Every designer knows that success ultimately comes down to user experience. For a product or design, nothing can replace holding something in your hand. So how do you create the thrill of an in-person presentation when public safety keeps everyone socially distant?
“I wanted to maintain the excitement and allure of a big studio presentation,” says Brooke Eversoll, owner and principal of St. Petersburg, FL, interior-design firm Bee Studios. Bee Studios is a full-service design firm specializing in interior, kitchen, and bath design for residential remodeling and new construction.
Eversoll gave her first virtual presentation in late March following a shelter-in-place order. Before Eversoll presented a three-room furnishings package via Zoom, she created a physical parcel that included a vision board for each room, tear sheets about each piece, and boxed material samples tied up with ribbons like gifts. Eversoll shipped this in advance to the client so she could open each box in order during the presentation.
When Eversoll talked about the drapery treatment she suggested for a set of patio doors, the client could hold a sample of the fabric in her hand and see how it looked in the room’s light. “Seeing the color, feeling the softness of the fabric—those are things you can’t translate virtually,” Eversoll says. “I can represent that in a photograph, but it’s so different to be able to feel the fabric.”
Allison Harlow, owner of Curio Design Studio, was well-prepared for virtual presentations thanks to eight years of working with commercial clients around the globe. Curio Design Studio handles projects from midsize apartment buildings to single rooms, including new construction, renovation, furnishings, and interior styling. Harlow works locally with clients in Marquette, MI, and virtually with clients worldwide.
“I fell into a niche of working with developers who needed help with finishes and furnishings,” Harlow says. “I had to figure out a way to communicate not only in meetings but also ideas and materials.”
She developed a robust set of online tools, from scheduling and collaboration platforms to videos. For one process, Harlow records a digital walkthrough of designs and products and then sends it to the client in advance of their meeting along with digital mood boards. “A lot of times, when you sit down and give a big design presentation, it’s overwhelming,” she says. “There’s so much information and numbers. Clients are usually kind of stunned.”
Letting clients go through the videos at their leisure (and as often as they need to) lets them digest the information and provide feedback on the project platform. After that, Harlow can schedule a meeting with one or more of the decision makers.
For the tactile element, Harlow uses Material Bank to send samples directly to clients. Material Bank connects vendors with designers—professionals can order samples from a wide variety of sources. It’s like a Blue Apron for design projects: wallpaper, paint chips, tile, and fabric swatches arrive in one box.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Material Bank’s website states that it’s performing continuous disinfectant sweeps of its logistics hub, treating packages with Lysol, and quarantining all incoming packages, including sample returns, for seven days.
Harlow sees virtual experiences as having their own kind of high-touch value. In face-to-face presentations, she shows up, presents materials and boards, and then takes it all away. But with her virtual system, clients can log onto their project platforms at any time, get regular updates, review presentations, and stay constantly connected to their projects. “What’s more high-touch than that?” she says.
In the B2B sector, Toronto-based NB3 needed to make its process of working with manufacturers more high touch as it pivots from making consumer products in the health care and beauty industries to producing personal protection equipment.
NB3 develops, manufactures, and distributes products, including two skin-care lines and the Rally Active line of therapeutic apparel, such as knee and elbow stabilizers. It also provides these services for inventors and entrepreneurs.
NB3 is currently developing shorts with a built-in hip protector, designed to reduce the likelihood of hip fractures. Now, NB3 hopes to use the same materials and manufacturing partners for protective gear.
Emma Wallace, NB3’s co-founder and director of business development, says that in the past, the company has taken its time in the design process, and sourcing agents frequently traveled to Asia to meet with factory staff.
“Time is our most crucial asset right now,” Wallace says. Instead of an iterative process involving multiple prototypes and design meetings, NB3 has stripped down to essentials. Its in-house designers perfect the CAD models that the factory will then 3D print overseas.
“We’re putting in the front-end work of making the model so perfect that, when they print it, they’re holding a plastic version of what we want created in the material of our choice, so there is no confusion,” Wallace says. “The only pieces that need to be explained are the materials they’d be using in final production.”
With medical personnel and essential workers facing a critical need for protective equipment, “Something that would take months to properly redesign now needs to be done in weeks,” Wallace says.
Although there’s still no substitute for the real thing, these examples show that creativity can breed design resilience as the world grows accustomed to doing business virtually.