Mentor spotlight - Gus Desbarats
In an interview with Georgina Burton our Business Development Administrator, Gus Desbarats, Innovation Strategy Consultant, & Founder of Alloy Industrial Design & Innovation, talks about how he saw the AWRC Wellbeing Accelerator as an exciting opportunity to share his experience of how to plan, manage and deliver effective commercial innovation.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your areas of expertise
I’m a professional innovation consultant and business leader with a dual formation in human-centred design and systems engineering. I’ve been in practice for four decades, planning, directing and delivering many commercially successful innovation strategies for both start-ups and global brands across many sectors. I’ve founded 2 companies, led 3 and served on 6 boards.
My first boss was Sir Clive Sinclair, the Elon Musk of his day. He expected his designers to be overall innovation leaders able to guide their work to production. This end-to-end responsibility taught me a huge amount about delivery but his failures also taught me precious lessons about how start-ups can go wrong.
This early experience inspired a design approach that served me well in a long and successful design consultancy career and lives on in the culture of the Alloy, the design firm I founded, led and recently sold into collective employee-ownership.
I’ve directed a huge variety of innovation partnerships, from start-ups, like Lightworks which won an Oscar, to global brands. For 3 decades I was the creative director for all British Telecommunications (BT) ’s home terminals. I co-created ground-breaking processes and business cases for BT, a services company, to control device innovation. We also did pioneering work in Inclusive Design.
When Alloy’s ownership transition freed me up to do more pre-commercial innovation work, I helped set up the new School of Service Design at the RCA. I was a part-time tutor for 5 years, exploring new design methods for connected digital systems. As chairman of the British Industrial-Design Association I co-authored the new National-Occupational-Standard for Industrial-Design; giving it a new modern focus on common skills to address human behaviour holistically across products, software and services. These methods are core to today’s and tomorrow’s start-ups.
I also helped Innovate-UK promote Experience-Led Innovation methods to grant applicants and through that got involved in Assisted-Living. I chaired the team that set the user experience metrics for the d.a.l.l.a.s project. (delivering assisted living lifestyles at scale). I was then user-experience lead on its interoperability program. I have also directed the user-experience teams on 4 European projects aimed at overcoming barriers to technology adoption of wellness solutions for older users. My previous start-up experiences had all been VC funded; these experiences taught me a lot about innovation risks in the parallel universe of grant funding.
What made you decide to become a mentor for the AWRC Wellbeing Accelerator?
I’m passionate about using well-planned and executed design strategy to improve the impact of innovation on Wellness. I’m at the ‘putting something back’ stage of my career so when Wendy Tindale OBE introduced me to this amazing program, I saw an exciting opportunity to make myself useful by sharing my experience of how to plan, manage and deliver effective commercial innovation.
How are you supporting the startups/founders?
I teach start-ups how to manage a broader spectrum of innovation risks. My well-proven methods improve anticipation of human behaviour and technology delivery to deliver the attention-to-detail and efficiency needed to succeed. I help teams find the right balance between idealised and achievable outcomes and create seamless experience continuity across the physical, digital and service aspects of their offer. I’ve been offering AWRC start-ups an independent assessment of their situation and top-level recommendations on where and how things could be improved. I’m also available for non-exec roles or longer consultations aimed at setting up and managing human-centred design processes, getting to market on time and creating lasting brand value.
How can we find out more about what you do?
By all means get in touch via the AWRC. You can also check out my profile on Linked in, or, if you want a broader, more objective sense of my career, just google ‘gus desbarats’. If you are looking for an excellent design delivery partner, I strongly recommend my colleagues at the Alloy, the employee-owned design team I founded. Their highly effective approach to design and innovation is informed by the same experiences I share as a mentor.
You can connect with Gus on Linkedin and visit his website.