4 lessons learned at the BIMA Beyond Conference 2023

By Zone
01 Nov 2023

Zone’s Senior UX Designer, Ioannis Karlis, shares what he learned at BIMA Beyond: The Conference 2023.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending this year’s BIMA Beyond: The Conference with friends and colleagues from Zone/Cognizant.

BIMA represents digital and tech industry organisations in the UK and their annual conference provides an opportunity for members to share work in progress, best practices, and industry insights, as well as networking with people connected by common interests.

The event took place at the Ministry Venues in London and was hosted by the dynamic duo Mary Keane-Dawson and Simon Gill. This marked my first experience at a BIMA conference, and while I was excited to gain industry-leading insights and inspiration from the diverse range of speakers, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But I was immediately rewarded with genuinely valuable insights throughout the sessions I attended.

There were several notable highlights:

Challenges creative agencies face — commercials, artificial intelligence (AI), and standardisation

Michael Farmer, Chairman and CEO of Farmer & Company LLC, supported the notion that in today’s market, successful marketing and advertising campaigns do not necessarily translate into successful client conversions and revenue growth. He provided a fascinating example with Burger King, which has received numerous awards for its commercials over the past decade but has only seen marginal sales growth compared to Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s, which have achieved significant market and revenue growth without comparable marketing budgets or prestigious awards.

Burger King’s mouldy burger advert that won multiple awards

Michael advocated for a radical redesign of the current pricing model in the industry, suggesting that clients pay per deliverable. This model is unsustainable, as it prioritises quantity over quality, focusing on outputs rather than business outcomes. Generative AI and fierce competition further exacerbate this cycle, pushing creative agencies to lower their costs and charge for outputs based on quantity rather than value.

Listening to Alex Murrell, Strategy Director at Epoch, discuss the age of average made me realise that, in the pursuit of efficiency, we risk falling into the trap of industry-wide standardisation of creative outputs. Across various sectors, one can observe a significant amount of repetition in creative output, from car manufacturing and branding to magazine covers and movie posters, even extending to urban architecture. This lack of uniqueness and inspiration raises the question of how users can distinguish one brand from another.

The answer lies in creating a distinct identity that sets you apart from the competition, much like an Alexander McQueen fashion show. Designers must push their creative boundaries while also adopting a systematic approach to address user problems.

A multitude of cars that resemble each other

The similarities of electric toothbrush advertising

Lack of sustainability knowledge is part of the battle

James Cannings, Chief Sustainability Officer at MSQ, delivered an excellent and impactful presentation, emphasising the importance of sustainability in the digital industry. Ignorance, lack of transparency, and the absence of industry-wide standards have led the digital industry to perform worse in terms of carbon emissions than the aviation industry. Every app and website consume energy to generate and render content, with interaction data being transferred across countries in milliseconds, resulting in CO2 emissions. When multiplied by trillions of interactions each year, this carbon footprint becomes substantial.

One key takeaway from James’s passionate presentation is the potential for websites to reduce their carbon emissions by becoming more lightweight. This involves removing custom heavyweight fonts, simplifying interactions, and avoiding unnecessary video usage, which leads to simpler user experiences and faster loading times. Agencies and consultancies should prioritise educating their clients, helping them understand and reduce their online and offline carbon emissions while setting net-zero targets.

James has played a pivotal role in the WeS-G initiative, aimed at promoting environmentally friendly websites. Major industry players must take an active role by employing creative solutions to offset and reduce their carbon emissions. Moreover, every technology user should adopt a carbon-conscious lifestyle and support grassroots initiatives like Green Pages, WeSG, Ecologi, and Million Tree Page.

  Screenshot of The Green Pages website

Embrace uncertainty and growth

Most people tend to dislike uncertainty due to its association with anxiety, reduced creativity, confusion, and indecision. However, in moments of uncertainty, the human brain works diligently to make sense of the surrounding situation, stimulating otherwise idle nerve connectors. This process generates creative and innovative thoughts and solutions.

Katherine Templar-Lewis, the lead scientist at Uncertainty Experts, suggests that we should strive to better understand our tolerance for uncertainty and work on increasing it. Our world is inherently unpredictable, so learning to embrace uncertainty and control our emotional response to it fosters growth and drives innovation.

According to Tom Hall and Carla Faria, Founder and Executive coach at Contented Brothers, growth is the result of stepping out of one’s comfort zone and regularly celebrating small victories.

Design thinkers vs system thinkers

Design thinking and system thinking represent two distinct approaches to problem-solving.

Design thinking focuses on delivering solutions based on user needs, while systems thinking takes a broader perspective by considering the entire ecosystem, including technology, team structure, and business context. Design thinking activities include user interviews, group ideation sessions, prototyping, and user testing.

In contrast, system thinkers analyse the end-to-end customer journey, map organisational team structures, assess the tech stack, and understand how different technical components interact and transfer information.

In their insightful presentation, Steph Marques and Iva Johan, Head of UX and Head of Strategy at Bernadette, made a compelling case for a hybrid approach, advocating for diverse teams that include both design and system thinkers to maximise the benefits of both methodologies leading to solutions that are much more likely to be customer centric, while maximising the technical components available to the team.

During the presentation, we examined two project examples where the two methodologies complemented one another and allowed the teams to deliver solutions benefiting the client organisation and the end users in equal measures. By doing user research, designers and strategists worked together to understand how users interact with the client brands and design a better product that considers all the customer touch points, data and insights, and went beyond the strict scope of the core website.

Why you should attend the next BIMA Beyond Conference

In summary, the BIMA Beyond Conference was a rewarding experience, allowing me to step away from the office and engage with individuals who are passionate about and influential in the digital industry. I also had the opportunity to explore a wide range of topics on the minds of industry thinkers, doers, and users.

The event provided a comprehensive view of the evolving digital landscape and the challenges and opportunities it presents. The looming impact of AI on the industry and its potential to disrupt traditional business models is a significant concern but can also be seen as an opportunity to deliver outcomes at higher speed, both of which need to be considered carefully.

From a personal point of view, I’ll be looking to expand my systems thinking skills and educating fellow team members and clients on a mission for a more sustainable tech industry.

I extend my sincere thanks to Zone, BIMA, and all the inspiring speakers. I eagerly anticipate next year’s event.

I’ll wrap up with a key phrase from Katherine Templar-Lewis’ talk: “ being ready is a decision, not a feeling”.

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