Danny Hearn – Deeply Human Design Ltd

Design Leadership at Clarks

This is the story of how over a year and half I helped kick start the journey of customer centric change at Clarks.  As Head of UX I formed a new capability to improve the customer experience and disrupt, challenge and improve the ways of working.


1.5 year (Fixed term)

My role
Head Of User Experience (Global)

Design Leadership, Line Management, Disrupting, User Research, User Testing, Presentations

The impact

Built UX Team from scratch

Created clear process and approach for UX team when working in AGILE projects

Secured buy-in for investment

Grew, mentored and developed the UX team from 6-12+ (Supported with additional UX Manager)

Sales uplift

During my time at Clarks there were measurable sales increases

My time at Clarks

When I moved out of London to Somerset, I never expected a few months later to be working for one of the worlds most recognised shoe brands.  During the year and half I was there, 3 CEOs transitioned in and out of Clarks.  This had a major impact to the kind of work I was trying to do – Influence and create a more user centric culture.  Like John Lewis Clarks’s is a ‘nation favourite’ that became synonymous with quaility, trust and a good in-store experience. However over time the things that had made Clarks great had become eroded, the teams battered and fatigued from a revolving door of leadership without strategy.  The digital team in particular was in need of change and a way to connect their work more closely to the customer.  

Building a UX capability at Clarks

When I begun working with Clarks there wasn’t any UX practice. I set about building a sustainable UX capability that could provide insights, guidance, designs, regular customer tests and create business change.

  • Created a new UX and Senior roles and team structure
  • Hired lead UX designers, and retrained, mentored and refocused x4 in-house designers
  • Reprioritised and focused development to focus on customer centric improvements
  • Created business case and petitioned Clarks
  • CEO for new equipment and software for designers and developers.

All of this resulted in a team that could provide the business with insights and design thinking behaviours to iterate customer experience


Wall working space and collaborative practices

Design workshops

Design thinking

When trying to solve problems, Clarks relied on old change and delivery methods via project managers, water fall projects, fixed timelines, requirements and briefs. This often resulted in a poor customer experience that needed re-work, was delivered late and over budgets.

  • Introduced and educated the concept of test & learn and iterative design with customer testing to business
  • Facilitated design thinking sessions with cross functional teams to understand the customer problem and ideate in a single day.
  • Created templates for ways of working for discovery and understanding for sprints that worked across global teams.

Communicating iterative design processes

Score cards for ideation in design workshops

Empathy maps for design workshops

Generating insights

Senior senior stakeholders were struggling to understand why the website sales were under-performing. This was due to clarks having no qualitative insights capability or cadence for customer feedback.

  • Established user research capability
  • Created video highlight reels which was shared around business and directly to CEO
  • Co-created a series of ‘customer goals’ through workshops and insights

Guerrilla in-store user testing

Journey maps that show the end to end customer experience

Co-created a set of customer goals to help focus business teams

Improved digital experience

In a period over 6 months my team made significant design improvements to clarks.com.  This was a major win given the challenging dev and organisational environment.  

  • Successfully influenced the backlog and got buy in for development
  • All design was done by my newly created UX/UI team
  • Navigated complex brand and global sign offs
  • Design changes resulted in uplift in global sales, esp for mobile platform
  • Changes also included site speed performance improvements

Guerrilla in-store user testing

Journey maps that show the end to end customer experience

Mobile design improvements 

Standardising design and content

The brand team was producing media assets for all channels. They lacked digital expertise and understanding in producing content for the web, that was both accessible and easy to develop, This was causing frustration, tension and time consuming re-work for the online merchandising teams. It also created a challenge when developing new functionality to keep it consistent with design of site.

My team and I…

  • Created standardised templates and UI design portal
  • Built bridges with the brand team, to standardise the media assets, ensuring Clarks content was accessible, consistent and easily reproducible.

Guerrilla in-store user testing

Journey maps that show the end to end customer experience

Changing the environment

A key part of creating change and collaborative culture was to reimagine the working space. The Clarks digital space looked the same as the accounts department, with rows of large fixed desks and little breakout space. 

  • Influenced CEO and senior stakeholders, getting buy-in to invest in team capability
(new laptops and equipment)
  • Created business case, lobbied Chief Operating officer and obtained funding for redesign of floorspace for department

  • Designed the layout of the space to move towards collaborative working (flexi-desks and collaborative areas)

Client feedback

Danny is a joy to work with – he is a highly skilled UX professional who is passionate about bringing the best of that discipline to drive consumer-centric transformation – he is tenacious, compassionate and has a relentless drive to make things happen. If you need someone to help you lead your teams to a brighter future – Danny would be a great asset.”

– Lucy Knight, Clarks Digital Director

Final reflections

My time in one of the most iconic and legacy high street brands around was intense, rewarding painful and very tough.  Trying to create change within an organisation that was exhuasted from change (of the bad kind) was at that time in free-fall (3 CEOs within one year).  The froth created from this turmoil created exceptionally challenging environment to influence.  On reflection I probably tried to ‘fix’ too many things at once, which became a little disorientating.  My main role was to play the disrupter which while effective wasn’t always the right role to play, given the sensitives people were feeling with so much uncertainty.  Towards the end of the engagement as job losses in the teams looked imminent my role shifted to providing human support and preparing the for uncertainty. 

While there were some significant accomplishments, the aspect I was most proud was the impact on my immediate team.  Watching them grow and develop their confidence as soon as they were given the opportunity was the most rewarding aspect of this work.

My final leaving note from the team which warms my heart to read.