Grand Designs: Lorna Ross

Fjord Family

Lorna Ross returns to Dublin after a varied career with MIT, the US Military and the Mayo Clinic Centre as group design director and studio lead of Accentures new Fjord studio.

By David Wall, Totally Dublin

Lorna Ross has had a career in design which has seen her in a fascinating series of organisations and roles. Having graduated from fashion design in NCAD she went on to work on early wearables following a masters in the RCA (London). She has worked as a principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab and a design lead at Motorola Futures Group, and consulted with the US Military, designing clothing and accessories for use by Navy SEALs in combat. Now, after eight years as design director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, Ross has returned to Dublin as group design director and studio lead at Accenture’s new Fjord studio here.

Strategic design acquisitions by large consulting organisations have been a regular occurrence over the last few years, with Accenture somewhat ahead of the curve with its 2013 acquisition of Fjord. At the time Fjord had 200 employees in offices across Europe and in the USA. It has expanded following acquisition, with its Dublin office (the Dock) opening last year. Such expansion comes with an array of challenges. Ross has been tasked with leading a process to define what the Dublin studio can offer Fjord, offer Accenture, and offer clients – and to articulate what it needs from all in order to produce work of meaning and value for a rainbow of stakeholders.

“There’s definitely a trend right now of acquisitions, of everyone being bought. Clients are turning up and saying: ‘and I want design’. It’s driven by the market. Clients are interested in seeing design baked into other consulting products. I think that’s the original impetus”, she notes.

“A lot of consulting firms reference ‘design thinking’, they use that term a lot without the visible evidence of design. Accenture has been really smart by keeping Fjord and keeping the brand, and allowing there to be tension, where the commitment to design is less about ‘eating it’ and more about co-locating; allowing design to somehow challenge a lot of the assumptions and standard practice.

“That’s really hard to do, that’s a fragile equilibrium to maintain: in terms of how the brand should be affecting the consulting model. People say they really want you to be disruptors or agitators. That’s hard to do on a day-to-day basis because people also want to be successful and fit in…I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised that it feels a little uncomfortable. Which is one of the reasons I came here: I like that uncomfortableness. If people were trying to make it feel really safe really quickly, you’d be just neutralising all the effect.”

For Ross, this context is the impetus for an assertive stance in terms of where Fjord fits in the already massive Accenture ecosystem (the firm has almost 400,000 employees in 120 countries). “We try to be provocative. We ask potential clients, maybe a little bit selfishly, ‘Is your goal aligned with our objectives?’. Do you have a high tolerance for things that are uncomfortable? If they don’t, we can then connect them with other groups at Accenture that are more incremental.” “There’s not a culture at Accenture of saying ‘No’ a lot”, she adds. “And yet we have to find a way of communicating our own agenda. It’s risky to appear to not be at the service of others. We’re here to help and not to be exclusive. So you have to socialise some ideas about who you really are.”

 

Read the full article on Totally Dublin

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