Tag Archives: NEW YORK TIMES

THE BUSINESS WORLD WANTS TO THINK LIKE DESIGNERS

March 31, 2017

Design Thinking artwork (photo from readytomanage.com)

When The New York Times published an article about seeking “Fulfillment,” the headline declared, “Think Like a Designer.”

“Design Thinking” (“DT”) is impacting universities, companies and entrepreneurs. Thought leaders have applied the mindset of an architect to address challenges in our world.

Poon Design’s previous studio, Beverly Hills (photo by Anthony Poon)
Poon Design’s previous architecture studio, Beverly Hills (photo by Anthony Poon)
A lot of financial, busy-ness, busi-ness, business, mumble-jumble (photo by Anthony Poon)
A lot of financial, busy-ness, busi-ness, business, mumble-jumble (photo by Anthony Poon)

The difference in mindset between an architect and business person can be quite remarkable. For example, I might sketch ideas quickly into a journal—improvise, test, reject, and try again. In contrast, a finance person might spend two weeks authoring a highly-detailed, 30-page spreadsheet. Drowning in overwrought details, he forces unwanted answers.

To explore DT further, I interviewed good friend Christine Fang, Associate Director for the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, at Virginia Tech. Decades ago at UC Berkeley, I studied architecture and music, while Chris studied finance and accounting. Young in our fields in New York City, I worked at the offices of Robert A.M. Stern, while she at Morgan Stanley.

Book cover of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
Book cover of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Anthony: How did all this DT begin?

Christine: Many educators agree that DT is linked to the d.school at Stanford, influencing disciplines such as business and entrepreneurship. Through examining how designers approached projects, tools were developed for the ideation of business ideas. One tool mixing DT and entrepreneurship is the Business Model Canvas (“BMC”). BMC looked more like an architect’s building blocks, rather than a 30-page business plan. I remember when I recently called you about a reference to an architect in the BMC business book, Christopher Alexander, whom you studied at Berkeley.

Architect Christopher Alexander, an influential architect and design theorist, who ideas have influenced architecture, urban design, software, sociology, anthropology, and other fields. The Eishin Higashino High School and College, Higashino, Japan, by Alexander (photo by Robert Baum)
Christopher Alexander, an influential architect and design theorist, who ideas have influenced architecture, urban design, software, sociology, anthropology, and other fields. The Eishin Higashino High School and College, Higashino, Japan, by Alexander (photo by Robert Baum)

Anthony: How does DT help in communication and interaction? Does mindfulness have a role?

Christine: As a business student 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure how future communication in society would work with such deep silos of specialization, like business school vs. architecture school. Surely business people and architects would have to interact, but what happens if there is a basic inability to share and collaborate? There is even a recently published book by Gillian Tett on this topic, The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers.

With DT bridging at least two silos, you’ve now got designers crossing over into the field of business with a level of comfort, and vice versa. Underlying these crossovers is mindfulness. That is a whole other topic, but suffice it to say that when we approach each other with an authentic wish to understand one another, and not just continue to fortify silos for the sake of them, we can truly start to communicate and interact.

Architect Ricardo Bofill converts WWI-era cement silos into his home and office, Sant Just Desvern, Spain (photo from boredpanda.com)
Architect Ricardo Bofill converts WWI-era cement silos into his home and office, Sant Just Desvern, Spain (photo from boredpanda.com)

Anthony: How does the concept of “unit size,” as in a building block, relate to a finished project, both in architecture and entrepreneurship?

Christine: I used to envision that an artist like Diana Krall could potentially not have to think about business while creating music. Her artistic process would be only one segment at the beginning of a value chain. Next, an entrepreneur must think about producing content for customers, next is building a business concept that can thrive, and next is being part of a whole market with other players. In business terms, we call it being able to “scale.”

Diana Krall (photo from larazon.es)
Diana Krall (photo from larazon.es)

I refer to “unit size” being the cause of differences in communication. Clarifying whether our assessments refer to a business idea, an actual product, a venture, or a market (from smaller to bigger unit size) can lead to more accuracy. In mainstream terms, on Shark Tank, for example, the judging investors criticize the candidates who think only at the unit size of their product. The candidates should think about having an entire business venture worth investing in.

Think of businesses as being made up of conceptual building blocks. You start with a spark of an idea. You have to develop it into an offering like a product or service. Then you create an even bigger unit called a business. And finally, you build up the supporting activities around it to become a sustainable venture.

Anthony: So what happens when different disciplines discuss issues at different unit sizes?

Christine: When “design” is mentioned, there is already a communication gap. What are we designing exactly? The product (like the iPhone) vs. the whole business (like Apple)?

Harvard Business Review article, Design Thinking by Tim Brown
Harvard Business Review article, Design Thinking by Tim Brown

Anthony: What are the challenges in DT for businesses?

Christine: Like with any new concept where we stretch conventional definitions, we need to proceed with complete mindfulness. We need to know that there will be square pegs being put in round holes, that not everything about the approach will be perfect. People who too quickly adopt DT can be ill-advised, or even offend my design friends. There is a whole lineage that led to the design way of thinking, and it would be inappropriate for educators and business practitioners to treat a designer’s education and training as cliché. However, the benefits of applying Design Thinking to business certainly outweigh any short-term negative outcomes. We’re just at the beginning.

