From Materials and Colours to Events and Meetings for the design of sustainable company cultures.
Kitty Suidman, alumni of the Design Academy Eindhoven, is Director Colours, Materials, Finish (CMF) and Director Product Sustainability as Sonos, the inventive home audio digital entertainment manufacturer based in the U.S.A. and of global reach and fame. After deservedly featuring her in my earlier Medium article on female leadership at Philips Design, that enjoyed wide interest and positive reactions, although sometimes polarizing. Kitty was pivotal in establishing the Visual Trend Analysis competence in Asia Pacific, with her tenure at Philips Design continental headquarters in Hong Kong, and followed up with a brilliant career at T- Mobile, after Motorola in Chicago, with my fellow countryman, Marco Susani, and Lisa Yong, now at Y Studios, San Francisco, recently appointed as Content Director, Consumer Tech, at WGSN, before successfully landing in her current Seattle-based studio in Sonos. Furthermore, Kitty is committed to preferable futures in various roles and commitments, e.g. as Board President of BEST (Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking). Together with Filiberto Amati of Amati & Associates, we engaged in a dialog with Kitty about the future of public events, team meetings, company culture, design futures, and much more.
Our dialog started from the simple question: How did Covid-19 impact the world of public events and the work of design teams? Through the pandemic crisis, the carbon emission in 2020 decreased, however not sufficiently to meet the necessary targets to fight climate change. The interconnected nature of a carbon-based fuel lifestyle became evident and we should now rethink and reframe our public event strategies and corporate meeting policies.The last 18 months can also be reinterpreted and rethought as a journey of digital discovery in terms of platforms like Miro, and similar. Now, it is the time to reinvent the future of public events and team meetings, by design, through the next steps. For example, in the context of hardware design, personal contact among team members and within the business organization in terms are key to product development, from reviews and exchange around product prototypes and mock ups to team building and talent nurturing. The emergence of a hybrid models where in presence and digital forms of interaction exist, is therefore to be logically expected because the benefits of saving time, costs and the environmental impact of commuting must meet the challenges of people management and talent growth.
The hybrid nature of future business events will be determined by the connection between company culture and personal meetings, that remains very deep, even deeper than serendipity at public conferences. From a sustainability perspective, a divide can be identified between internal gatherings of teams and staff, that are mission critical to ensure a shared identity, versus large events that can run online, with the comfort and convenience of remote dialling in. Major events like Circularity 2021, by GreenBiz, or the IDSA Congress 2021, have proven to smoothly run online with a very satisfying experience for participant, who joined from their living rooms or home office studios.A further distinction might be made between fairs like Milan Design Week, especially art directed in September 2021 by Stefano Boeri, or Dutch Design Week, at its 20th edition in 2021, where the physical contact with products is key, versus content-based conversations with keynote speakers and socializing sessions, e.g. breakout rooms. The latter might be optimally designed online, whereas design events where products are the focus of the experience will need sensorial immersion. Again, the “hardware side” of the design industry requires the richness of direct contact, whereas the “software side” of the profession -from coding to UX design- might be more actionable even in the immaterial context of remote or hybrid meetings. It seems safe to state that a return to the pre-Covid19 situation as it was, is unlikely.
Focus of the return to physical meetings in design teams might be on professional growth and personal connection of designers with their peers and managers, starting from the new generation of younger professionals who have recently joined the business. Millennials will demand to experience their work in a hybrid situation where they might benefit from mentoring, coaching, and contact. Conversations with senior management, even in a friendly environment like Sonos is, will remain conducive of the serendipity of informal dialogs within the business context and across the company rankings. This is crucial to the creation and maintenance of the internal ecosystem and the nature of the company culture. Connecting at a personal level will remain necessary, however the challenge will be to achieve this also digitally, by innovation of the digital experience, a virtual experience that will somehow match those relational conditions fostering those internal values that alone determine an organisational culture.
In her outstanding progress towards design leadership, Kitty matured from Color, Materials, Finish, to Socio-cultural Futures, that is a natural development of trends analysts in design organizations. But as they love to hear in the U.S.A., what comes next? For her future steps in her journey, she envisions her engagement in reframing and redefining the company culture from the viewpoints of design, juggling between the Sonos teams in Santa Barbara, California, and Seattle, to the challenges that sustainability will bring us all, and the possible solutions that circularity will offer. Attending the best events and conferences in these domains, she has reached the conclusion that our whole approach to production, promotion, and consumption -an approach that was defined through the industrial revolution- requires deep and urgent change. Sustainability must become pervasive and seamless in enterprise discourses, where design has the opportunity to lead the next green and socially inclusive revolutions. It is a responsibility that we all share and owe to next generations after us. It is a challenge for the future where designers will have to influence and inspire their own organizations. Sohrab Vossoughi, legendary founder of ZIBA Design, based in Portland, stated once that his actual job was the “design of ZIBA” as a future-driven organization. So it will be for Kitty’s future, at Sonos, at BESt, and wherever else she might further grow, between events and design.