Archive for the ‘Clients’ Category

“When Matisse created an image it was often only a starting point,” The Economist explains in their review of “Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917” at the Art Institute of Chicago. For instance, sophisticated technical analysis of one of the artist’s masterpieces reveals that “the canvas was wiped clean more than two dozen times before he was satisfied.” In contrast to popular notions that such works leap fully formed into reality, these revelations about Matisse’s way of working will come as no big surprise to many artists and designers. This process of learning from what we create with our hands – in the form of sketches, models and prototypes – is the basis for interaction and discovery that results in better decisions.

Donald A. Schon and Michael Schrage have each contributed illuminating perspectives regarding the hands-on iterative process. Schon has written about “design as a reflective conversation” and Schrage writes that “Quick and dirty prototypes can turn clients into partners.”

The slide show above captures aspects of our thinking-doing-thinking process.

-Sharon VanderKaay

The process of hatching creative ideas is often represented by a glowing light bulb or a gleaming technical image of some sort. Since we at Farrow give a lot of thought to the realities of implementing innovative approaches, we decided to capture five tips from our daily practice for the benefit of anyone who faces resistance to acting on their ideas. Here are 14 slides that introduce tactics for working through the emotional ups and downs of innovation. What do you think? What are your tips for attracting support and transforming naysayers?

-Sharon VanderKaay

In The Globe and Mail today Harvey Schachter reviews the book Management Rewired by Charles Jacobs. “Many of the management practices we’ve taken for granted are not only ineffective, they actually produce the opposite of what we intend,” advises Jacobs, based on extensive brain research. “Objective reasoning has nothing to do with the way we solve problems, make decisions and plan for the future. At best, logic is just a way to justify conclusions we have already made unconsciously.” He also cites a landmark study at General Electric that found “…a manager’s praise had no effect on performance one way or the other, while the areas that a manager criticized showed the least improvement.”

This evidence-based view of problem solving and motivation is in line with a eye-opening TED presentation by Daniel Pink. In this talk, Pink emphasizes that as businesses dig their way out of the financial crisis, it’s crucial to get these management basics right – and to stop doing harm.

Jacobs and Pink are on to something important in terms of creating an environment for innovation to thrive. Mechanistic management processes need to be questioned in light of new revelations about human nature.

In our own practice we are finding that an open, yet rigorous “design with” approach is more effective than “design for” our clients. What else can we learn about “Design in the Age of Biology” as Hugh Dubberly has titled his fascinating article? We will continue to pursue the theme of biology as it relates to design and management.   

– Sharon VanderKaay

Innovation applies to tangibles, such as new buildings and products, as well as intangibles such as methods of construction and ways of working. Traditionally, tangibles and intangibles have been seen as distinct states. Back in 2005 I gave a presentation at a design conference in Chicago on how design intangibles, for example “creating an uplifting feeling” or “instilling a sense of confidence” become tangible when they translate into hard numbers such as increased  revenue. During that presentation, “Calculating the Value of Design,” I used the term pre-tangible to emphasize the connection between design and business results. Since then I’ve become even more convinced that decision makers need to “see” a stronger relationship between intangibles and tangibles. Here’s the image I used at the conference:


Recently I created a set of slides for a business audience that further explain the concept of pre-tangibles.

-Sharon VanderKaay

We’ve been experimenting with condensing years of thinking and practice into max.18-slide “short stories.”  Here is the latest of three stories: Hospitals are Sacred Spaces  In this set we acknowledge Joe Pine, who with his colleague Jim Gilmore introduced us to The Experience Economy exactly ten years ago. His current thinking on authenticity: TED Talk: What Consumers Want  is especially relevant for hospital patients and families. Two other slide stories can be found here: Nursing Focused Design and here: Why Hospital Design Matters  Don’t forget to use Full Screen viewer!!

One reason so many architects love design competitions is that a finished concept can be produced without much involvement from clients and the public. Traditional architect selection committees—under pressure to appear objective—are routinely seduced by the logic of this age-old process of working in isolation. On the surface, design competitions aim to avoid messy human bias by focusing on each scheme’s perceived merits. But efforts to sell a remote designer’s finished solution can sometimes be bad for everybody.

