Working remotely from our clients has always been second nature to Design Partners, but this is different. With most of our clients based in the U.S. and in Central Europe we’ve had to consistently prove why great brands should collaborate with a design agency based in Ireland. Our ability to innovate at great velocity through iterative prototyping, and having design, UX, and engineering working in tandem are fundamental threads in our success story. We have invested in a multi-million-euro facility, and interdisciplinary team to foster a culture of creativity and innovation. What happens when tactile processes and close-nit collaborations need to adapt to new extremes of remote working?
While we are used to fluidly working across nimble teams and project streams, we are now genuinely proving our ability to support each other – to keep the work coherent and on track, continuing to solve complex problems using both trusted methods and some quickly evolving new ways of working together.
Working from home is no excuse to ignore proven methodologies and to adopt completely digital techniques. When creating future experiences for people, prototyping is paramount, no matter what the medium. Many people ask how we can still build complex prototypes given our design studio houses the rapid–prototyping equipment, electronics lab, wearable tech design lab, and large CNC machines. The answer is simple – apart from a skeleton team working (to new hygiene and safety standards) in our R&D facility, we’ve brought the rest of it home with us!
Our designers and engineers have commandeered the 3D printers – finding novel ways to cure prototyped parts in between cups of tea (biscuit tins). Many of our designers are born sculptors, meaning they’ve always had the means to apply their ergonomic expertise from their homes – only now with more advanced tools beside their spoke-shaves and stacks of sandpaper. Our wearable-tech design experts have taken industrial sewing and fabric bonding machines into their living spaces (much to the surprise of some pets), and our electronic engineers, well, they’ve always been hacking from home.
Change brings fresh perspectives and our team is using this opportunity to trial new ways of working. We’ve been fluent for many years in great tools like Zoom, Slack & Teams but now we’re experimenting with other digital tools. Virtual and Augmented Reality headsets were previously novel approaches to assessing 3D design concepts, but now they’re becoming part of our creative review process – experiencing and refining physical and digital ideas in a sensory-rich context. Our UX team is hosting interactive, collaborative workshops using software like Mural and Miro as well as live video feeds of (real-life!) Post–it note walls. Our Healthcare team is breaking new ground in remote Human Factors testing and VOC studies, using conferencing platforms to obtain first-hand user feedback to de-risk medical devices.
Inspired by our client’s ambition and their choice to continue to push forward in defining future experiences, we have not slowed down. Prototyping from our bedrooms, makeshift photography booths and collaborating through fast adoption of new technologies is part of our attitude of embracing problems with our clients, the more complex the better. Let’s not stall – let’s innovate to elevate human potential.
At Design Partners, we know we are better together. “Solving complex problems isn’t a solo endeavour” is one of our core beliefs. Now, more than ever, we need to lean on each other, as underlying stresses and anxieties are enhanced by the unknown. Jumping from one video call to an endless–other can cause people to get ‘Zoomed-out’, so we encourage switching between voice only, workout calls and video calls throughout the day. Some of us (including the pets) have joined online Yoga with Maura in the mornings/evenings to keep mindfully active. Exercise can lead to a huge reduction in the number of days people are ill with acute respiratory infections so we also advocate standing and pacing during regular calls, or even lying on the floor stretching (no one is around to see you!). These new habits highlight the opportunity for companies to rise from this period with healthier employees and with better performing teams.
The surprising thing is, how through the disruption caused by COVID-19, we’ve been getting to know each other, perhaps more than ever. While it’s not the same, and we’re not suggesting it’s better like this, we are more aware of how a can-do attitude – combined with inventive thinking and strategically driven clients – means it’s not Business As Usual, but it is Innovation As Usual. Who would have known that we’d be swapping our spare beds for 3D printers? 35 years of building relationships with the biggest and most innovative brands around the world from our small island have set us up well to adapt to our new normal. Perhaps we were well prepared but just didn’t know it; that being remote is not a matter of distance but a state of mind.