Fjord co-founder Mark Curtis on the ‘rule of 3’ in design thinking

29 Jul 2016

Mark Curtis, chief client officer and co-founder of Fjord, at Inspirefest 2016. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Despite his life’s work being innovative design, Mark Curtis, chief client officer and co-founder of Fjord, said design on its own is not enough. Rather, it’s all about the ‘rule of three’.

Noted as one of the speakers included in’s ones to watch ahead of Inspirefest 2016, Mark Curtis went on stage last month with one message: design on its own is not enough.

Since being acquired by Accenture back in 2013, Curtis’s company, Fjord, has grown considerably, working with a number of companies to change their design thinking drastically as well as helping them create popular digital products for customers.

Preventing design thinking becoming ‘pants’

However, while Fjord has been working within design thinking since 2001, Curtis is actually worried about the fact design thinking has become almost an industry norm over the past two or three years.

More specifically, he spoke about his concern that, because design thinking gained media prominence last year, it’s in danger of becoming something quickly forgotten about.

“What worries me is that when something makes it on to the cover of Harvard Business Review, it’s in danger of becoming a management fad and everyone will love it for about three or four years,” he said.

“Then in about three or four years, there will be another learned article in the same publication basically saying design thinking is pants.”

The rule of three

Curtis proposed the ‘rule of three’ which he and Fjord use when it comes to tackling design thinking. These rules are: design thinking, design doing and design culture.

Design thinking means assembling a group of innovative designers capable of problem-solving within a company, whether that’s a change of focus or creating a fresh product for a consumer.

The second rule – design doing – is about taking this design thinking and collaborating with different stakeholders to take something from sticky notes and brainstorming to actually creating new services.

“This turns out to be very difficult,” Curtis said citing a number of examples over the past year where clients have approached Fjord asking for its help to set up design outfits within companies.

The most difficult of the three, Curtis said, is design culture, due to the challenge of instilling a creative culture within some companies that have, for years, cultivated a sterile office environment.

For example, Curtis spoke of one office where the lead project manager admitted the facilities manager would not allow sticky notes placed on the walls.

Changing hearts and minds

“If you’re going to embed a design culture in an organisation, you actually need to get the hearts and minds of the back office as well,” Curtis said.

“HR needs to get their head around how we incentivise and innovate a diverse set of skills to work in a bank, telco etc”. The same goes for many other departments within a company, from legal to accounting.

All of this is encapsulated within what Curtis refers to as the current ‘third era of digital’ in which designers transition focus from mobile to living services such as connected cars.

“Eight or nine years ago, digital designers I was working with in the world were thinking about the user who would be using a [small screen]. Now they’re thinking of screens of every size, and sometimes not a screen at all.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic