1300 846 246


Ten In Ten – Brendan Donoghue – Designing with Optimism

Is the Future of CX Bright? UniSuper’s Head of CX Shares Optimistic Insights


Welcome back to Ten in Ten! The official podcast of CX Loop!

We take CX leaders and put them up against ten questions in ten minutes, or sometimes a little bit more.

This week I was lucky enough to be joined by the wonderful Brendan Donoghue – Head of Digital and Customer Experience at Uni Super!

Brendan describes himself as an eternal optimist and he really does have an amazingly positive outlook on the CX industry. which has taken his career across some of Australia’s largest companies in banking, telecommunications and superannuation.

He shared some fantastic advice for young designers and those looking to advocate for design in their organisation.

In today’s episode we discuss;

  • How young designers can make their voices heard in a company. 
  • Why good design should be invisible. 
  • Why it pays to be optimistic in CX design, 
  • And so much more! 

It’s also a major milestone for the podcast as we are now officially available on spotify, amazon music, deezer and all kinds of other podcast platforms!
So make sure to follow us for the latest episodes and leave a review if you’re feeling generous. It all helps!

Without any further ado, Introducing Brendan Donoghue!

Tom Hogan:

All right, Brendan, on this podcast so far, a lot of the CX leaders I’ve spoken to have had somewhat unconventional journeys into the world of CX. And according to my research, yours is no different. So for the people that don’t really know. Could you  tell us about your journey? And also what traits made you the right fit for CX design in the end?

Brendan Donoghue:
Yeah, absolutely! When I was at school, I had watched a lot of L.A. law and I was convinced that I wanted to be a lawyer.

And two different cracks at doing a law degree convinced me fairly quickly that that definitely wasn’t my jam. But I realised what I was doing when I was at university was that I was constantly looking to improve the systems processes that we had there.

I was surprised to quickly learn that there could be an opportunity to do this as a career. You know, that was a really wonderful turn of events.

So I had gone from studying at university and then working within sort of very early software design and around 2003 had started my journey leading a development team and focusing on design and really trying to bring to life concepts like prototype mapping and bringing the users in and clicking on Dreamweaver screens that we were creating to understand how they were actually going to use them before we went and built them.

It then turned into a career that I now got today, some 20 years later, and there’s probably not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself that, you know, that this is a really wonderful thing that I get to do.

Tom Hogan:
A lot of your experience has sort of been in the world of telecoms, and you’ve since jumped across into the super world. Did anything surprise you about customer needs in the super industry?

Brendan Donoghue 
You know, the funniest thing, when I moved because I went from telcos to banking and then to superannuation and when I was moving from telcos to banks, I was terrified about the move because telecommunication is about mobile phones, it’s about connectivity. Banking it’s these complex financial products.

The funniest thing for me was that it was actually the same problems.

Although they were different products, people were unable to understand what it was that they were buying.

They were having difficulties in their journey, either purchasing or joining. They were struggling to get help. And so what was fascinating was not how challenging it was, but how much could be transposed from the difficulties that I had at Telstra were then able to come across and influence the decisions we were making at the National Australia Bank and then over here at Uni Super.

So I think for any designer who is looking at shifting the space that they’re actually looking at. knowing that your rich history and your experience isn’t going to limit you.

In fact it might really help and grow the experience that you bring to that space.

Tom Hogan
That’s really good advice! I suppose good CX design is good CX design, no matter the customer. Speaking of, how would you define good CX design?

Brendan Donoghue
Such a good question.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I think early on in my career I used to think that good CX design was the elegant representation of data where we could present lots of different options to the user and fully empower them to make the right decision.

I really shifted on that in the past couple of years where I think today that the best definition of CX design that I can give you is invisible design.

Brendan Donoghue. What is good CX design?

It is design that seamlessly labels a person to move through an experience or space without them having to consciously focus on what we’re doing or what they’re doing.

You know, I imagine in my experience, they didn’t constantly have to stop and focus, tapping and reading and all these sorts of things.

If you could just things quickly move through a space.

That to me is what good cx design is.

But ultimately that’s what I was trying to strive to do. When people interact with superannuation, it’s because they want to be focusing on preparing for the future, investing in something that aligns with their values. I don’t want you to be particularly interested or focused on how something is rendering on a screen, whether or not the back button will take them to the right position.

It should just work and get out of the way and allow them to focus on the thing that’s important to them.

Tom Hogan
Because I suppose, you know, it’s not really about what we want the customer to do so much. It’s they have something in mind they want to achieve and it’s the easiest way for them to do it invisibly, as you say.

Brendan Donoghue
Exactly. Exactly.

Tom Hogan
I saw in your LinkedIn bio, actually, you call yourself an eternal optimist. Do you think it’s important to be optimistic as a designer?

Brendan Donoghue
Yes. Categorically yes.

If you don’t believe in what you do, who else in the organisation will?

So I think as a designer, it is my job not to just be a professional and bring an excellence of craft, but to constantly look for the opportunities in which CX design and design thinking can improve what we’re doing with the organisation. And that’s been breathed out into an eternal optimism around “this could be better.”

“How could we improve?” “I can help improve this, let’s get together and make this a better experience for our members.”

Tom Hogan
I love that. That’s such a good ethos to live by. What is the best CX lesson you’ve ever learned?

Brendan Donoghue
The best piece of advice I ever got was from a really early mentor, and it was very early on in my career. I struggled to be able to get my voice heard. I kept saying things like, “I think the way to do things is this” Or my textbook told me to do it like this.” They told me that anecdotes are a shortcut to authority.

