Interview with Conor Delahunty

Third in a series of interviews with people whose work we admire: designer Conor Delahunty. Conor tells us what pop songs have to do with service design, how the state of the recruitment industry is like Gotham City, and gives us a peek at what he’s working on at Somewhere.

Conor (@conordelahunty) is a designer working at Somewhere. Recently arrived in Berlin, he previously worked for Made by Many in London. He likes the internet a lot.

Conor Delahunty

What are you working on?
Right now I work for a new company called Somewhere. Somewhere is looking at the (pretty massive) problem that is how people find work that matters to them. We like to say we’re designing a service for humans, not human resources. That means we focus on people and the way that they talk to each other, not technology. But if we are to tackle this problem properly, that also means we have to build brand new tools and infrastructure! Catch-22, but I think we’re figuring out the balance. We were running a beta for a while and have just rolled out our first product. Baby steps right now but hopefully the next release will be a much bigger one.

How do you see the current state of affairs in the employment market?
I think it’s like in Batman Begins, you know! Ra’s al Ghul thinks Gotham is beyond saving, and that it must be allowed to die. I feel the same way about the recruitment industry. It’s a massively inefficient, deeply impersonal, cripplingly expensive, broken system. We know that people’s relationship to their work, their ambitions, their mobility, etc. is changing drastically. It needs a fresh start, a whole new way of thinking about the problem and what people really want out of it. I’m inclined to think we should just ignore the industry rather than save or change it! To quote Clay Shirky (I know, I know!), “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”.

What do you want to change about that through your work?
Studs Terkel has said about work, “It’s about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash.” If we can design a thoughtful, humane service that helps people with that search I’ll be very happy. We want people to find the people that they should be working with.

What other topics have become interesting to you lately, and why?

Pop Songs
I do lots of service ecology mapping and user journeys and all these other dry-sounding exercises to try and make sense of what we should be doing. When I’m making them though, I keep thinking about pop songs. I think a great service is like a great pop song. Introduce a catchy idea, keep it bubbling along, hit people with an irresistible chorus every now and again, keep it brief enough that it leaves people wanting more, etc. etc. So I’ve decided to just write pop songs instead making flow diagrams! It’s way more fun.

How do you design and build little gaps and broken spaces into things that encourage people to do something unexpected with the product/service you have created? Twitter and MySpace were full of these little gaps and that why I think they did well. When people are moulding the experience to their needs you get a much stronger sense of ownership. I like the fact that you don’t even really have a choice now either. IFTTT allows you to pull services apart and only use the bits that interest you.

3D Printing
I’m not really interested in the printing side of things right now but more so the impact it could have on our mindset. If people get used to being an integral part of the entire lifecycle of a product (i.e. creation, distribution, consumption, etc.), what does that do to a generation? What will they then want from products and service or even institutions? How will people approach boring things like banking or mobile phone contracts when they think or even know that they should be allowed to have a huge impact on how the system works, or that they should be allowed to just take the small bit that they see as valuable?

Architecture of home icons
I’d love to do an architectural review of home icons from popular sites and apps. I want to know what types of houses these companies are building for people and what that might say about what these companies think of their users.

Diversions 1994-1996 by Lee Gamble
I’m getting a bit lost inside this record. It makes me nostalgic for a time I was neither a part of nor had any real interest in! He took a load of samples off of his old Jungle mixtapes and made these hazy ambient memories out of them. Reminds me of “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore.”

Mariachi Connecticut Serenades a Beluga Whale
It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on the internet. I can’t stop watching it. Bizarre, tender and beautiful.

What does your media diet currently consist of?
It’s pretty standard I guess. Twitter is the backbone; I’m always on it and it’s where I discover 80-90% of everything these days. My favourite account right now is @SeinfeldToday. For example: “Jerry breaks up with a beautiful woman because she favorites every one of his tweets. Kramer and Newman start a podcast.” Perfect. I also love Tumblr and I listen to tons of podcasts.

Oh yeah, I use all the time. It’s just a big list of what people are reading right now. I always find a few gems in there every day. I urge you all to sign up. It’s really lovely. I don’t really buy too many magazines anymore, usually only when I’m flying. Stuart Eccles (@stueccles) once told me that he thinks the 20 minutes after take-off and before landing when you’re not allowed to use an electronic device will be the last dying breath of the magazine industry!

Interviews in this series:

  1. Caroline Drucker
  2. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino
  3. Conor Delahunty

Author: Maddie

Maddie is a strategist and researcher. She spends much of her time on the think tank side of Third Wave, and enjoys getting into the details of many different topics at once. Through this foraging for information, she finds ways to apply knowledge from one field in new, seemingly disparate ones, both in client work and other research. She holds an interdisciplinary BA in Computer Science, Linguistics and German, and has previously worked at VCCP and at the Science Gallery in Dublin.