top of page

#BeyondCOVID Town Hall - AUS06

#BeyondCOVID is the new mindset we have all had to adopt… how do we operate in this new changed state? I've gathered together some amazing Design Executives to share what they are doing now and in the coming months to survive and thrive in these difficult times.


Amber Bonney Founder and Head of Strategy at The Edison Agency

Celso Borges Head of Experience Design at Tigerspike

Nancy Bugeja Managing Director at HM Group

Hassan el Rayes State Sales Manager at Schiavello Systems

Richard Henderson Founder & CEO at R-Co Brand

Ophenia Liang Director & Cofounder at Digital Crew

Julie Ockerby CEO, Creative Director and Principal at Meli Studio Australia



Mark Bergin 00:00

Hi and welcome to another Design Exec Club Town Hall. This is Australia 06, who would have thought that we're actually in our sixth round of doing this around the world? I'm Mark Bergin, the founder of DRIVENxDESIGN and joining me is an incredible panel. What I do want to do - when we look at these beyondCOVID Town Halls, they began with the idea of reacting, we then got into the idea of rebound, and now we're into reimagine. Reimagined leads us to something which is probably a little bit more elegant, thinking of it as the idea of the New Possible. We're going to spend some time here talking about the New Possible, we also have to talk about some of the things that are actually impossible - that design can't necessarily fix, maybe that's legislation, maybe we just need to abolish a few things. But we will go through and we'll actually talk about that. The first person I want to go to here is Ophenia, I want to go to you. If anybody doesn't know Ophenia, her world is actually about how she helps people with marketing in and out of China, particularly digital communications in there. And so your world about the New Possible is actually the fact that China is going full speed ahead, it hasn't slowed down has it? They had a short couple of months, but now it's back at full steam and anybody who's trying to find a new market, China is still one of the big markets to go look at.

Ophenia Liang 01:29

Hi, thank you, Mark. Definitely. So I know all of us can see a lot of good news and put all the politics aside. The fact is that China's export in the first quarter of 2020 actually increased, especially in all the e commerce platforms in all the Western countries. So because people are stuck at home outside of China they purchase more on online retail. So actually that brings us to increase our exports from China to funnel that growth. Also, for Australian companies or sectors there are opportunities that we see, for example in education sectors. The Chinese students, every year there are about a million Chinese students that go overseas to study. Obviously this year majority of them are stuck in online learning. However, if we see the destination primarily it's US, UK and Australia, and given the situation with US and the visa situation and also the pandemic situation UK, the confidence of students and parents choosing to study overseas actually increased for Australia, and it is most likely that Australia will open for Chinese students come back first because South Australia government already doing a pilot program to bring 100 students back this month. So that is an opportunity and for us, we are already pushing a seven month campaign for Study Perth as a destination towards the Chinese students. So it started in August, and it's a seven month campaign rolling out in three different stages. So, yeah, some of the Australian brands are already captured in this opportunity.

Mark Bergin 03:15

And I think the really interesting thing about education is to think about how much of the economy it is. We see everything being done in the economy to go make sure that the construction and building sector keeps going. But it's only about 10% of GDP that they're trying to hold on to there. Ophenia off the top of your head can you remember what the total education sector is worth? I think it's up over 100 billion, isn't it?

Ophenia Liang 03:41

Yeah, it's close to that. Yes.

Mark Bergin 03:43

So to give you an idea, the mining sector sits, with all forms of resource industries, at around about 120 billion. And construction is actually a little bit below that. So as far as thinking about these opportunity sectors to go actually revitalize the economy, to go get that economic activity back in place, get that circulation of economy and the and the velocity of money in our economy, it's really important that we actually work out where those new possibilities are. Amber, I want to go across to you and actually have a little bit of a chat, because you've had, you know, say massive disruption, both in studio but also for your clients for their product ranges that nothing has really been the same, but everything has been the same for them. What are you seeing as new possibilities?

