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A Scandinavian design approach to protective programs

By Sonny Schürer

Scandinavia has received a lot of international press in recent years. Consistently at the top of global and UN surveys on happiness and wellness, the region is known for its quality of life, gender equality and social solidarity, and high degree of trust and transparency. Hygge has even become the subject of best-selling books in many languages, although no one quite knows how to pronounce the word or what it means.

Yes, there’s something to all of this, but we also have challenges in Scandinavia. Bad things also happen to good people here. Police try to catch bad guys here, too. And people still need security services in Scandinavia.

As a security company with roots in Sweden, we carry many Scandinavian values with us when we do what we do, no matter where we do it. We think it’s important to stay close to our customers, and we try to do this by creating sustainable relationships based on trust and transparency. Security is a people business, so we try to treat our men and women well as part of our efforts to get the best people. We even indulge in a little hygge now and then.

However, we believe there is another aspect of Scandinavian life that is also important to protective programs: good design.

Design has strong roots in Scandinavia, and helps create good security programs

Design has strong roots in Scandinavia. There are many Scandinavian companies who build their international success on strong design, including LEGO, Volvo, IKEA, and many more that are not household names, and design plays an important role in many aspects of Scandinavian culture.

It’s something visitors here notice in everything from architecture to furniture, lamps, and many other everyday things. Many Scandinavians believe that if you are going to spend money on something, it might as well be a good design. When well-designed things are made with good materials and craftsmanship, they are less likely to break. What is more, you don’t get tired of looking at them or using them, so you don’t replace them so readily because they go “out of fashion.”  In this sense and others, good design in sustainable design.

Mid-century Scandinavian design furniture is one example of this, and many of those design classics look as good now as they did 70 years ago. That’s why they are considered classics. Scandinavian design was very much influenced by the Bauhaus movement, with its emphasis on simplicity and even minimalism, unifying art, craftsmanship and technology. We believe there are several important principles security professionals can learn from these classic design principles:

Form meets function: Well-designed things end up looking like they do because that’s the best way for them to do what they do – not because they fit some standard of “pretty” or because of some historical dictates. To design well, you need to understand how people use the things you are designing, how they work in everyday life. To do this, you need to put yourself in the users’ shoes, sit in the chair that they will sit in. When designers keep users in mind and keep paring away what is not essential to their needs and focus on practical functionality, they cut away the superfluous to get to the necessary.  Of course, it’s not that aesthetics have no role to play. As long as you’re trying to make something that functions well, you might as well try to make it as beautiful as possible. This design principle is what gives a lot of Scandinavian design its minimalist beauty.

This is also a good principle for designing security programs. When you empathize with your clients, put yourself in their shoes, and relentlessly focus on matching the form of the program to its function, you are more likely to come up with a security program that works for people in the real world – not “protective theater” that might look impressive but doesn’t really do what it is supposed to. In our experience, well-designed protective programs are more sustainable than programs that take a “one size fits all” approach or do things because “that’s what we usually do.” They are not necessarily “minimalist”, but they are designed to do what they are supposed to do without adding unnecessary bells and whistles.

Good materials: Making good use of available resources is another hallmark of Scandinavian design. When mid-century designers like Hans J. Wegner designed his iconic furniture, he broke with current thinking by using the oak and beech wood readily available in Denmark – not the imported teak that was in fashion at the time. But he demanded the highest quality local oak and beech. A skilled joiner before he became a designer, Wegner knew his wood and used only the best he could find.

This principle matters to protective programs, too. Our primary raw material is the people we hire, and there is no doubt that employing the best you can find is a cornerstone of success. Personality matters. So do experience and training. As in so many other areas of life, you get what you pay for – and the cheapest alternative is rarely a good buy in the long run.

This principle also extends to technology. Protective programs need to use the best technology that is available to them in order to make their people and programs more effective and more efficient. Sometimes, adding tech can also reduce the need for people, such as when a few well-trained individuals monitor many cameras and other sensors. In any case, protective teams need good technology to keep up with – and ahead of – how the bad guys use technology for their own purposes.

Solid craftsmanship: Treating art and craftsmanship with equal respect was another hallmark of the Bauhaus movement that Scandinavian design incorporates.  A good design that uses good materials does not end up a good product unless it is put together in a skillful way.

The same goes for executive protection programs. Solid protection programs require solid craftsmanship to be good. The craftsmanship of executive protection depends on techniques – such as standard operating procedures – and skills that are acquired through training. Management is also an important part of the craft of executive protection.

Design thinking can be used in many ways in the security world

Design is about more than tangible things like furniture, and intangible products like software. Increasingly, design thinking is applied to services, too.

At its heart, design thinking is about solving problems that matter through innovation.

Design thinking starts with empathy: understanding the real needs of users by listening to them, experiencing the world as they experience it, and basing the design of the product or service on a clear comprehension of user requirements – even if they cannot articulate these themselves.

In protective security, this phase includes an analysis of the threats and vulnerabilities that add up to risk and an evaluation of those risks, but also understanding the principal’s lifestyle, corporate culture, personal preferences, needs for productivity, and much more. The better we can empathize with what makes our principals tick, the better we can design successful protective security programs for them.

The next step in design thinking is clearly defining the problem that design should solve. What would a good solution look like? Which features, functions, and key attributes should it comprise? This step builds on the former, using a good understanding of users’ needs to frame the requirements of a solution to meet those needs. In protective security, this phase of the design process is where we define the goals and overall frames of the program, distinguish between “must have” and “nice to have,” and begin to make decisions about which KPIs will be used to measure success.

Then comes ideation: We need to get creative in order to find the most successful ways to solve the problems we have defined. Of course, it’s always tempting to stick to the status quo and duplicate previous programs. And, as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On the other hand, it’s also a good idea to challenge yourself and your team to come up with even better ways to protect. This is the stage when the LEGO bricks of protection – people, processes, physical security, and technology – should be creatively reimagined in light of a clear understanding of the principal’s situation and preferences and budget frames.

In classical design thinking, the next steps are prototyping, testing and tweaking. Designers create minimum viable products with enough features that users can test, then continue to iterate improved solutions based on what they learn.

When principals need protection and new programs are initiated, we do not have the luxury of prototyping the entire program. We must provide protection here and now, not rely on untested prototypes that we know will require further refinement before they actually work.

Still, the principles of design thinking apply here, too. In a sense, any new protective team or program is a prototype – a preliminary version of something that can and must be improved as we learn more. If we replace “testing” with “quality control”, and “tweaking” with “program adjustments” based on lessons learned and dialogue with the principals and their organizations, we can easily see how design thinking can help us here, too.

Scandinavian companies are by no means the only ones that use design thinking to create successful products. From Singapore to Silicon Valley, from Tokyo to Torino, thousands of designers work every day to put user needs at the center of innovation and find new solutions to old problems. We believe this creativity can play an even stronger role in the future of protective security.

Image courtesy Carl Hansen & Søn, © Carl Hansen & Søn