Previous Competitions / Interviews / Interview: Hannah Rayner

Looking for the human aspect

September 1st, 2021 - Voice of Design

Hannah Rayner graduated from UK’s Loughborough Design School in 2019. She received an Industrial Design and Technology B.A. with honours. Still, it might not have been industrial design for Hannah, as she’s always had a soft spot for the performing arts, particularly playing the flute and acting. And, said Hannah, when I spoke to her, she had ample opportunity to pursue those artistic ambitions in parallel with her design studies at Loughborough.

Having teamed up with fellow student Matt Putman, Hannah entered the 2018 TLDC competition, which was all about package delivery, whose final step isn’t seldom fraught with difficulties. Hannah and Matt emerged victorious with their last mile delivery app, al.packer.

I asked what she’d been doing after graduating in 2019. “I returned to IBM, where I had done my internship.” How does it feel working for the Big Blue, I asked. Hannah responded with a smile: “I’m actually based in a small consulting division of IBM [IBM Garage], where I’m part of quite a small team, which is nice.” They market themselves as an organization that works as a startup. “IBM Garage pick up practices from the startup community and work with IBM’s big clients to innovate and digitally transform quickly,” explained Hannah. So, what’s Hannah’s role at the Garage? “I suppose my role is about 50 per cent design strategy – facilitating workshops for clients leveraging Design Thinking – and 50 per cent designing and testing the product being built.”

Going back to the 2018 TLDC challenge, Hannah and Matt went for a solution that involved the last mile of package delivery. “We were really focusing on that human aspect when we worked on coming up with a concept,” Hannah said. “We were looking for a solution that would be socially sustainable, as well as more environmentally friendly.” Essentially, the al.packer concept means delivering a package to people who live close to the actual recipient, if he or she is not available when the package arrives. Commenting on winning the competition, Hannah said, “it was absolutely wonderful having our contribution validated by Toyota. It was hugely encouraging.”

The challenge within the challenge was getting to know the user – or users. “We had to understand what the delivery driver was thinking and feeling in the average scenario where the recipient wasn’t home. Did they have to hide the parcel in the garden…?” And then, of course, Hannah and Matt had to find out about the preferences of people in the community, who’d act as backup if the actual recipient was away.

What did she and Matt find was the most difficult part of the challenge. “I’d say getting access to the users, trying to avoid making assumptions,” she said. They read a lot of reports, trying to understand the typical package delivery scenario, “yeah, that was probably the most difficult aspect of the competition.” she concluded.

Could she provide a quote that summed up the competition? I wondered. Hannah thought for a second and then said she thought “it was a very unique brief – unlike the uni briefs we were used to, so it challenged us. We also got feedback from industry throughout the competition.” Very useful, in Hannah’s opinion. “The task was solving a real-world problem,” she said, “and you had to become an expert in a field you knew nothing about.”

By way of rounding up our chat, I asked Hannah what her chief inspiration as a designer was. “Oh,” she said, “things that I come into contact with every day. I want to learn from the people around me, as well as other art forms outside of design. Things like theatre, for instance.”

Did she have any advice for students entering competitions like the TLDC? She felt it was important not to be limited by other people. “Think outside the box and take risks!” Hannah suggested. “It’ll either go really well. Or it won’t work at all.”