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Growing your business insights from entrepreneur Janna DeVylder



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By Loren Webb

A mix of curiosity and compassion led Janna DeVylder to study psychology and anthropology. These disciplines proved to be the launching pad that sparked a strong desire to work in ways that would improve people’s lives.

How? She co-founded a design collective to help organisations understand their customers and deliver them better services and products.

Ten years on, Meld Studios is in high demand. Government agencies and large-scale corporations make Meld their go-to for guidance on creating powerful and enduring connections with customers.

Since Meld Studios was launched in Sydney with just Janna and two co-founders at the helm, it has now expanded to incorporate a team of 24, spread over two studios in Sydney and Melbourne. Collectively, they’ve worked with 150 organisations — spanning 15 industries including the built environment, transport, financial services, education and government ventures.

In 2018, Meld Studios won Australia’s top Good Design Award for their customer-focus work with the Queensland Government. Whilst the accolades and awards are affirming, Janna says her insatiable drive and determination are fuelled by the personal satisfaction she draws from her professional life.

Dynamic Business interviewed Janna, the Co-founder of Meld Studios to find out more about the interesting why behind starting the business, how they secured their first clients, their struggles in doing so and last but not least, Janna’s tips on how businesses should be building the best relationships with the end-user.

Where did the passion for helping big organisations connect more with their customers come from?

My mother is Deaf and I grew up with first-hand experience of a world that was not designed for her. From a young age, I was very aware that there were products and services that literally did not suit everybody! On a daily basis, I observed my mother navigating a landscape of inaccessibility.

When you’re faced with a world where things don’t work for the people you love, it’s only natural to start questioning how that could change. I wanted to do something to help organisations put better products and services into the world — because I understood how deeply people are impacted by the world around them.

All our lives are affected by the products and services that organisations put into the world. Think about just one day in your life … on your way to work, you’re impacted by the transportation system delivered by the government. When you get to the office, you rely on the electricity provider to deliver power to your desk. When you go to the doctor, you’re impacted by the medicines produced by a pharmaceutical company.

At Meld Studios, we make sure organisations are — literally — melding their products and service delivery to suit the needs of their customers. It’s that simple.

How did you secure your first clients back in 2009?

Our first client was a large financial institution with which my business partners had a longstanding relationship. In fact, over the years, the secret of our success has been our commitment to nurturing relationships.

That first job involved extensive research with customers in regional and metropolitan regions. We interviewed a broad cross-section of people of varying ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds. Our goal was to help this financial institution better understand their customers’ lives, needs and aspirations.

How has Meld Studios changed since it started?

Initially, we were digitally focused — helping organisations create better online experiences for their customers. Today, the scope of our work is much, much broader. We’ve shifted from designing digital touchpoints, to designing entire organisational ecosystems. Currently, we partner with organisations on everything from redesigning their workplace culture and internal service functions, through to researching customer behaviour to help inform the design of new products and services.

I’m most humbled by the trust organisations now place in me and our team. We’ve built up a reputation for doing things a little differently. In my view, that’s why our evolution has been so successful. We don’t come to the table with a specific agenda or a pre-determined solution in mind. Instead, we bring together customers and organisations so we can jointly arrive at the most appropriate solutions for all involved. We’re very mindful that our clients want the design process to be as impactful as the outcomes it delivers.

How did you know 10 years ago Meld Studios would be as successful as it has been? How have you achieved your success?

Frankly, I initially had no idea Meld Studios would be on the trajectory it is today! When we first launched Meld, we created a workplace whereby I knew I could be happy for the rest of my career. Since then, we’ve worked with an amazing collective of designers who all deserve credit for where we are today.

I think the key to Meld’s success is the niche we’ve carved out in the marketplace. We take a tailored, strategic and long-term approach to understanding organisations and their customers. Researching with customers, translating insights into easy-to-understand journey maps and exploring future possibilities are among our key differentiators.

What are the key struggles you’ve experienced in securing new clients/business and how have you overcome them?

In the early days, we didn’t have a sufficient portfolio of past projects to convince new clients to trust our expertise. Our only option was to invest a great deal of time in connecting with clients one-on-one to explain the value we could bring to their organisations. Now, we have a long list of successful past projects and recommendations that constantly generate new enquiries.

Thankfully, organisations today are very cognizant of the importance of being customer-centric. That said, we are still faced with the challenge of persuading them to go beyond merely ‘considering’ their customers. Our goal is for them to understand and include customers in the design of their products and services.

What are the key insights you could share with any organisations reading this in terms of how to connect with their audience more?

Firstly, understand how your customers live — not just how they interact with your product or service. This broad view will help you identify latent opportunities for new product development and/or service innovations.

Secondly, stay constantly connected with your customers. A one-off survey is not sufficient. Your customer base will likely evolve over time so ongoing research projects are critical to remain well-informed.

Thirdly, supporting your customers is everyone’s job. Don’t relegate that responsibility to only frontline staff. Your entire team should have a good understanding of your customers and how their actions and decisions impact those they serve.