Amber Bonney 04:32

We work with a lot of heritage brands, so I think for heritage brands, they've seen significant uplift because when consumers are looking to hold on to what's familiar to them, brands that they know and trust are actually doing exceptionally well. So in some ways, that means there's a decrease in the appetite for change to the brand itself which is natural, but it does mean in an innovation sense that people are looking for things that surprise them and they're taking a bit more risk in terms of wanting to do - you know, we sort of spoke earlier about Tim Tam as an iconic Australian brand own by Arnotts - they're bringing out new flavors and really starting to think about how can they actually create some surprise and delight for consumers during these tough times. And that means, you know, in their formats and their social media and their communications, they're actually being more playful. So I think for heritage brands that have been really quite challenged over the last sort of five years with the emergence of a lot of smaller niche innovation brands are starting to see a resurgence which is great because they support a lot of Australian manufacturing.

Mark Bergin 05:50

Yeah, and Amber, I want to take you back to March. And the reason I'm doing this is that we were collaborating on bringing Debbie Millman out to Australia as part of the Design Week. And it was right at the point where infections were going up in, in New York, there was a presence in Australia, China and Wuhan were having great difficulties. And for a week, we didn't know whether Debbie was getting on the plane. Eventually she didn't get on the plane, which was the right decision. But the motivation there was to have her talk about the idea of courage versus confidence and what that meant for your members in the Creative Women's Circle. Women seem to be hit even harder than than men when it comes to COVID. To me, this is fantastic that we've got four of you on the call here, because in some other town halls that I've had, I've had gender balance, and then the people who have dropped off have been all the women. So you know, I'm well aware of the way it's impacting. How is the Creative Women's Circle going? Are there some programs to help get those creative minds, to give them courage to actually help to elevate them, are there new opportunities coming around? Or, have you been working on your own businesses and haven't had time for that volunteer work?

Amber Bonney 07:10

Ah, no, I was actually speaking to Dr. Jane Conroy last night about Creative Women's Circle, we were checking in on a couple of other things and we've just done our financial reporting, because we've got the CWC AGM coming up in about a month and we've got some new board positions. And we've actually managed to not only make a profit this year through COVID, which is an outstanding achievement really, but we've just had some grant approval through Creative Victoria. We've got some great new programs coming through. So we've actually managed in the past six months to really, dare I say the cliche word pivot, we've actually completely rethought what Creative Women's Circle means and what our members need. We recently just finished our pilot mentoring program which was so well received. And so it's actually been a really positive thing where our member base is up from last year. So in spite of having Debbie unable to make it, which was the single biggest event that we've been planning for 12 months, the organization is in its best shape ever.

Mark Bergin 08:30

Well that's awesome news and it'll be great for people to connect and understand what to do there. I want to get across to Richard. Richard your whole world now is about reimagine and re-engage, that seems to be the new possibilities for CEOs, for boards to think about their businesses. You know, it's unlikely we're going back to the old or you know, the normal, it's this new possible that we need to go find. Is that what you're focusing on at the moment?

Richard Henderson 09:00

I am trying to focus on that Mark and I suppose what I'm trying to do to tap into what I call a corporate vulnerability. I think that's a very important point to recognize for corporates, CEOs, and the C suite that we're actually not all in this together, there's a lot of inequality with the situation, but I think going forward, CEOs needed to take a different frame and I'm talking about consciousness, we see a lot of leadership thbat is completely unconscious, like Rio Tinto blowing up the caves. I mean that is a complete example of not recognizing things that are much greater than ourselves. So I think that's something to think about. I don't really have any solutions. I don't think anyone has any solutions going forward, we are sort of working through this, but my focus is trying to help corporates and C suites to see beyond design. I think design is now a commodity. Design is everywhere I was reading something in the magazine about the fashion design, and unfortunately, we're having some difficulties. But there's a lot of designers that are stylists, what I'm trying to do is get into the heart of the matter and sort of use the creative mind and imagination to open the aperture to think differently. So it's not an easy position to be in, I might add, a small, niche player. An expert, I know what I know what I'm doing, but you have to try and find the right the right set of coordinates to allow you to contribute. And the trouble with the design industry is they've made it hard for people to get engage because it's so much about style.

