Future Friendly – 2023 Good Design Team of the Year



Future Friendly believes that the products and services we engage with every day directly affect the wellbeing of ourselves and our environments. This means that our society and world’s greatest challenges and joys – climate change, financial wellbeing, mental health, diversity,  inclusion, education – can be faced, challenged or emboldened to change lives for the better.

It’s why, for almost two decades, Future Friendly’s Founders Nick Gower and Jon Christensen – alongside their team – have been fuelling constructive impact by the way of design. They innovate everyday services that lead positive change at scale, combining strategy, conscious design and hands-on product and service development to make it happen. 

Future Friendly’s human-centred innovation has earned 27 Good Design Awards as they’ve broken new ground with the likes of the Commonwealth Bank, Defence Health, Service NSW and the ABC. Their decorated approach has empowered organisations Australia-wide to make their good intentions real.

Future Friendly’s penchant for positive impact was celebrated this year with the 2023 Good Design Team of Year Award. It not only recognises the team’s incredible work, but also their internal commitment to nurturing a design-led, people-first culture. Good Design Australia caught up with Nick Gower and Jon Christensen to reflect on the team’s inspiring journey, discuss their recent acquisition by Ernst & Young (EY) and explore the potential of design to lead true impact. 

Future Friendly – 2023 Good Design Team of the Year Award

Good Design Australia: Fresh off the heels of a milestone acquisition by EY, please tell us a bit about the Future Friendly philosophy and what it means to slide alongside such a massive team.

Nick Gower: We’ve been doing Future Friendly for 19 years, or since 2004, and our design philosophy involves delivering impact through what we call everyday services. They’re the things like bank accounts, passports, doctor’s appointments, benefits programmes – things that people don’t necessarily think of as being exciting, but shape the world around us. They affect how our communities can access everything from leisure to medical services, how they connect as people and just have such an enormous effect, even though they’re sort of in the background.

This means, to make the biggest impact, we need to deal with companies, organisations and governments that have scale. So, we started looking for a partner who could support us with the delivery of the scale services, both from a technology perspective and from a compliance and regulation perspective. Then we met EY, and they fit the bill. They’re really excited to go on that journey to support a design studio and approach that focuses on large transformation projects in government and in private businesses with humans at the centre. So we took the opportunity to push ourselves to increase the scale of our impact.

GDA: As it’s clearly embodied in the Future Friendly vision, how would you describe design’s potential to bring about positive impact?

NG: I think, to me, the word design or to be a designer means to always combine two things. It means you’re always leading and you’re always making. If you’re balancing those two things, you’re leading the process of making, whether that’s a building or website or anything else, you you have a responsibility and an opportunity to affect the lives of the people that engage with it. 

That’s the opportunity that we’ve led into. We’ve really taken on the responsibility of understanding the impact of the stuff that we make, and in that found opportunities to help people. So I think design is the process of making an impact.

GDA: How important is human-centred design in these socially-conscious design processes?

NG: We focus on a really hands-on research and design approach that engages communities. The communities that use these services are the ones that should be leading the creation of those services, and their needs and voices should be brought into that process. To me, that includes both including them, but also delivering for them. It means doing more than just talking and listening. It means making and allowing them to participate through the creation process. 

I feel like for there to be progress for groups of people, you need a mix of both empathy and entrepreneurialism – understanding and action. Empathy without action is just focus groups and talking, listening and endless consultation without necessarily solving or helping bring to life the true solutions. On the contrary, entrepreneurialism by itself is just unbridled consumerism, and we know where that takes you.

Jon Christensen: That approach extends to the whole team – being able to be in front of and understand how and what people need from things so they can solve it together. This way, there’s no chain of command and you can create a safe space for the design team, government departments, clients and the community. It helps everyone understand what they need and what needs to sort of change to get them what they need – what will benefit them the most.

Future Friendly – 2023 Good Design Team of the Year Award

GDA: Looking to the Good Design Team of the Year Award, it celebrates teams that cultivate that design culture of creativity, leadership and engagement. How do you encourage that within the Future Friendly workplace?

NG: Through participation, honestly. We want to get out of the way of inspiring designers – those who see design as a vocation, a life’s calling – so we can create space for them to feel secure to try and fail. We want to allow them to build a cadence that offers enough structure to be able to do the messy thing that is design. We want to be there to support them when they fall over and encourage them to give things another try. Creating a really emotionally secure place to engage with the problem is all you really need to do.

GDA: It sounds like these principles have been very innate to the Future Friendly since the very beginning. What does it mean to be celebrated for it with the Good Design Team of the Year Award?

NG: I think to be recognised as a design team is something that we’re really excited about. We don’t believe that that design can be done by an individual. Design is a team sport, and our entire business is set up around creating design teams, full-time teams of people that work on one problem at a time until it’s solved. We believe that’s the secret to the way we work because it creates this really great relationship and this unbelievable focus in a really safe environment of collaboration. Winning this award really goes to the heart of who we are, and I’m super proud to be able to say that we built the best design team this year.

JC: The Award is also a really powerful tool that shows, to the teams and organisations we work with, the positive outcome that has been created. A lot of people might focus on the process side of design or what it is that designers need to do, but the Award is the pinnacle proof that all the efforts and impact has been recognised. It shows the community value is being celebrated.

GDA: Looking outwards at the design space as a whole, what would Future Friendly describe as “good design”?

JC: A hard one! Good design is probably just as simple as something that actually impacts people in a positive way. Like, it doesn’t matter about the process or whatever, it’s just something that has an outcome. It’s not something that you do for yourself, it’s not your own process to go to or your own learning moment, it’s something that you’re doing to help other people

NG: We always consider design to be the process, but I guess good design is the outcome – the impactful products, services and things. Compared to other designers, we’re not really academics right? [Laughs] We’re just makers. We don’t spend much time talking and thinking about the definition of good design, because we’re just trying to do it. We’re just the people who solve problems.


More News