A key part of innovating and starting a new business is getting inside the heads of your potential customers. We spoke to Ferenc Boroczky of FrancisKodak – an engineering studio that specialises in road safety solutions – who spoke to us about the pros of human-centred design and persistence.

My name is Ferenc (Francis) Boroczky and I’m an entrepreneur and business designer at FrancisKodak Design Lab. A family business, we are a design-driven innovation and engineering studio. We specialise in road safety solutions that combine user-centred driver and cyclist training with digitally connected infrastructure innovations. Like many other entrepreneurs, I started to build the company from zero. My wife Linda Kodak joined me later on and we now run the business together.

Why design?

If we go back in history a little, people used to make everything for themselves. But as time progressed, the people that were better at making things became known as craftsmen. When the industrial revolution started, factories came about and markets came with them. When these markets got bigger and the people (craftsmen) who made things lost touch with the people that were using them, this resulted in entrepreneurs being responsible for figuring out how to make things that people really need or want.

I believe the central questions for any innovation and innovation team are: what you are going to do, why are you going to do it, and who is getting value from it? 

As designers, we have to understand what people need and respond to that with products, services or solutions. Design thinking and human-centred design are the perfect tools with which to do that.

The key is to start by seeking to understand the point-of-view of the people that we are designing the product or service for. This doesn’t mean that you should seek to persuade them that they want something, as has been the practice in many traditional push-development methods. If you are doing it that way, the impact and result will follow. But you have to be mentally and physically prepared for the challenges that will follow because it’s something that’s really hard to do well.

Persistence

Before we applied for a Virgin StartUp Loan and were successful, we unsuccessfully applied 13 times to different grants and funding opportunities. Our experience tells us that you shouldn’t take failed applications as a failure. Instead, simply accept the result (although it’s easier said than done), learn from your mistakes and try it again. All of these things will help you to build up your willpower and make you determined to eventually succeed. If you don’t win now, you will next time. If next time you fail again, you try a third time.

One thing that you have to be sure of is that you are here to win. For example, when we were contacting fleet operators to ask for their feedback on the cyclists vs heavy goods vehicles issue, 99% of the companies did not even reply to our email. The only response came from Dave Conway and Peter Parle from FM Conway, who gave us 30 minutes to explain what we want to achieve. This led to them supporting us, which they have been doing since 2015.

How can design help?

Cycling and cycling safety is a huge trend. If you search online, you’ll find countless new innovations, products and services that help to make our roads safer. This is great, and we need more quality products/services still. I think design can help with that in at least three different ways:

  1. Design can help open up new markets and uncontested marketplaces.
  2. Design can help you to differentiate your product or services.
  3. Design can help you to build a better brand. It can articulate who you are and what you are about in a more personalised way.

We are a family business and I think these three things help us in a number of ways. Without design we would not have come up with the products and services that we are building now. We constantly look for new ways to improve our products and not just by sitting in our office or at our desks. We do so by talking to others, observing people and trying to understand how they use products/services and how we can improve them. Lastly, as Jonathan Ive once said: “Brand is a consequence of a great product.” We are trying to focus on that and we hope the result will follow.

Be passionate

If you are a fellow entrepreneur, you might agree with the advice that I pass onto others that want to take the same journey. If you are not called to do what you do, then it’s probably not for you. If you are not passionately engaged and eager to wake up early in the morning to start making notes; if it’s not the first thing that you think about in the morning, then you probably shouldn’t even think about doing it. Because the chances of success are infinitesimally low, so whatever you do has to be driven by passion, rather than career or salary. Being an entrepreneur or part of a founding team is not a job – it’s a way of life.

Design can add value and help you to do more with less, as well as open up new opportunities. Especially if you listen to those that you are designing for. From my point-of-view, if you want to succeed, you have to build a culture in your company that continually asks very hard questions about the soul and fate of the organisation, as well as the product, with the premise that things are going to change, always.

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