“Anecdotes are a shortcut to authority”

So what that meant was; stop telling the organisation what you think and really immerse yourself in the culture of the culture of design thinking and come back and say, you know, when Google faced this problem, this is what they did. You know, when LinkedIn looked at this particular problem, this was the approach they took because it elevated me then from a junior designer to someone who spoke with authority because I was talking about how multi-billion dollar organisations approached a particular problem.

When you’re dealing with really senior stakeholders suddenly that enables them to take a different point of view and say, maybe there’s something in that to learn. Maybe there’s something that we can draw from that and approach our problem solving differently as a result.

Tom Hogan
That’s such a good bit of advice. You could really use that in any junior position where you need a bit more authority. Which stakeholders do you value insight from the most?

Brendan Donoghue
I think all insights are valuable, but could I answer this slightly politically and then give you a slightly different answer? When we think about stakeholders, stakeholders, for me are some of the most valuable people within a particular project, because as designers we need to understand the needs of the users and the opportunities that we’ve got to improve their experience. But there’s a real challenge that we face in translating that into language that our stakeholders understand.

And I think as designers, One of the areas that we should be really strengthening our capability on is; the ability to understand what are the core drivers of the stakeholders.

So your senior leaders, your CEOs, your executives, “what’s in their scorecard?” What are they looking for from engagement with design? We can trip ourselves up by really focusing on usability or how members feel as opposed to this will result in a reduction in churn or increase in sales.

So it might be a scary thing to actually do as a designer that we’ve got to be talking the language of the business. But I think it’s really good for us. We can deliver these great experiences, continue to get opportunities and continue to get funding as long as we’re actually connecting with the businesses and speaking the language that they understand.

Tom Hogan
CX and UX, they’ve really grown in parallel with your career. As you’ve progressed, they’ve emerged as industries as well. If you could go all the way back to the early days of CX, what would you have done differently?

Brendan Donoghue
Oh, it’s such a good question. It’s so fascinating, I was doing user testing back in 2003, and the British Design Council didn’t invent the double diamond until 2005. So we were really at the cutting edge of some stuff.

I think the piece of advice I would give to myself is just enjoy the ride a little bit more.

I was so really focused on trying to fight for design’s position within organisations because I was terrified that one day it might just blow away. Knowing now that design has authority and positions within organisations to be listened to, I might tell myself to just enjoy the trip a bit more and focus on the wonderful things that we’re doing as opposed to being worried about.

“Is all of this going to disappear tomorrow if we don’t deliver?”

Tom Hogan
Yeah, I suppose hindsight is 2020. Trust the process. Looking to the future now? What do you sort of looking forward to in the world of CX in 2023?

Brendan Donoghue
I’m really loving the fact that inclusivity is no longer an edge case for design.

And what I mean by that is, as designers, we’ve always been incredibly focused on designing for everyone, you know, designing for those who might be sight challenged, or who might have different identity to what mainstream would consider.

And so as a designer, I’ve always been looking to create designs which are fully inclusive.

The thing that I’m particularly excited about is that the rest of the business is now catching up to that, and so we’re having an opportunity to actually go and build a lot more of this stuff and put it into place that you don’t have to spend a lot of political capital arguing for inclusive design. Instead, it is something that is really being sought.

So I think it’s quite a wonderful and positive change that’s coming or that is really here and it’s really nice to go home at the end of each day feeling like you’re helping make the world a better place.

Tom Hogan
That’s such a wonderful thing. The door is wide open for inclusivity now, and that’s really come such a long way I can imagine. What kind of people would you want in your dream CX team?

Brendan Donoghue
My dream CX team? It’s an interesting question, I suppose I could say researchers and designers and frontend developers. But you know, who I’d want in my dream CX team? Let me start by saying I think that design is not a series of skills.

Design is a mindset. So who I would want in my dream cx team is people who have design in their DNA.

They are fully immersed into the industry that we work in and just love it. So that means that they could be highly skilled or low skilled or emerging, but that there’s so excited about what we do and the opportunities that it can give and, you know, talk passionately about favorite podcasts or favorite websites or favorite books or know a little bit of the history about how we emerged as an industry.

So I think that would be my dream team and you know that that team would then be someone who sits within an organisation and brings that excitement about design out to the rest of the organisation and helps create that space and opportunity for us.

Tom Hogan
Is your team like that now?

Brendan Donoghue
We have a very we have a very, very passionate team like that.

Tom Hogan
Just awesome. We’re on to the last question here. Can you finish a sentence for me? The future of CX is…..?

Brendan Donoghue


The future of CX is bright. It is filled with opportunities. It is filled with excitement.

We sit today at the core of a revolution around digital, around engagement and design. It’s the center of that where we have the opportunity to create the experiences that will help shape the planet that we live on in the future. And I think that is a really, really wonderful thing that comes with quite a bit of responsibility but I think it’s quite exciting for us.

Tom Hogan
Brendan you really are the eternal optimist! I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today.  You do just show so much positivity in your answers and I really love that. Thanks for coming on today.

And thanks to you! Whoever you are listening to this podcast I really hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it!
Remember to tell your CX friends all about it and leave review if you really enjoyed it.

Ten in Ten is the official podcast of CX Loop, we provide analytics and insights so that you can close the loop on your customer experience.

Check out last month’s episode with Travis Brown: Head of CX at Officeworks



[gravityform id=”4″ title=”true” description=”true”]