Almost every industry has been turned on its head in 2020. In particular, client-facing industries have needed to adapt their services rapidly without knowing the outcome. Our collective shift into remote work has seen some businesses adapt to the change, but it hasn’t all been positive. Technology cannot be solely relied upon when it comes to touch, feel, and physical human connection. In our industry, no more is this absence of physical communication felt than in the area of design.
BRM’s design team has historically placed people and connection at the heart of every project. So how will decisions ultimately be made? Will the loss of physical involvement in the design process (both ours and our clients’) be detrimental to the outcome? Back in March, as we packed up our colour schemes and moved our design programs into our living rooms, we prepared to face some daunting challenges. This is how we’ve approached them….
When delivering a project there is no substitute for face to face
Working in an advisory role, we’ve gained much appreciation for the nuances involved in face to face meetings. Through long standing relationships with clients across an array of industries, we’ve come to enjoy those incidental moments that make the design process more fun and less systematic. Whether the decision making is around a piece of furniture, or an entire fitout concept, there is something to be said about seeing a client’s reaction face to face and hearing them express their needs and their vision.
Traditionally, concepts were worked over together in the same room. Our team would present ideas and we would hold an interactive session with clients, physically reviewing colour boards, inspiration, physical samples and seeing how different materials and textures work together. The slightest difference in shades could be pointed out immediately and explained by an expert sitting right next to you.
This type of interaction between designer and client is irreplaceable. As Steve Jobs once famously remarked “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.” Personal interactions for us as designers help to build strong, trustworthy relationships with clients who can clearly communicate their objectives.
But designing remotely isn’t all that bad. While we’ve lost some of those fundamental elements temporarily, we’ve noticed some unexpected benefits to moving our design meetings online.
The client can still be immersed in the remote design process
It’s not all doom and gloom for workplace design meetings. In fact, the BRM design team has uncovered a few benefits to our new style of working with clients, however temporary it may be.
Our sessions are still interactive and are even amplified by the fact that they are conducted remotely. People from different departments who wouldn’t normally be present have the opportunity to join in and this inclusiveness adds richness to the discussion that otherwise wouldn’t be found in the office.
A less structured ‘timetable” of meetings also allows for a natural flow of ideas which is key to the creative process but can also enhance the decision making journey:
Communication is key
With less site visits and more physical limitations the design team needs to remain in constant communication, not only with the client, but other suppliers and contractors who are on-site. This collaborative process, while altered slightly, remains key to delivering a successful project that adheres to timeframes and budget.
Traditional design methods haven’t disappeared. They’ve been amplified.
Without frequent on-site meetings, our team has needed to adapt so we can stay on top of the client’s needs at all times. The nuances are gone but our job as consultants to guide and advise is still more important than ever. We need to maintain our efficiency and our ability to direct and to listen. We’ve adapted our timing and our communication methods without compromising the design process. Attention to detail is still paramount and the important to see and touch when it comes to materials has not been ignored.
As a result, BRM is now collating ‘sample boxes’ to send to its clients to enhance that interactive process. While there remain challenges in procurement and transport, ultimately, the client still has the opportunity to touch and feel and see the difference between shades and textures. This combination of the fundamental physical aspects of design, together with the communicative benefits of zoom meetings and email, mean that the process can continue uninterrupted and produce the same outcome.
Moving forward into a ‘new normal’ for workplace design
While we’ve endured a very different creative experience as workplace designers, we certainly see value in some of the new practices brought on by the pandemic. Design principles that were once only reserved for physical meetings are now achievable through an online process. As with the Property department of BRM, we’ve noticed some significant benefits of the remote decision-making process. Connection and trustworthy relationships are still key and if they are valued by the consultant, the method through which they unfold is less important but the outcome will always be a positive one.
As designers we will always appreciate face to face contact with our clients and suppliers. In fact, we’ll be excited to return to physical meetings! But designing remotely for our clients so far has been an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience.
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