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Fjord

“Magic is now expected. If you can conjure with skill you can differentiate.”

Founded: 2001
Staff: 400
Based: London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Helsinki, Istanbul, Madrid, Paris, Stockholm
Notable clients: Adidas, Philips, the BBC
Website: fjordnet.com

“Magic is now expected.” This short sentence appears in Fjord’s 2015 trends report and seems to reflect the values this big multinational studio stands for – whatever they’re working on Fjord’s teams want to create an experience that matters. Careful research is a vital part of the process and they share some of their insights with the whole world via their trend reports, such as the one that’s just been published. “If you can conjure with skill you can differentiate,” it goes on. “Those companies that can truly deliver on their ambition with a phenomenal user experience will become this year’s innovative darlings.” It sounds like they’re throwing down a gauntlet for themselves along with anyone else who feels up to the challenge.

Founded in London by Olof Schybergson, Mark Curtis and Mike Beeston, Fjord now employs more than 400 people across 15 studios. In 2013 the company was bought by the Accenture consulting group, “to better infuse digital design in the deepest level of its corporate brand clients,” as Wired put it at the time.

It’s continued to go from strength to strength since the acquisition. “If anything our approach has been refined with the additional capabilities,” says Dave Snowball, Design Lead at Fjord’s San Francisco studio. The office overlooks the city’s famous Union Square: “We have wall-to-wall windows overlooking the square which really makes you feel right in the heart of San Francisco,” he says. “Last week we saw a solo ice skater cutting around the holiday rink while swinging flaming balls on chains—I’m not kidding!”


Thinking in a very holistic way about digital design and its role in our culture, Dave describes Fjord’s way of working as “a service design approach."

“We look at the entire customer journey, across touch points and contexts, and also aim to understand the business and technical requirements that help shape that experience and will be required to bring it to life. By understanding all of the players involved, we are able to better identify opportunity areas and also deliver solutions that can succeed in market.”

Ultimately though Fjord’s strength, Dave believes, lies is in keeping things simple. “Elegant simplicity is our design driver and is important because we believe this is the answer to the complexity and fragmentation of our increasingly digitally mediated lives. It’s about emotional appeal and beauty but also focus and clarity.

“An elegant, simple solution can lead to a response of ‘of course’ from users, which for us is the highest form of flattery!”

This reference to “emotional appeal” is instructive and is echoed in the 2015 Trends Report which talks of the importance of “emotionally responsive” UI and business’ “need to evolve their digital personalities.” These guiding principles are important when you consider the eclecticism of Fjord’s client list; in San Francisco alone the team has recently worked on “everything from mobile banking services and wearable interfaces to omnichannel retail experiences and online education platforms.”

This diversity seems to be central to Fjord’s way of working. It also gives it's designers the chance to work on projects that really make a difference. Dave is particularly proud of the work they did to help patients suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

“The proof of concept brought together emerging technologies including Philips connected products and the Emotiv EEG-reading headset and a heads-up display. The platform uses a person’s brainwaves and eye movements to control a cursor and select specific commands on a display. An intuitive interface with a dynamic navigation allowed patients to quickly do things like turn their lights on and off, change the volume and channel on a TV, send texts and emails, or call a nurse.

“It’s a great example of our ability to design completely new interaction paradigms for interfaces that have not existed before and leverage emerging technologies. It’s also a project that exemplifies our collaborative process: we co-created with an ALS patient as well as all of the other partners involved to help arrive at the solution.”

It all sounds pretty mind-blowing, but you get the feeling that a lot of days in the Fjord studio are like that.