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Chris Ashby

Chris Ashby on reimagining digital design

By Chris Ashby

Founder - We Are Heroes

Reimagining the future of digital technology is the mindset of Chris Ashby, who started his business We Are Heroes in 2021 to support startups and small companies with digital product design and user experience.

Chris has always had a flair for solving problems creatively, having studied graphic communication at the University for the Creative Arts and worked on digital products and user experience for both small startups and bigger businesses like BrewDog and House of Fraser.

Thinking outside the parameters of traditional design approaches, Chris is now applying his experience to design human-centred digital products for growing startups.

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What's the concept behind We Are Heroes?

The idea behind We Are Heroes was to create a service specifically for startups in the technology space, particularly for my specialisms in user experience, user research and user interface design.
At the time I launched the business, there were very few companies offering design as a subscription service, and for those that did it was mostly about creating basic design quickly, rather than delivering high-quality or strategic design work.

I saw a gap in working closer with individual founders, aligning high-quality design more strategically to directly impact their business goals.

Can you give us some examples of your clients?

I work with a wide range of clients from around the world. Some examples are the running app Runna, Japanese VR company PlusOne, US women's healthcare company Tuune, and ChangeLab who help trade unions, political parties and charities run digital campaigns.

What do you enjoy about working directly with the founders of small companies?

I love talking directly to founders because it means I get to really dig into the details of their businesses, and help use design to make an impact in interesting ways.
Design isn’t just about creating something visually appealing, it's about identifying the right problems and then using design as the language to solve them.

What’s one piece of advice that you give to all your clients?

My number one piece of advice for a lot of businesses that I work with is to test ideas quickly – put them in front of real people to get real feedback, and then iterate on those ideas and keep testing even after you’ve launched. Using things like waiting lists, landing pages, and testing tools to reach real people, are amazing ways of getting great feedback on a new product, idea or feature.
Test and validate first, and then commit the resource to building something that you know works, rather than what you think is right.

How can good design impact business revenue?

It’s hard to quantify, and part of what I try to do is help founders see the business value of design through aligning design work with key business metrics. Design can often be perceived as just a visual thing, but it’s much more about designing how something works as well as what it looks like.

I’ve seen so many instances of products, websites and apps that look bad on the surface, but do amazing things, just because the experience and functionality addressed a really painful problem, and the experience was incredibly intuitive. Even the colour of a button, the placement of text in the right place, or the order of the screens in your app, can mean the difference between a product that someone uses on a day to day basis and is happy to pay for, or a product they never use more than once. There’s a direct correlation between so many aspects of design and revenue.

"“I saw a gap in working closely with individual founders and doing design for them in a way that is much more strategically tailored for their business goals.”"

Chris Ashby - Founder, We Are Heroes

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

My head is always in the future, I’m always thinking about what’s happening next.I’m currently in the process of testing my next business idea, which is all about building a community to figure out how the next generation of digital products can be designed to make the world a better place, through new technology like AI, VR and AR.

These new technologies are going to have a massive impact on the digital tools we use every day, and how we interact with them. From our smartphones to new types of devices and digital products we are only just beginning to imagine. It’s hard to overstate how much things are going to change in the next 10 years, and design is going to play a huge part in helping companies get ready for that.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

My wife and I had a baby in the summer of last year so spending time with family is something I try to do as much as I can.
I do music production as a hobby when I have the time; as well as playing guitar and piano, reading a lot, and listening to far too many podcasts.

"There’s a direct correlation between so many aspects of design and revenue."

Chris Ashby - Founder, We Are Heroes

Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

I think it’s important to draw inspiration from other fields outside of the one you spend time in every day. So I like to take a lot of inspiration from fine art and music, but also fashion and interior design as well.

I’m a nerd for creative storytelling, and find film and TV very inspiring as well. I owe a lot of my storytelling knowledge to the US scriptwriter Brian McDonald and his book Invisible Ink, which I would highly recommend.

Are there any dream projects that you would like to work on?

There’s a device called the R1 that has recently been released by US start-up Rabbit and tech hardware company Teenage Engineering. It’s like a reimagined smartphone; it’s an AI device that doesn’t show you any apps, you just ask it questions, and it performs those tasks for you as your assistant. We’re very early stages for these sorts of devices but it explores what a smartphone replacement could be. A dream project for me would be to reimagine the next generation of handheld devices that we carry around with us every day, so that we can break away from constant smartphone use, and have a more healthy relationship with technology in our lives.