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Sunday, 28 October 2012 16:40

Q&A: John O’Neill, Principal, Conduit Studio

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Q&A: John O’Neill, Principal, Conduit Studio PHOTO: Carl Dunker
John O’Neill might run a small, full-service graphic design, branding and interactive studio in the heart of Grand Rapids, but that doesn’t preclude Conduit Studios from working on projects for high-profile clients including Wolverine World Wide and Amway. The company recently won contracts from Steelcase for web design and helped retailer A. K. Rikk’s with its rebranding effort as it moved into a new location. MiBiz recently sat down with O’Neill to talk design, communication and the changing landscape of offices.

I heard you just got back from a program at Yale. What was that all about?

The AIGA has a program called “Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders,” and the goal of the program is to really help designers fully understand the challenges that our clients go through in a design project and to help us fully tailor how we communicate what we do.

Why is that important?

A lot of times designers get obsessed with the details and minutia of our work, which is why we’re good at what we do, but when you begin communicating that minutia to clients it sometimes distracts from the project.

Could you elaborate?

A really great example they gave was this: If you’re going to go to Home Depot to buy a drill, what you actually want is a hole in the wall. So the horsepower of the drill and the color of it, … unless it helps you have a better hole in the wall, it just becomes kind of confusing.

How does that apply to design?

The same thing is true with a design project. When we begin, there’s the overall goal of what we want the project to achieve, and then there’s all the details adding up to it achieving that. So, finding ways to communicate that so they understand why our decisions are meaningful is important.

Do you see this as a more esoteric issue, or a design industry issue?

I think industry-wide design falls in this interesting area where — (while) it’s getting better in education — designers are typically trained in the craft of design, not for how to effectively communicate back to clients. So, when you get out of school, you have all these great ideas about typography and what you want to do. Clients wouldn’t really understand that, and maybe they don’t even need to. So finding ways to communicate what you’re doing, especially for young designers, is challenging.

Shifting gears, you moved out of 7 Ionia to 80 Monroe Center in Grand Rapids. How are the spaces different?

It’s pretty similar to our last studio in that we wanted a residential buy. We wanted it to be a relaxing environment. So, we worked really hard on crafting the space so it’s a place where you really want to be.

Why that type of space? How does it affect how you work?

I think that if you’re in a space that’s well-designed and comfortable, you just start the day off on a good foot. You feel good about where you’re at. Also, when clients come in, they realize that you’ve put a certain level of quality into just your environment, and that reflects on the quality that you’re going to be delivering in your product.

What do you mean?

If you were to go into a design studio and it looked like a cubicle farm, you would assume that the product that they make is generic or mass-produced, or maybe not of the highest quality. But, if you go into a space where it’s warm and inviting, I think that reflects on the whole process of the project.

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk recently about the virtues of both open offices and private spaces. How does that play into your new space?

Obviously I like an open office. For us, what we wanted was an office that almost had zero hierarchy to it. We’re all kind of at the same desks. You can spread out. What’s nice about that is when you have a question or you’re working on a project, you’re much more likely to just pop your head over and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?”

In that style environment, how do you handle potential distractions?

It’s sort of a given in our office that, if you’ve got your headphones on, you’re focused, and it’s probably not great to interrupt you. Maybe instead just shoot you an email even though it’s just across the room. If your headphones are off, it’s just open to talk.

Read 3283 times Last modified on Sunday, 28 October 2012 22:06
Carl Dunker

Contributing reporter

cdunker@mibiz.com

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