While there are countless examples of beloved structures that resulted from such contests, I question three common assumptions that keep this hands-off approach alive:

 1.  An architects’ vision will be compromised through public engagement at the pre-design stage

2.  Visionary, meaningful decisions happen without engaging everyone (including the architect) in a learning process

3.  The public will be inclined to quickly grasp and embrace a sales pitch for the winning design scheme

As Web 2.0 participation reveals, people have an enormous appetite for making better choices by engaging in good conversation. I believe that clients’ interests would be better served through a selection process that involved spending quality time with each short-listed design team, rather than paying architects to work out competing designs in isolation.

A new era of selection criteria could include: How inquisitive are the designers who want to work on my project? How adept are they at sharing their thinking and de-mystifying their approach? How do they plan to engage the public in a conversation about shared aspirations, or defining the community’s self-image, or identifying the economic benefits of distinctive design?

Recent controversy around Santiago Calatrava’s proposed bridge design for Calgary raises interesting questions regarding naysayers, civic spunk and design process. The Globe and Mail‘s Lisa Rochon challenges Calgary to evolve into a “…a more visually enticing metropolis.” Cliff Kuang, writing for Fast Company in “How Not to Market a Big Public Works Project” advocates that city planners worldwide “…at the very least, hold a public competition to spur people’s imaginations.”

For years I felt uneasy about the risks of attempting to sell design answers to disengaged clients. Then I read Michael Schrage’s book, Serious Play, which provided my ka-boing! moment by explaining the true value of putting heads together over rough models and un-solidified ideas.

Consider also the negative financial impact on fee-squeezed design firms; in order to win a competition, teams typically spend many times over the amount they are paid to participate. This raises a question as to whether the best eye-opening ideas—or eye-catching graphics and videos—win the competition.

 Instead of jumping to the conclusion that design competitions = better results, let’s pay more attention to creating informed critics and enthusiastic champions through inquiry, dialogue and discovery.

– Sharon VanderKaay

game plan_3

Participation in social media teaches us a few creative thinking skills we didn’t learn in school. The term TIMTOWDI, pronounced “Tim Toady,” is an acronym for “there is more than one way to do it.”  The best online conversations challenge us to see things from different perspectives and maybe even change our minds. For every question or issue, there suddenly appear before our eyes many more ways to do things than we could ever have imagined.

By contrast, my early education was all about right and wrong answers based on indisputable facts. Except in art class, the thought of doing something for the first time was out of the question. Most insidious of all from a contra-innovation perspective was the whole notion of a high school debating team. At the time I remember feeling vaguely repulsed by the thought of being rewarded for single-mindedly defending one point of view. Today the spirit of high school debate lives on in polarizing, argument-driven T.V. and radio talk shows.

For those of us who were influenced by such constipated approaches during our early school days, social media is a crash course in the discipline of undisciplined thought. There is indeed more than one way to define a problem or see a gap in client services. Here’s to making the most of those Tim Toady moments.

– Sharon VanderKaay

human innovation

The human realities of innovation are fascinating. Each day the practice of planning and designing buildings provides us with lessons to be learned about the challenges and rewards of not settling for minor improvements. As Farrow makes this journey with clients and colleagues, we believe there is always the potential to do great, innovative things. But what tends to get in the way of progress? How can we work though these obstacles together?

Our frontline observation and academic research on the nature of innovation have uncovered some recurring patterns, pitfalls and questions. We see three questions as a good place to open our conversation to the world: What happens when you believe that buildings should feed peoples’ souls, as well as solve practical problems? How can clients be encouraged to take a visionary approach to planning, rather than simply aim to fit pieces of a program puzzle together? And how can the inevitable naysayers become supporters of innovation?

Much of the writing we’ve encountered on creativity either dwells on warm and fuzzy aspects, or approaches the subject as unemotional puzzle solving. And innovation is often viewed through the lens of technical solutions. This is our attempt to explore the messy, emotional, human side of innovation.

We hope to hear your stories of innovation yea-sayers and naysayers.

– Sharon Vanderkaay

photo source: Susan Ottevanger

  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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