One objective of #MTPEngage MCR was to provide insights into what we can learn from Manchester’s heritage – from how we ship product through to how we iterate as needs dictate. We can start with something completely different from what we end up shipping through being agile and responsive to change.
Lou Cordwell’s talk at the conference reinforced the importance of these elements and looked to Manchester’s industrial past for inspiration.
Lou’s digital design agency, magneticNorth, was founded in Manchester 19 years ago. She says that the decision to put the geographic location within the name of the agency was a statement of intent that has informed everything the agency does, from approach to delivery, to relationships, and the products it builds.
Timing is as important as heritage. Being in the right place for the delivery of your product at the right time is the sweet spot we should all be aiming for. For Lou it was important to have been around during a time when Manchester was growing in the digital and production space and there were ambitious plans for the city’s infrastructure, green spaces, provision of services, creative sector, and more.
Lou emphasised that having clear ambition and ideas about what we want to build, as product people, is crucial to what we ultimately get. But having this as cornerstone of product development can be both helpful and dangerous if you’re not able to keep asking questions.
Doing “stuff for the sake of doing stuff” and building products to win awards were things that magneticNorth had focused on, but as the digital world matured, it became time to examine some difficult truths of this approach. She found that looking at yourself, how you work, why you deliver the products you deliver, is tough. Working out how to “fix” it, rewire the product, put processes in place and essentially grow the proposition was painful, but ultimately the right thing to do.
Putting research first in order to validate its approach and asking difficult questions was all part of that growing-up process for magneticNorth. But, as Lou says, it was clear throughout how “informed” they still were by the city they were in, and being true to the place brought them a renewed sense of ambition and industry.
Driving this change was much more painful than Lou thought it would be, but she observes that going through the pain of driving change enables us to understand what needs to be done, to see the end result when others can’t, and to try to communicate the direction we need to move in. She concludes: “We learned we can draw massive strength from the place we’re in. I believe we couldn’t do what we do, make the things we’re making, be the business we are, if we weren’t in this place, this city. As product makers we have a massive opportunity to use place to our advantage and through the things we make to define the place and the image that people have of it.”