In the latest edition of our Next Wave Leaders series, we’re continuing to showcase the creatives, business leaders, innovators, and thinkers shaping tech and culture in Europe.
Next up is Dever Thomas, Partner and Design at Work & Co—a digital product agency transforming brands and industries with expertly crafted experiences. Thomas has led creative product direction for some of the biggest brands in the world, from initial sketches to final prototypes. We spoke to her about the power of human-centric design, what she believes will define the next digital era and more.
To start, please tell us a little about yourself and the kind of work you do.
I’m a Partner and Designer at Work & Co—a digital product agency. I help set and execute direction for clients such as Apple, IKEA, Aesop, and LVMH. I began my career in US working in our New York and Portland offices before moving to Copenhagen to start our office here.
What inspired you to want to join this field and create the kind of work that you do?
My education is in both graphic design and business, and after finishing school my first job in NY was at Sylvia Harris’s design office. She was a pioneer in social impact design whose work touched many peoples’ everyday lives—for example, a redesign of the US Census Form which aimed to increase participation among under-represented populations. During my time at her firm, we led improvements in wayfinding at a massive NYC hospital system; Sylvia completely expanded my view on the role of a designer.
My next job working in digital was a really natural shift because the approach to solving problems was very much the same. I fell in love with designing for a digital medium—the complexity, the reach, the relentless improvement.
Dever, you are based in Copenhagen. How does your physical location, its characteristic or digital culture, shape your work at Work & Co?
Scandinavia in particular is known for being very progressive on work/life balance, much of which aligns with Work & Co’s values, no matter the location. One of the things I love most about Work & Co is that we really protect designers’ time. We typically have only one meeting a day, so we can spend time focusing. This value translates really well to productivity and work/life balance.
What digital projects have you looked to or continue to look to for inspiration?
I have so much respect for Space10, IKEA’s recently closed design research lab. The projects not only tackled big problems with a forward-thinking and provocative approach, but were always researched and executed at such a high level. Space10’s archive has numerous projects which I can say truly changed the way I imagine technology—Everyday Experiments, Creativity in the Age of AI, IKEA Place.
Another, not digital in nature (but certainly findable on the Internet) is ‘How to work better’ from Swiss artists Peter Fischli & David Weiss, which is also a personal favourite.
What do you think is defining this oncoming era of the Internet? What excites you about it?
More conversations that are not just ‘could we’ but ‘should we’. I think the forthcoming Internet era, along with today’s generation of emerging designers, will question and change the role of the Internet in our everyday lives. I’m especially excited about new technologies like AI improving daily life for people, like this project by the University of California, San Francisco, that helped restore voice for stroke patients.
This season, we’re asking everyone we speak with to answer this question: What does the European Internet mean to you?
Without a doubt, it’s the human-centered way of approaching the internet. Yes, there are flaws with the execution (pop-ups, legal text, etc), but the focus and intention on empowering user rights and control is an example of how the European internet can lead the way for the rest of the world.
A “7-Words of Lovie” Speech is the hallmark of the Lovie Awards. So, in just seven words, can you share an approach that inspires you in your career?
Anything worth doing is worth doing well.