BY YVES BE­HAR The founder of prod­uct and brand de­sign firm Fuse­pro­ject on cre­ative part­ner­ships

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Strategies -

In the of­fice,, what we start withh is rel­a­tively sim­ple.e. You have a desk, k, chairs, and light­ing. g. In an apart­ment, of course, you need a liv­ing room, a kitchen, a sleep­ing area, a bath­room. We had to fig­ure out a way to cre­ate those spa­ces in our 200 units and give them enough char­ac­ter that they feel nice and com­fort­able and warm and invit­ing. But we didn’t want to go too far with the de­sign that they felt par­tic­u­lar. We didn’t want some­one to go in and say, “Oh, I hate that color. I don’t want to be in that unit.” So that was the nu­ance to the Welive de­sign.

We had ar­gu­ments about whether peo­ple would do their laun­dry in the build­ing, be­cause there are all these new ser­vices where you can have your laun­dry picked up. That was one where it was back and forth. Like, what’s go­ing to hap­pen? Is it go­ing to be an empty room, and no one is ever go­ing to be in there, and it’s go­ing to be­come a to­tal fail­ure? So far, it’s been great. We have a cool laun­dry room that also has a pool ta­ble and a ping­pong ta­ble. It’s be­come one of the beat­ing hearts of the build­ing. ① Hire a part­ner, not a ven­dor Most clients un­der­stand this, but for a col­lab­o­ra­tion to be suc­cess­ful, the de­sign team they work with shouldn’t be se­lected only for their port­fo­lio, but also for the po­ten­tial for a true part­ner­ship. Any de­sign process is a close col­lab­o­ra­tion, with a sig­nif­i­cant amount of

com­mu­ni­ca­tion nec­es­sary to get the best re­sults. If the part­ner­ship isn’t there, the re­sults will dis­ap­point. If the part­ner­ship is there, a de­signer will grow with you and con­tin­u­ously op­ti­mize your busi­ness. Mitch Per­gola, our chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Fuse­pro­ject, says, “The key to ef­fec­tively work­ing with an ex­ter­nal de­sign firm is not only pick­ing the right skills and ex­pe­ri­ence, but col­lab­o­rat­ing with them like a part­ner. Nei­ther of these points are op­tional.”

② Share dreams—and night­mares The de­sign process is never the same for any two projects, so it’s im­por­tant to be as clear as pos­si­ble up­front. Not only does this mean time­lines, fi­nances, etc., but also what you ex­pect from the process and, cru­cially, con­text. If the client can fo­cus on defin­ing the needs of the busi­ness (which they should be best po­si­tioned for), the de­signer can fo­cus on defin­ing the so­lu­tion (and, where needed, chal­lenge the brief ). The more a client can com­mu­ni­cate their con­text— com­pany cul­ture, past suc­cesses and fail­ures, the pas­sions and aver­sions of their au­di­ence and share­hold­ers—the bet­ter able the de­sign team will be to solve from this foun­da­tion. I of­ten say, “The more con­text the bet­ter.” I per­son­ally ben­e­fit from all the data, the good stuff and the ugly stuff, the re­al­i­ties as well as the dreams.

③ Adopt a healthy sense of aban­don Here’s an in­ter­est­ing para­dox: Clients come to de­sign­ers to push them out of their box and yet strug­gle when the de­sign feels be­yond their cur­rent re­al­ity. The most suc­cess­ful projects I’ve worked on have come from re­la­tion­ships in which my client trusts me, trusts our de­sign strat­egy, and em­pow­ers us to guide them into the fu­ture. And this sense of risk and in­no­va­tion should ex­ist with ev­ery step of the process—from con­cep­tion through hit­ting the mar­ket. “Trust that we have your best in­ter­ests in mind, be­cause our part­ners’ suc­cess is also ours,” says Kris­tine Arth, our di­rec­tor of brand. Her­man Miller, with whom it’s been a priv­i­lege to work for the last 14 years, pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished long- term part­ner­ships with Charles and Ray Eames and Ge­orge Nel­son by, in the words of Her­man Miller founder D. J. Depree, “aban­don­ing our­selves to our de­sign­ers.” Don Goe­man, the vice pres­i­dent for R&D at Her­man Miller, demon­strated this deep trust when we de­signed the Sayl chair and the Pub­lic Of­fice Land­scape sys­tem.

④ Go long It’s hard to know when the job is done. But the truth is that de­sign is never done: The value of de­sign grows over time. Com­pa­nies that suc­ceed are ones that con­stantly re­fine their prod­ucts, ex­pe­ri­ences, and of­fer­ings. We cur­rently ex­pe­ri­ence a cir­cu­lar feed­back loop with evolv­ing cus­tomer needs: Im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy, grow­ing brands, and ex­pe­ri­ence touch points are taken into ac­count reg­u­larly. The best thing a client can do is find a part­ner who un­der­stands their essence—why they ex­ist—and in­vest in a fu­ture to­gether. One amaz­ing prod­uct is great, but hav­ing a brand that’s co­he­sive, and sus­tain­ably and or­gan­i­cally grow­ing, is what we all need to build. Long-last­ing re­la­tion­ships—that’s an in­vest­ment that pays off hand­somely for both out­sider and in­sider. In this cur­rent era of dis­rup­tion, if a com­pany isn’t ac­tively cre­at­ing its fu­ture, you can be sure of one thing: Some­one else will. <BW>

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