Mark Bergin 10:46

So I want to put it up there because it's a little bit like, I want to actually just talk about the idea of style lead designers and solve lead designers. I want to champion the people that are the solve lead designers and all the people on the call, you're all there. There was an era where design was led by style and now it's actually led by myself. You know, I've been on that for a while. So to talk about the design industry and actually go to the old chapter, the old software, the old version, I think is the wrong thing. The new possibility is how can design be used to go solve and that isn't everywhere, you can always go get something to look gorgeous. You know, it's basically an arms race. I think if I went to your studio, if I went to Amber and said, look, here's a budget, can you go make something look pretty, you're going to be able to do that, but does it actually solve the need? Does it actually deal with the human condition? And does it deal with the corporate's requirements? That part of reimagining and re-engaging with the public I think is the really big thing, and I don't want a conversation which is actually saying that design is actually the problem, it's actually style lead design that's a problem, not solve lead design and I want to champion the people that solve. Sorry I jumped in on you there.

Richard Henderson 12:03

I couldn't agree more, but also you've got to have the credentials to do that. I mean, so many people come in and they think like they're a brand guy. They're not. They don't have the wisdom, they don't have the experience, they haven't been there in the ruck. And that's what we've got to separate and it's difficult when designers and people in this industry make it look like it's a level playing field. It's not. So well, that's my personal mission and my soapbox, and that's what I'm interested in. I also think when you get a one on one conversation with a CEO, it does actually have resonance.

Mark Bergin 12:40

I think that's right. Hass, I want to get across to you and talk about from the interior space. You're going into a whole bunch of almost like micro office sizes, rather than thinking in thousands of square meters that you're fitting out. You're now going in and saying how can we help with the Occupational Health and Safety, the the risk and the troubles when people are working from home. That's a new chapter for you because I think it Schiavello that you're more about something that was actually in a corporate office, not something that was actually in somebody's second bedroom.

Hassan el Rayes 13:15

Yeah, we traditionally work on mass with a large corporation. But what's been uplifting is when we deal with corporations, some of their concepts of their environmental sustainability, their treading softly on the earth, giving back to the community, can be made good by the work from home principle. Because a lot of the major corporations you're referring to it, up to 15-20% of their workforce is not coming back, they're working from home. It was then on us to go and try to make it environmentally sustainable principle in their offices, but also from an occupational health and safety issue. We tried to make as ergonomically fit as possible, fit for purpose. But what it's also led us to believe, or something we didn't know is that is this is a short term solution, four to five years in that environment. What do you do with the furniture after that? So that's where the the corporations have said, we can actually come good and use that furniture because they're now traditionally not buying, they're leasing the product. So after the end of the lease, we can actually retrieve it and donate it to all sorts of programs, indigenous communities, charitable organizations, all sorts of things. So that's making good to a concept for most corporations, they couldn't actually see the light of day, how to fulfill their actual personal obligations. For us, we're taking the leverage away from the corporations to how do we conduct OHS in those in those small and micro sites. And that's become a like you said a one on one situation very finite is also led to other things as well that we found interesting that we didn't expect is educating and talking to people how to conduct in this community. Things as simplistic as when you're in the office environment at home, how do you how do you set up your environment so it looks good, the lighting is correct, your voice is correct, almost becoming like a talking head news anchor. They are things that were political that came out of nowhere. But all that is just trying to engage in that new - i'm going to use that old adage now - uncharted territory, uncharted waters, the new normal, that's where it's all heading to us. And it's positive, it's uplifting.

Mark Bergin 15:56

Yeah. And that's fantastic to hear that the attention is being put there about how to deal with the workplace safety issues, but also the product stewardship so that product stewardship is something that's being considered, and the whole lifecycle. Many of you may have had heard of the term Cradle to Cradle, which is a very active program that runs in the United States. It's not so prevalent in Australia, but the idea being that the manufacturer has stewardship responsibility from originating materials all the way through to the recycle and then back into the chain so we are actually getting multiple uses of aluminium or plastics that are in furniture. Celso, I want to go across to you now, because it seems that Hass is working on how the office is set up for these people at home, but you've been working on the software of their minds, of how does the team actually work in a more cohesive manner, that seems to be the new possibility of Tigerspike. You've had remote teams because you've had different offices, but now you're actually finding that you've meshed together. Tell me a bit about that.

