Hatch Design Talks 2023





Why Innovation fails and how can we change that?

Why Innovation fails and how can we change that?

Dan Tase

Dan Tase

Founder, Rubber Studio

Founder, Rubber Studio

About the Episode

Dan is the founder of Rubber Studio, a design studio which by design wants to stay small, but yet has worked with fantastic companies like GetYourGuide, Burberry and Multiverse. Having worked inside inhouse teams, Dan detected that with growth, innovation suffers a bit, and has a lot to say about how that can be improved.



Damian: Hi Dan, thanks so much for joining me today on this little podcast that we do to make everyone who comes to Hatch Conference or actually watches remotely get to know a little bit of the speakers. You'll be presenting on the Atelier stage on October 6th. So everyone who's attending will be able to watch you.

Everyone else will be able to watch you after when the recordings are done. Thanks for joining.

Dan: I'm very glad to be here and talk to you and also very happy to speak and attend Hedge Conference.

Damian: Nice. So I'll tell you, so you own a small small studio, a small design studio called Rubber Studio. Tell us a little bit more about your career and how you got to actually have your own studio.

Dan: I'm going to try and keep it as short as possible, but I've been a designer for 15, 15 years now, maybe even more than that. And I spent the last few years of my career leading and managing design teams. In London scale up such as Just Eat, Farfetch and Fresha. 

Some of those companies were were just starting their design teams. Others were very mature, but needed support and maturing even further. And after I quit my last full time job at Fresha, I started freelancing, and throughout that process I realized that for every project I was working on, I was putting together teams.

 And it gave me so much joy and energy that I decided to turn it into a business. And because around that time, I've been also thinking about the industry and where things are going and what kind of things stuff companies are struggling with we positioned ourselves as being a studio that helps companies get unstuck.

It helps companies innovate. So yeah, we opened Rubber Studio and we've been doing that for the last two years for companies such as Get Your Guide, Burberry, Multiverse, and others.

Damian: What were important learnings that you had by going just from designer or, contributor into actual business owner ?

Dan: I don't consider myself a business owner. I think that's too big of a term for what I do and what the kind of chaos I'm struggling with on a daily basis. And I'm not saying this studio is chaotic. I feel like when you go from being a designer to being a business owner or running something yourself, whatever that is, I do think it's a tough journey. That said, there are a few things we Agreed upon when we opened the studio. Some principles we defined that actually allow me to be more of a designer and less of a business owner. We are intentionally small, which means we don't have to chase clients as often. All we need is one great project and due to the nature of the work we're doing, most of our clients actually come back to us in a few months for the new initiative, which means we don't have to change clients every month or every two weeks.

I've been working with or 6 clients since we opened the studio for two years, and that's pretty good. We do have a limited number of projects. The most we've had is three projects running at once. And because of that, it allows me to be involved in each one of those projects.

That said, I do think there are two things I'm struggling with on a daily basis, and I'm probably going to struggle with them for a very long time. One of them is still new business development. In client services, it's still a very important part to try to find clients, to try to figure out the kind of companies you want to work for.

And although we don't have to do that as much as a large studio, I still need to spend a fair amount of time talking to people, promoting the studio all those kinds of things. And It's very hard to turn your designer mindset off when you have to be more of a business person than anything else.

I'm not very good at that, and I don't think I'm ever going to be very good at that. I'm always going to put the work above, the financial aspects of growing the studio. But that's good. That's a trade off I'm very happy with. And the second thing I'm I found very difficult is the level of responsibility that comes with running a business on.

I'm sure every founder is going to tell you the same thing when you're an employee or when you're is still a lot of pressure on you and there's still a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. But I think it's different because there's always someone above you. There's some always someone you can reach out to and ask them

Damian: or blame...

Dan: Yes, ask them to help you out with something. But occasionally I feel like I'm alone. Of course I have mentors. I have a great team of people helping me, not necessarily within the studio, outside of the studio as well. But sometimes you just need to make very hard decisions. And there's no one above you that could hold your hand throughout the process.

You have do it all alone. 

Damian: We've heard a lot of how the landscape has changed a lot for big tech companies in the last year with everything that's happened, layoffs and changes in, dynamics and technologies. How has it been for your personal experience owning a small studio?

Has anything changed or are you working in the same way that you were like two years ago, let's say?

Dan: It's changed a lot. I think it's very tricky and I think in order to to make it a bit more clear why it was particularly tricky for us is because when we started the studio we had this idea on the kind of work we want to do. 

