Hi all, today we are starting a new interview series at DigitalTalks: DigitalTalks Global Perspectives. The first guest of this series is Hester Hilbrecht, CEO of Berlin based user experience agency Mermaid Studios.
Hello Hester. Thanks for accepting my interview request. It’s so nice to meet you again after our last meeting in Berlin in June. To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What kind of services do you offer to your clients as Mermaid Studios?
Hi Ozan, with pleasure… My name is Hester Hilbrecht. I’m 32 years old, born and raised in Berlin. I started my career studying Business Administration at the University of Potsdam. While writing my thesis I encountered topics such as Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management and by chance stumbled across Design Thinking which totally fascinated me! It was the first time I felt like it was actually a hands-on approach for developing which was quite different to what I had studied to far! After studying Design Thinking at the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Potsdam, I moved to the Silicon Valley to work as a Design Strategist, Design Thinking Evangelist as well as CoInnovator at SAP, enabling project teams to bring the human factor back into technology. Subsequently, I moved back to Germany where I worked with conichi – an award-winning technology solution and helped build their new brand conichiwa. In November 2017, I took the ultimate step and founded my very own start-up. Mermaid Studios is a Berlin based User Experience Agency which specialises in conceptualizing human-centred solutions for companies from various industries by applying Design Thinking, User Experience Design and Disruptive Technologies.
We enable our customers to create seamless user experiences for their customers, by applying the design thinking methodology and with that putting the user in the centre of the process, understanding their needs and problems first, before developing a solution. A lot of times you find that bigger companies want to change something on their product portfolio, become “more digital”, but don’t know where or how to start. Design Thinking enables us to find out their true, untapped potential and this is where we come in. Generally, our services include User Research, Design Thinking Workshops, Software Development and Marketing Strategy once the new product is launched.
Is it vital for companies to place the user experience at the core of their business? What would you like to share about this topic?
Yes, definitely! So much is changing so quickly in today’s world that one of the most important things is creating an unforgettable user experience for their customers – otherwise they’re gone. The average person’s attention span has decreased so much over the last few years: a goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds while that of a human is now 8 seconds, which is unbelievable! What this means for us is that if you do not get your customers attention within the first 8 seconds they’re gone and the only way to keep them interested is to create an unforgettable experience for them, which is not just about the product itself but also how it is delivered and how it makes people feel when they interact with it, which is key to any solution one develops!
What is the methodology of your company?
The Design Thinking process starts with a research phase in order to define what the actual problem is. This includes qualitative research, which is necessary to understand the needs of all people involved namely the potential customers, the target groups and of course the stake- and shareholders involved. Next, we move into the deep- dive phase where we create a solution by building wireframes and mock-ups. Once we have our high-fidelity prototype or click-dummy we then find and match the ideal technology that solves the problem best. We then move into the development phase and build software solutions. Finally, we also support our customers with market guidance on how to position the newly developed product.
Which countries and sectors are especially at the company’s spotlight?
As a German company based in Berlin, the German market has been our primary focus, however we are definitely very open to expanding the market into different countries. Currently, we have already worked with clients from Germany, Austria, the United States and Iceland. Since Design Thinking applies to every sector and every industry and there is such great potential from all these companies in different countries that we do not limit ourselves. So far, we have worked with clients in Retail and Fashion, Aviation, Healthcare, Travel and Sports & Entertainment and are looking forward to working with many more!
Can we say that the online and offline worlds are converging day by day? What would like to say about this change from the perspective of user experience?
The current trend is definitely heading towards connecting offline with online or digital experiences. A good example of this happening is with Amazon, which started off as the online retailer we all know, but then realised that a lot of transactions still happen offline so they decided to merge these two experiences by creating Amazon Go. In a nutshell, Amazon Go can be touted as a better version of a physical store but with a very digital experience that you don’t even see – you grab your goods, walk out of the store and the rest has been taken care of for you. Essentially people want enhanced offline experiences which are augmented with a digital aspect to create this totally new experience. Its needless to say that experiences like this will be more common in the future; it is definitely an area that has massive potential and would be interesting to see how far we can go!
What is the importance of Proximity Technology in your projects?
Proximity technology is a great, disruptive technology which enables companies to create an unforgettable user experiences and that is why we apply this technology to some of our projects. Proximity technology is centred on providing location-based, personalised and customised services for the end user. In my opinion, the most important part is not just applying specific technology but matching it with the right use-case first! This means figuring out the problem you want to solve and then matching it with the right technology in order to deliver that product in the best possible, innovative way. Proximity technology in this case can be an amazing tool to deliver a very personalised service and reach the right customers at the right time and at the right place.
In SAP you worked in both Germany and USA. I’m sure that now you’re in touch with companies with different scales as well, and you’re collaborating with some of them whenever the time calls. When you compare big enterprises, medium and small companies, what do you observe? What are the main differences according to you?
The biggest challenges big companies have is that they are much slower than smaller companies in creating innovative solutions because of their sheer size. When you want to innovate or create innovative solutions one of the most important things is to act quickly and this is what they struggle with. With our small team size as an advantage we act “mean and lean” so to say – we tap into the large knowledge base these companies have and extract the necessary knowledge and work in a fast, efficient and agile way to deliver awesome products!
Thanks Hester for your valuable thoughts. Would you like to add anything else?
Big companies have such huge potential when it comes to innovation. In times where speed is such an essential asset we can be their enablers, co-innovate and help them develop an amazing user experience. Get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you! To find out more about what we do visit us at: mermaidstudios.com
I wish you the best of luck at your projects! I hope that we meet again soon. Cheers to Berlin and the team!
Thank you very much Ozan. Thanks for the interiew and have a good day
This post was co-edited by Esra Sezer.