering work. I was part of the team that brought T-Mobile to their inauguration at the GSM World Congress in the early 2000s, and Wi-Fi to Starbucks all around the UK. I had the privilege of working with Amy Winehouse and the Black Eyed Peas to bring music and other amazing content to the mobile world.

Innovation and design are part of my DNA and I founded my own online furniture and home design company when I was living in Australia. I always love new ventures and building things from the ground up, working with incredible talent and bringing a vision to life.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Putting up with mediocrity.

Some of the best advice I got years ago was to hire people better than yourself. That can be quite intimidating, especially when you’re young and still learning. So, in my early days in junior management and leadership roles I put up with mediocrity more than I should have when it came to people.

They say you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with and I have found that to be so true. Surrounding yourself with the best of the best is fundamental to business success. Always endeavour to find the best talent and build the right team from the get-go. It saves a lot of time down the track untangling yourself from the complexities of having the wrong people or the wrong people in the wrong roles. Hire amazing people and hire those that are proud of what they do each day.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By being human, checking in, tuning in to how they are, truly caring for how they are, by being level with them, being a team player and a role model. A smile, a sense of humour and a reward – numerous small positive things along the way.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Lucky Beard was established in South Africa so we are very conscious of ethnicity and diversity.

We are very mindful of ensuring we employ extraordinary people that are diverse, well-rounded and have truly global perspectives. We are passionate about creating exceptional, human-centric design which needs to be empathetic and considered, and have found that – more often than not – females do this really well. Just over 60pc of our employees are women. We are a mix of 11 nationalities that speak more than 16 languages and we believe this is essential to our global success.

What books have you read that you would recommend?
  • Daniel H Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
  • Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  • The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, which tells the story of the Patagonia brand
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Yoga, a sense of humour, being organised (we use Forecast), my amazing PMs, my hubby and kids who keep me level.

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