Personally, I was frustrated with this idea of good enough and many studios and even companies out there that are very happy with good enough work for good enough clients with good enough outcomes. And we said, Hey, we're not going to do that. We are the enemies of good enough. We want to deliver very incredible and very risky work with very bold and hard to achieve outcomes, but potentially life changing outcomes for a company for very interesting and bold clients.

We don't want to do business as usual. We don't want to do useless decks. We don't want to do big bank reveals. And it worked for the first year. It was great. But then the state of the industry at the moment is in this position where companies are laying off people. They are trying to downsize and all of the risky projects or the innovation related work is being put on the back burner.

No one wants to do that,

It's risky. So since earlier this year, we've seen many clients cancel projects midway through or projects that was supposed to start were canceled simply because of that, or were radically changed up to a point where we were like, Hey, we're not going to be able to help.

 At the same time tough times can also be seen as opportunities. And thinking big and taking risks is not the safest way to survive.

Now is a great time to invest in innovation simply because. At the end of it, you're gonna come out in a way better position than you were before. And a good company that comes to mind when I think about that is GetYourGuide.

When the pandemic started, their revenue went to zero, essentially. They were making no money. Or they were making way less money than before because no one was able to travel. And of course it was hard. They had to let people go.. And what they've done, instead of being like, Hey, we're just going to try to survive. They took that first pandemic year, to figure out what the business is and to create work that's much, much better than before.

They have an incredible team as well, especially the design team led by Jiangsu and Marloen. They've done an incredible job and taking a step back and being like: Hey, now is the time to do a lot of stuff that we didn't get a chance to do up until this point. Now is the time to stop doing very small increments and think about this big, innovative part of GetYourGuide that we haven't explored as much, and at the end of it, they came out as a much, much better platform than before.

Damian: I also think there's a point where that risk that you're taking when no one else is taking risks, then you have a much higher chance of success just because, I often feel like, when everyone's got money and everyone's doing stuff, it's really, there's so much noise.

It's really hard to compete. But then when you're suddenly one of the few ones that is actually taking a risk and everyone else is just being conservative, you're likely to get a lot of attention that otherwise would cost you much more money and much more time to acquire. I totally agree with what you say and I'm an advocate as well for some risk, a certain point, we do it at the conference and I, I like to see other people, especially like in, in smaller positions do it.

And actually it's speaking about innovation: your talk is about innovation inside companies. And the premise is how innovation seems to stall and how it's, harder to scale as companies grow and all those challenges come to life. Have you seen this process stall when working in house for companies before, or how did you saw this kind of trend?

Dan: This is a very good question. And I think if you think about the trajectory of a company, when a company is small, when they're a very small startup they're happy to take risks. They're happy to innovate. You're still taking like massive risks and you don't have a lot of funding.

So everything is risky, but once the company starts, starts growing innovation stops because it's much riskier to do big bold things.

And I'm not talking about big bang reveals. I'm just talking about stuff that's You know you're supposed to do, but it's so hard to do that you're probably not going to do it for being afraid of failing. And it's not because these companies don't have very talented teams. Most of them do. But I think there are three reasons why this happens a lot.

One of them is adversity to risks. These companies are Afraid of taking risks. And if you think about the traditional product squad in a large organization their job is to minimize risks as much as possible. Their job is to find a way to ship stuff that doesn't break things. And that, that makes sense.

But at the same time, that never leads to innovation 

 The second reason I've noticed is internal politics: teams are way too busy keeping the boat afloat. They're way too busy keeping the business alive more than anything else. And innovation is not as important when your job is to make sure you're not breaking stuff while making slow progress. That's what you're going to do. And that's being encouraged by the company. 

And I think the third reason is there's a massive emphasis on constraints. All of these companies, and every designer, I'm sure is going to relate to this. You are hyper aware of all the constraints within the company. You might have this incredible idea that's going to make the platform 10 times better.

And when you're so aware of those constraints, it's hard to think beyond them. It's very hard for you to be like let's try it anyway. Let's at least visualize it. So you stop before you even start doing that. And Because of these reasons, I've seen companies with massive folders of great work that never gets shipped.

Damian: And what's your solution to dealing with that stalling? Because I can also imagine what we spoke about before that fear of not going forward with innovation comes also together with the fact that if now it's a riskier time and if I want to keep my job right, what should I do as a designer internally to actually drive forward innovation without, challenging and risking my own persona there.

Dan: Yeah, I don't think it's helping the company become more innovative is the job of a designer. I think it's. It's also the job of the designer, but it's the job of a team of people. And a lot of the times it needs buy in from someone at the top.

I think it's very hard if not even impossible to innovate in a traditional product squad, unless that product squad is set up for innovation. And I don't think there's necessarily one solution. There might be multiple, but one that I've noticed works pretty well is this idea of an innovation lab.

