A&E Perspectives

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November 16, 2000


  • New-economy businesses need new-economy design

    In a world where first-to-market equals category dominance, companies everywhere — especially e-commerce and start-up companies experiencing rapid growth, are rushing their business processes. Getting into or expanding office space also needs to happen at Web speed, yet many businesses are developing and changing at a rate where they don’t have all the answers. Many times, they don’t even know the right questions.

    Generating a variety of design options that this company could respond to quickly helped determine the most profitable balance of new components to include in its office suites.

    Traditional pre-design activities like programming and space planning work in a stable business climate, a world where two-year, five-year, even ten-year plans are possible. But today we’re dealing with companies whose situations are so dynamic, they can’t even plan five weeks out, let alone five months out.

    • From linear to looping

    The conventional, linear process of number-crunching programming followed by conceptual design followed by re-design followed by change orders simply does not work in this environment. It’s too slow, information becomes quickly obsolete, design solutions irrelevant.

    To help clients get up to speed faster, Callison has developed a new model for design delivery called the Rapid Prototyping Method (RPM), adapting a process developed for product design, where speed to market is critical.

    By taking what is generally a three-step process (programming, conceptual design, schematic design) and compressing it into one brief, intensive phase of work, RPM reduces programming time substantially while improving results. It works because clients get a more dynamic picture of how their design business performance.

    Here are the essential differences between RPM and traditional programming and space planning. Programming is a linear exercise—that is, it moves step-by-step toward a design brief as information is collected and analyzed. Rapid prototyping is iterative and looping. We undertake simultaneous activities that illustrate the implications of various options. It’s a comparison process that allows us to zero in on the information needed to begin design.

    Though developed as a direct response to the needs of dot-com enterprises, RPM has proven successful for a wide range of businesses. Here’s what it can do:

    • Reduce design-cycle time

    Rapid prototyping allows the team to get further faster, cutting through lots of information to arrive at the consensus needed to proceed to design.

    • Increase buy-in

    RPM work sessions start by presenting the client group with a range of conceptual prototypes or pictures, each with their own set of implications. They are calculated to elicit feedback, so that we can drill down to what really matters to the client. By involving clients in this refining process, they’re part of the solution. So when it finally does come out as design, they’re connected to it.

    • Strengthen design

    "Rapid prototyping" uncovered HomeGrocer.com's critical business drivers and their impact on space.

    Prototypes suggest attitudes and directions, not a design solution. They aren’t right or wrong, merely a springboard for discussion. This freedom from judgment encourages openness and experimentation from both sides of the table, and leads to ideas that might otherwise never surface. This in turn leads to a much stronger foundation on which to build the design of the space. It also results in a reduction of costly changes during construction and furniture fabrication.

    • Map decisions to goals

    Understanding the implications of various options means being able to measure their capacity to meet business goals. One idea might achieve increased collaboration among employees, another focuses on accommodating rapid growth, a third allows the fastest build-out. Priorities emerge, and the team is able to make smart choices and informed decisions.

    • Increase value

    Typically, critical decisions are made in the latter phases of a project – in the isolated context of budget and schedule. These decisions however often have systemic implications that may not be identified until well into construction or after, resulting in unintended consequences that can cost time and money to fix.

    By giving participants something concrete to respond to early on, rapid prototyping flushes out issues that can lead to project savings downstream. At the same time, it allows the team to focus on meaningful issues sooner, such as growth management and staff recruiting and retention. Finally, by providing us with a deeper understanding of client issues, we can do a better job helping clients manage space as a business tool.

    Andrea Vanecko is Callison’s director of interior design.

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