Lesley is Head of Design Thinking at Bank of Ireland, where she brings together the worlds of design, technology, and business. Lesley has also directed the award-winning Dublin Contemporary 2011 and VOLTA shows in New York and Basel. She is also a board member of the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI).
Your job title says you’re Head of Design Thinking. Could you explain what that is?
Design thinking, simply put, is a human approach to problem solving. What that means is starting with a human when you’re looking at a problem, rather than looking at the business first. Instead of saying our customers are looking to buy a mortgage we say they are looking to get a home. My job involves looking at and understanding what problems our customers have and how we can solve them.
What was your college experience like?
I applied to Dún Laoghaire for Design and Film and I got accepted. It was an amazing experience. It was a small school; very intimate, and very, very practical. Whilst my friends in other colleges were doing 10 hour weeks we were doing 60 hour weeks. They certainly break you in Dún Laoghaire, but it was a good thing!
Design is practice based, so find what you love and just practice the hell out of it.
As someone who went to art school, did you think you would end up in the banking industry?
I would never have thought I would have ended up in banking or finance. I was always drawn to design and how clever design was in finding solutions to problems. I knew early on that I wanted to go to art school. My parents were divided in that journey; my mother is an artist, my dad was in business. They have quite different mindsets.
How did you go from studying and working in film to working in the business world?
When I studied film, I knew early on I wasn’t a film maker. What I liked was the design part of it, and so I specialised in set design for film. I did that for a number of years and then I started to get slightly frustrated with film. Six months on and six months off; it’s a tough industry. I looked to see where my skills could be transferable. I started designing big exhibitions for the art world, creating art fairs in cities like Basel in Switzerland and New York. It was really there that I started to see how creativity and commercialism could come together.
Young designers need to back themselves. They need to understand that if they have talent and believe in themselves, the right things can happen.
What advice would you give someone starting out in design?
My advice would be to get as much experience as possible. Design is practice based, so find what you love and just practice the hell out of it. Either teach yourself or find a mentor, someone you can shadow. That can be hard but it’s absolutely the path that will help you decide what area you want to go into. Ireland is a small place, everyone is connected and everybody is looking for talent.
Young designers need to back themselves. They need to understand that if they have talent and believe in themselves, the right things can happen. I did a lot of cold calling. There was a lot of people whose work influenced me and I would call them up and ask for 15 minutes of their time. People were more receptive than you would think.