And when I say innovation lab it can mean many things to many people and they're all correct. You can have a company wide innovation lab and big companies like Apple are really good at doing that. 

But that's big companies.

And a different approach I've noticed works quite well was temporary project specific innovation squads. So in very simple terms, you put together a team of designers, researchers, PMs even engineers that's solely focused on solving a very big problem. In a very bold way. And you're not looking at small experiments. You're not looking at can we try moving this button or changing the color on this or just adding this new thing in. You're looking at how could this look like if we could do anything.

and that's a big question to ask. But sometimes the only way to push it forward is by is by doing that. And you put together this environment where they are allowed to take risks. There is no politics because you're outside of the traditional product squad. Your goal is to try to do big things.

And I think the very important part is that you are looking at this vision. But I've also noticed many times in which when you go to the leadership team and you say, Hey, we've figured out this new customer need. We want to solve it, but then we have all of these constraints and we need to invest as much energy. And we have to hire these many people to be able to do that. Leadership is going to be like I don't think, I don't think so. That's too difficult. But when you go to the exec team and you show them, Hey, we've worked for the last month on putting together this vision for this particular thing here's what our platform could be in a year if we start investing , in this side of the business and they're going to see it and they're going to be able to interact with it. That's a whole different story. There's a much higher chance for you to get buy in by doing that than just talking about ideas because you visualize them, you validate them.

They can see it and they can feel it and they can understand what you're trying to achieve and that's going to make it way, way easier to find a team and put together a team to be able to do those things.

Damian: Yeah, that's a super interesting proposal. We're also, seeing the word innovation being shoved down our throats a little bit now with the whole leaps on technology and new tools, I was wondering as a small studio owner by design, as you mentioned where do you see all of this going and are you giving any use to any of these new tools that are available?

Dan: Um, I mean, I think it, innovation can mean many things. Uh, Of course, innovation is AR, it's blockchain, it's AI, it's it's all of that, it's innovative by default, but then innovation can also mean redesigning the checkout flow in a radical new way of changing the way you interact with the product.

 I'm generally, I generally get excited about new things and whenever a new thing launches, we're running internal, not hackathons, but internal, conversations and internal workshops around them.

How could we use this to be able to create better work for us as a studio or for our clients. We've been using ChatGPT a lot lately for just basic stuff. I don't know, just asking it to synthesize various data points or helping us write better text whenever we have to write a lot of stuff.

 Even if you look at Apple's vision pro, yeah, I think that's how it's called. That's an incredible piece of technology, right? It's just thinking about designing for it is incredible. And it's very good for the business, especially for a small studio like us to understand those things early on.

Because. We're going to have the ability to influence an entire new discipline more than anything else. But then you also need to take a step back and I think this is a tricky part and you. Ask yourself, is this what are the consequences of this? And I think every designer should ask themselves those questions, especially the designers that are working on these things.

Do I want to spend the entire day with a headset on or do I not want to do that?

Damian: We'll have to wait and see. Finally, I wanted to ask you, what are you most excited about coming to Hatch? Not only as a speaker, but, as a participant as well.

Dan: I, first off, I love being surrounded by great talented people. And I feel like I'm generally the kind of person that learns a lot in meetups and conferences and these kinds of environment, not just from the speakers, but from interacting with the people around you and meeting them. I think Hatch is the right place to do that.

In terms of the talks, I love every speaker you have this year. I'm particularly excited about Kevin Hawkins talk on getting buy in from stakeholders.

Damian: both of your thoughts are very complimentary. All right.

Dan: Yeah, they are because they, they go both ways. I think there's a, there's this idea of you need to get buy in to build an internal innovation lab. And I think this is a big struggle in many companies because you can't start innovating unless you get buy in and you can't start shipping the things you've innovated unless you get buy in again.

I think Berlin is an incredible city and I'm looking forward to, Going visiting things in Berlin and hopefully meeting my friends at GetYourGuide and some of the other companies we've been working with there.

Damian: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this and see you in October in Berlin. 

Dan: Perfect. Thank you so much, Damian. Have an incredible 

Damian: Bye bye.

Get your ticket!

Online tickets for the conference are still available. Save getting 5 passes or more.

Online tickets for the conference are still available. Save getting 5 passes or more.


Recordings Pass

Get access to the recordings from all stages, and Temi Adeniyi's keynote from the Leadership Ateliers Day



Recordings Pass

Get access to the recordings from all stages, and Temi Adeniyi's keynote from the Leadership Ateliers Day


We accept these payment methods

We accept these payment methods