The conventional design process, let’s try a new approach. (photo from ithinkidesign.wordpress.com)
The conventional design process, let’s try a new approach. (photo from ithinkidesign.wordpress.com)

HALLOWEEN AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

October 28, 2016

Kids in costume, (photo from whitewaydelivers.socialtuna.com)

Halloween costumes are typically representational, not abstract. Costumes are always something—like a princess, pirate or witch. On Halloween, Harry Potters, President Obamas and Katniss Everdeens roam the streets.

But. What about costumes based on abstract concepts? Can one dress up as wonder, rigor or overtime?

As with the Post World War II art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, can Halloween costumes be non-representational? Can costumes be non-thematic, non-literal and non-figurative?

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949
Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949

Whereas traditional artists painted water lilies, ballerinas and the crucifixion, Abstract artists painted subjects like color and emotional output or the action of paint drippings. Abstract artists rejected portraying objectified and recognizable classical content.

Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874

So I ask: Can trick-n-treaters attempt a similar philosophical position? This could offer entertaining debate when responding to the prerequisite question at a costume party, “Who are you supposed to be?”

Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952
Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952

Rather than answering Darth Vader, the sexy nurse or Donald Trump, the answer would be complex, because the question is actually “What are you supposed to be?”

Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563
Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563

Or maybe, “How are you supposed to be?”

The Halloween tradition known as “guising” or going out in public with a disguise, started as early as the 16th century in Scotland, and was first documented in America as 1911. Guising is a design topic as well.

Classical architecture used figurative themes so as to establish rapport with the visitor. For example, the Greek column comprises three components: 1) base, 2) shaft and 3) capital. This composition was intended to reference the human form: 1) feet, 2) body and 3) head.

Modernist architects, many stemming from the seminal Bauhaus period of 1919 to 1932, discarded this idea of representation. Akin to Abstract painters, these architects designed buildings of abstraction and lack of traditional adornment.

The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)

As a contemporary example, Pritzker-winner Thom Mayne turned away from Old School theories, such as the 1st century BC Vitruvian rule that architecture must be “firmatas” (strong), “utilitas” (functional) and “venustas” (beautiful).

For Mayne’s 1987 design of the Cedars Cancer Center, he offered a complex vision that was intentionally unsettling. The design is a “tough” building, so as “to instill confidence in patients’ ability to fight the disease,” according to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times.

Besides being a ninja, the Batman, or a zombie from The Walking Dead, I suggest exploring new ideas during the Halloween frenzy. How about going as: the sky or appetite, or maybe frequency or generosity? Hmmm, food for thought.

Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950

DIN TAI FUNG: I’LL TAKE TWO

January 15, 2016

Exhibition dumpling kitchen and chefs, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

For Michelin-rated restaurant, Din Tai Fung, Poon Design Inc. designed two locations, fit for what the The New York Times has called, “one of the Top Ten Restaurants in the World.” Our architecture showcases the essence of Chinese craft with thoroughly modern and seductively detailed spaces.

Though the Taiwanese clients possessed an appreciation for Asian design, this husband-wife team did not seek the predictably themed Chinese restaurant. Meaning, no golden dragons, no cartoonish calligraphy and no red silk curtains.

Lounge dining and plywood skylights, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Lounge dining and plywood skylights, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

The cuisine at Din Tai Fung inspired Poon Design. Over 50,000 dumplings are painstakingly made each day per location. By hand.

Our architectural response is this: craftsmanship of elemental materials such as wood and stone, interpreted through contemporary fabrication.

Exhibition dumpling kitchen and circular motif, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Exhibition dumpling kitchen and circular motif, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

At both California projects, South Coast Plaza in Coast Mesa and The Americana at Brand in Glendale, our centerpiece is the exhibition kitchen, which puts the artistry of the chefs on theatrical display. A circular design motif takes a cue from the bamboo steamers used to prepare the dumplings. A wood ceiling of halo-lit circles extends from the exhibition kitchen, folding down as a display wall of ceremonial vessels—from which the restaurants take their name: din (vessels). The circular theme repeats in milled white oak sheets laminated between layers of glass comprising the kitchen windows.

Central dining room with Turrell-inspired dome, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Central dining room with Turrell-inspired dome, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

The dramatic restaurant walls of stone slabs and wood planks contrast the highly detailed CNC-cut wood screens and water jet-cut, powder-coated aluminum panels. Dense patterns at the bottom of these screens provide privacy, while open patterns at the top allow in natural light.

Patio and exterior of central dining room, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
Patio and exterior of central dining room, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

At 8,300 square feet and 200 seats, the Costa Mesa location features a lounge area of honed sandstone and Walnut plywood skylights, a dining room with a Turrell-inspired elliptical dome, walnut furniture custom designed by Poon Design, and a patio under a muscular steel canopy. Emanating from the exhibition kitchen, the shaped plaster ceiling echoes our restored 1960’s sculptural entry pavilion.

At 7,000-square-foot and 170 seats, the Glendale location additionally features heavily grained Oak planks, brass inlay Chinese characters, Juno limestone, black porcelain flooring, and custom oak and leather furniture.

top: Reception and plywood lamp shades, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal); bottom: Dining room with movable screens, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)
top: Reception and plywood lamp shades, Glendale, California; bottom: Dining room with movable screens, Glendale, California (photos by Gregg Segal)

Poon Design explores artistry and craft, with our architecture also combining old and new. We acknowledge the legacy of the past, while embracing an exciting future.

© Poon Design Inc.