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Business Challenges During Covid-19: Frances Brown


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Since my husband, Michael, and I set up Fowlam in 2016, we’ve provided user research to a wide range of companies and organisations, including the Education and Skills Funding Agency, The Pensions Regulator, LEGO, Balliol College Oxford and Health Education England.

In fact, we’ve had clients in Ireland and New Zealand as well as all over the UK.

So, we’ve had to be flexible and ready to adapt whatever situation presents itself.

From a practical point of view, dealing with the Covid 19 restrictions has been relatively easy for us – we’ve always used video conferencing and many of our projects were able to go ahead in spite of lockdown.

However, one of the main challenges we have faced is moving forward with our plans for our company in spite of the uncertainty that the situation has created.


Fowlam to Nightingale Design Research

Last year we decided to rebrand and we chose Nightingale Design Research as our new name.

The new brand, which was inspired by Florence Nightingale, reflected the way our work with clients had evolved over the years.

While our offering was user research, what we delivered was almost always bigger than that – our research invariably ended up shaping and influencing decisions around all aspects of the design process. In particular, we found that our research was most valuable when it fed into the goals of a project, before any actions or decisions had been taken.

After huge amounts of work and preparation, we planned the launch of our new brand for May 12th 2020, the 200th anniversary of Florence’s birth.

We had planned this launch around a workshop that was due to run in Nottingham.

However, lockdown meant that we had to move the workshop online, which was disappointing, but an unexpected benefit was that we attracted attendees from all over the world.

On a positive note, to a certain extent, we are on track.


My Volta Blue Story

As a company that works closely with clients, networking is vital for us.

Anyone who networks knows what hard work it can be. So, when Taz contacted me about Volta Blue, I recognised the value of the effort he was putting in, contacting participants and organising sessions.

I joined the first session not knowing what to expect.

What I ended up finding was a great group of people, ranging from the founder of a gin company to the owner of an accountancy firm. So, unlike other networking sessions that can involve stilted conversations and awkward silences, this session was filled with great discussion about challenges each of us was having, facilitated by Taz, who ensured that small but important details, like proper introductions, were covered.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session and joined another one a few weeks later, where I met another group of interesting people working in a range of industries.

The focus is on a back and forth sharing of ideas. So, I learned something while also having an engaging and enjoyable chat with genuinely nice people.

Taz and Harmeet are instrumental in creating that relaxed, supportive atmosphere – not an easy thing to achieve.


Not the Poor Cousin Anymore

Online networking is often seen as the ‘poor cousin’ of face-to-face events but I’ve found the Volta Blue sessions to be better to many events I’ve attended – largely due to the effort that has gone into getting a good mix of people and ensuring the discussions are focused and lively.

It’s great to have stumbled across such a positive thing among the negativity of lockdown!


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue 1 of Volta Blue Magazine and was written by Frances Brown from Nightingale Design Research.

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