Transforming itself into a design studio has allowed Rapt to take a different approach to helping its clients—very successfully.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2015[dropcap]D[/dropcap]avid Galullo is CEO and design principal at Rapt Studio. When design is done right, he says, “it can transform the way we live and work while communicating why a company matters to employees and customers.” Rapt Studio specializes in interior, architectural and branding design for apparel, retail, entertainment, technology and residential clients. The firm’s teams include designers with different backgrounds and expertise, such as interior designers, architects, graphics, user experience/interface and industrial designers.
TR: Rapt Studio has gained a reputation as one of the Bay Area’s most forward and innovative architect and design firms. What has Rapt done to set itself apart from the crowd?
GALULLO: First, we stopped defining ourselves as an architecture firm and started operating as a design studio. Which sounds like splitting hairs, but it is a key differentiator. This distinction allows for us to hire the smartest, most talented people from many disciplines—architecture, interior, graphic, and industrial design, video, audiovisual and technology, strategy, journalism and social media—to come together and solve our clients’ complex problems.
Rarely will a solution just live in one discipline, and our clients are coming to realize that they are being required to hire three or four specialized design firms to fulfill a single project need. These firms are rarely coordinated, and the solutions are rarely integrated into a holistic solution. For example, our process of experience mapping allows us to understand all of the touch points of an experience. Whether it is how a user experiences a space or a Web site, if you focus on the experience then the answer may fall into many categories. It may be architectural in nature, or a video may be what is needed to flesh out a meaningful experience. Whatever we learn, our integrated team will deliver, fully woven into the fiber of the project—not forced to be only answered within the confines of architecture.
TR: You’ve championed design thinking as a tool for solving clients’ individual challenges. What’s an example of successful design thinking in your projects?
GALULLO: Design thinking is a powerful tool that we use to fully understand and appreciate the sometimes-complex context in which a problem sits, to creatively develop insights and solutions and to efficiently and rationally focus on the analysis and implementation of the solutions within the context. So what may seem like a good solution to a problem outside of the understanding of the context, often times is not a good solution when analyzed within the confines of a company’s cultural initiatives, or operational strategies.
Many times we have clients come to us and request the latest and greatest buzzwords in workplace design—collaborative, huddle space, enclaves, touchdown space—with no regard to how they may be used within the company’s culture, management style of work processes. This is our opportunity to dig deep, and through our experience-mapping and other tools we can fully understand these drivers, develop unique and creative solutions that can be tested against and integrated with the drivers for a much more meaningful workplace, fully stemming from the unique qualities of the company’s DNA.
TR: How does the Bay Area compare creatively from other parts of the country where you have done work? Are we ahead or behind when it comes to workplace design?
GALULLO: We are working with clients all across the globe and while there are many workplace strategies that have been implemented outside of the U.S. first, the Bay Area is a leader in the workplace, leading the charge for the workplace to be developed in a fully integrated manner in concert with cultural and operations clarity as well as an aggressive technology adoption platform. Workplace innovation only comes when there is an open mind at the highest level of an organization to new ways of working and a dedication to providing the technology to serve these work styles. The Bay Area, of course, is at the forefront in both arenas with the world’s most innovative executive leadership and a culture of constant technological advancement. This is the place.
TR: Are companies really using space all that differently today? What are some things that you are seeing in their thinking that excites you? What about it turns you off?
GALULLO: For years, we have spent a lot of time talking about work-life balance. What we are seeing now is the blurring of the lines between how people work and how they conduct their lives. If we were to call out one difference in the way people are using their workplace, it would be that they expect more out of it. With most of our clients affording their employees the mobility that comes with cell phones and laptops, people can now work at home on the sofa, or the kitchen table having dinner, or on their terrace enjoying a cup of coffee. This choice, then, is expected in the workplace. More and more of our clients want technology that works universally, and they want a choice of space to work in—living room, café, and terrace. This excites us as the workplace takes on more of a hospitality feel, efficient and productive, but with an array of special typology that allows for the expected choice.
As to the question of what turns me off? The only conversation that is difficult to have with a client is that which stems from the request for “fun” space that does not fully integrate with and grow out of a company’s “why.” Today when law firms are including “living room” spaces in their designs, it is hard to not fall into the game of one-upping the guy down the street. We always find—always—that successful workplace only comes from a meaningful connection to the company’s mission, culture, vision and personality—their why.
TR: Does the level of innovative thinking differ from industry to industry when it comes to designing workplace environments? Are those companies that are not innovating starting to see effects on productivity, and are they able to compete for talent?
GALULLO: Innovation is a tricky word, one that we find many of our clients struggling with. I certainly think that the tech industry is leading the way in innovative thinking, but even saying that does not tell the full picture. Most of our clients are living in a world where technology is fueling efficiency and productivity but also communications, brand awareness and connection. So most of our clients are focusing on innovation to that end.
But the struggle is this: Innovation is a bit messy. It thrives in environments that allows for collaboration and group thinking, but also allows for individuality, and seclusion. Innovation thrives in cultures that allow for grassroots efforts to take hold of the direction of thinking, companies that have a passionate drive for smart, over a focus on hierarchy of thought. So we see many of our clients striving for innovative workspace, not fully grasping the environmental, cultural and operational changes necessary to really fuel innovation. I engaged with a CEO recently, whose only direction to our team was to design a space that reminded everyone who worked within it to “break the rules,” because that’s where innovation comes from. With that our team got to work to understand the culture in which this directive would live, and we were happy to see that this older-school technology company was making room for messy to reside within its walls.
TR: What advice would you give to aspiring young architects today? Where should they go to learn their trade that will set them up to be successful architects in the future?
GALULLO: Architects, the whole industry really, have been on a years-long march toward compartmentalization. Whether deliberate or not, whether legally driven or not, it is the wrong road. There is an unbelievable tendency to respond with the “that’s out of my scope” which is a shame. So, my suggestion to aspiring architects is to be an avid consumer of design, be a student of the world, take it all in and pave a new path toward an integrated conversation about architecture from the inside, from the outside, from the virtual world, from the human perspective.
Take a dual major in architecture and psychology, architecture and woodworking, architecture and UX/UI design. Open your mind, collaborate with others and remember that the power of design thinking elevates you to engage in a whole range of important topics that will move the world. Really.
TR: What is your outlook for the industry in the region over the next 12 to 18 months?
GALULLO: Outlook is pretty good. Look, I’ve been around long enough to know that the favorable climate that we are in at the moment will not last forever, but it looks to us as if we have a couple of more years in it before we see a bit of a downturn. Who knows, though, our strategy around our business model is to provide key strategic design thinking to our clients, which we believe is equally valuable even in a downturn.