Meet: Ziya Danishmend, Director of Experience Design at Havas Worldwide

Ziya Danishmend has been working in digital since 1992. Amidst the constant change within the field, one thing has remained the same: he’s always stayed curious enough to search for the edges and see what’s around the corner.

Below, he shares with us his approach to experience design and the future evolution of interfaces.



The Mag: Tell us a bit about how you ended up at Havas.

ZD: After years of working at agencies and startups, I ended up freelancing at R/GA on the Nike Commerce team. I worked with Nike Running and loved it. After that, I wasn’t really interested in working at an ad agency. After nearly 20 years, I was done with that part of my career. But I came to Havas because I was convinced that the agency, from Andrew Benett on down, was really committed to changing the way we do things. It’s no longer just about crafting beautiful stories. It’s also about creating beautiful experiences. And weaving both together to help our clients transform their businesses to better serve their customers.


The Mag: How would you describe your role?

ZD: When I joined, I was tasked with leading a group that, at the time, was called “User Experience,” or “UX.” Despite the name, it was really about delivering simple tactics. The practice didn’t go deep enough. It was all simple wireframes for a website or landing page. Someone would come up with a creative concept, and then they’d ask the digital team to execute the rest of it. I didn’t believe that’s where the group should go. I had done a lot of work with brand strategy, and I saw that what I was calling “experience design” was very much at the core of how we experience brands in the real world. So we changed the name because I felt that experience design is a practice that is much more strategic and customer focused. We experience the world very differently than we did in the old days. Especially with mobile. It’s become very personalized, intimate, and tailored to us, across a whole range of touchpoints. It’s a very different way of understanding how we experience brands.

We constantly have clients come to us asking for audits that explore what their competitors are doing. But what I’m noticing more and more is that people are expecting a level of service from brands that they’re getting from startups. As an example, once you’ve experienced Airbnb, the next time you go to a hotel, you expect that same level of experience. Likewise with Uber or any of the other big players. Our clients are no longer competing with other established brands for our attention; they’re competing with startups. Our job now is to help our clients focus more on creating more meaningful ways to engage. We must become much more obsessive about searching for, and solving for, real customer needs. We’ve heard the news about how few brands people care for nowadays. It’s our job to change that.


The Mag: What are some brands that are leading the charge in experience design?

ZD: It’s really the startups. And even Amazon with Echo. It’s hard for the bigger brands to pivot. Instead of trying to do that, they’re purchasing the startups. It’s probably the only way for them to move ahead. My personal interest lies in working with brands that impact our lives every day. Like those in the financial services. We’re working with TD Ameritrade right now to help reimagine their vision for their future customer, which is a fascinating project because it ultimately leads to the betterment of all of us. All of us want to feel less anxious about our financial futures. What better way to influence a brand than to address and help solve for real world problems?


The Mag: What does the future of experience design mean for ad agencies?

ZD: There are two things: We have to become much more people focused. We need to impress upon our clients the need to help solve for real customer pain points. TD Ameritrade is on their way to becoming obsessively customer focused. And I think that’s probably a magic term for all of our clients; they need to become obsessively customer focused. I also believe that we have to become better storytellers. We need to better understand how to weave stories into brand experiences. We need to understand how to connect more emotionally over the long-term with our clients’ customers. And deliver real value. It’s not just about awareness anymore. I believe that word-of-mouth is the best marketing there is, and I’ve seen it change our industry rapidly. Here at Havas, we have master storytellers and very deep systematic thinkers. I personally think in terms of stories and systems. So we need to tell stories, but we also need to think about how we can deliver on the promises of those stories by addressing real customer needs.


The Mag: What have you been reading recently?

ZD: I read too much all the time. One thing I’m really liking is Kevin Kelly’s new book, The Inevitable. He’s one of the few people who’s able to look at technology trends from a very, very high level. (If you want to get a feel for the book, watch this talk.) Another guy named Zygmunt Bauman, a philosopher from Poland, has this theory called “liquid life.” He thinks that, because our institutions are so nonexistent these days, we have a very fluid way of living in the world. After reading Kevin Kelly’s book, I started thinking about what happens when brands become embedded in the cloud, become completely fluid, and respond to us in environments that we as marketers today couldn’t even imagine. As interfaces become conversational, what does a brand do? Does a brand’s voice change day to day? Does a brand have a mood based on your location or need state? How does a brand know when it’s appropriate to pull things that will help you and assemble them around you? Will brands even exist?


The Mag: What does designing for conversational interfaces look like?

ZD: It’s very different. We’re doing it now. And it’s a spreadsheet, not a wireframe or typical UX deliverable. It’s: If a person says this, what are the answers? That’s how you determine the flow.

Right now, we’re having to learn how to talk to interfaces. Amazon Echo and Siri still don’t get me. But soon enough, the tables will be reversed. They’ll learn how to listen to each of us. They’ll pick up on our peculiarities and our ways of expressing ourselves. They’ll end up assembling themselves around what we need. They’ll know to greet you when you walk into your home, they’ll know what you like for dinner, they’ll know what the weather’s like outside and what your kids are up to. That’s going to be the world we live in ten years from now. Maybe even sooner.


The Mag: What are your thoughts on self-driving cars?

ZD: Self-driving cars are a lot farther away than we think. We are such lovers of technology and are always fascinated by the newest shiny thing. But think about the possible moral implications of a self-driving car. What happens when you have an accident? Who is responsible? Let’s say you’re about to get into an accident and there’s a woman and her child at an intersection. What decision does the computer make in that situation? Does it kill the passenger or the woman and her child? This leads me to believe that self-driving cars are not right around the corner. They are probably decades away.

We expect our technology to be ready much sooner than it is. Think of the interface on your mobile phone. How many people die each day because of it? Whether texting, driving, or walking across a busy street in Manhattan. Eleven people a day end up in the emergency room here in New York because they’re on their devices. This interface itself hasn’t changed since 2007 when the iPhone launched. And we’re very much stuck to that behavior of looking down at our phones. What an inhuman and isolating way of interacting with each other and our environments. And on the subject of iPhones, Kevin Kelly said this really great thing: “Your phone is a surveillance device that we purchase and carry around voluntarily.” Very telling.


The Mag: That’s terrifying and true.

ZD: That means that, as marketers, we have to be really careful about how we use data and what we promise our clients. My objective as an experience designer is to have us understand the responsibility we have toward our clients’ customers. We have to protect them from the very obvious answers that our clients seek. Our job is to always ask the why.


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