Celso Borges 17:04

Yeah, absolutely, thanks Mark. So I guess the byproduct of this is just more diversity within teams, and different perspectives that are being brought in and new possibilities for better and improved collaboration. So I guess our previous model was that we would be operating hyper localized, you know, with local teams and local clients. But obviously now, this provides us an opportunity that we have designers and engineers from Singapore office, from Sydney, from Brisbane or Melbourne, all working on the same team, and we're having different conversations now. We're having better conversations and the team is learning from each other. It's just providing a massive platform, better collaboration. We're seeing some really great results because of that, so I'm really grateful that this has been something that has happened and I'd like to have this operational model continue in this way. I feel like it's so beneficial not just for our teams for the sense of employee value, but also for our customers because we are able to engage with them in a much more meaningful way and provide a better perspective because we're just more diverse as a team. Yes, it has been really positive in that way.

Mark Bergin 18:22

Now Julie, you're being really good because you're sitting in a car because you're on site. What I love about that, well there's a couple of things here. One is that you've got a project you're working on, you're on site, but you're having to work out how does the new possibility work for you? What do you what have you been finding?

Julie Ockerby 18:44

I can't say I've had extra time. I think my time is just used very differently in the last six months, to be honest. We've been very lucky, as I've said before, to have had the projects in the pipeline at the time COVID hit and that's, you know, one of them I'm sitting on a construction site right now waiting for this one to finish up in the next few weeks. But pipelines a little bit skeptical. So when I say that I'm using my time differently, I'm using my time on things that I wish I always had time to do and now I have a bit more time to do it, so I'm using that time wisely. So been looking at product development, r&d opportunities and to be able to do that it's been looking at relationships to collaborate with people that you may never have had a conversation with for whatever reason, they're much easier to have a conversation with nowadays. I think people are a little bit more sensitive, more proactive, whereas before it was about well if there's a gap in my diary and if I can, then I will, but if I can't, then I won't. Whereas now it is like no, I would love to, let's keep talking And I think for for me and my firm that our way forward, it's our partnership moving forward. We've always had a good ethic of having good relationships with our associates and our partners and our suppliers. But that's more enhanced now more than ever, and we're building new relationships with others. I mean, for me also having the time to mentor in the industry as well you know, with thanks to Amber I had that opportunity with a mentee through the Creative Women's Circle recently. And that was a short session but we are cementing and I'm still keeping in contact which is great. So all these things that I probably didn't let myself have the time, I'm allowing myself the time for that now and collaborating and mentoring is huge for us at the moment.

Mark Bergin 20:59

With that interesting part about your practice where there's both the domestic interiors, corporate interiors, and also the hospital aged care side that's in there. And we're seeing that the time has come where we've said enough of pretending that aged care is okay. You know, we're finding out that aged care isn't okay, and that we need to reimagine it and we need to re-engage with aged care - to Richard's point, but, you know, I know we had a call that we participated with McKinsey and we were looking at the workforce being the issue. I've been really interested in looking at the Royal Commission into the hotel quarantining in Australia. And there's three teams, there's the Mercure team, the Ridges team and the Stanford Plaza team. And the Mercure team have got a perfect score, not one infection, not one problem, because the workforce worked properly. And you've got two others that have below acceptable standard execution and that's where the infections have come from, that's where the problems been. And I think when we look at age care we've got some people are doing it very well, but there's also some people are doing very, very badly. And so you know, that's going to be interesting to see because there's going to be a slingshot, very quickly we're going to say we've got the findings out of the Royal Commission into aged care. There's people who want to make immediate changes, because there's people trying to not move into aged care, and they need a pipeline like everybody else, they're expecting a certain number of people to come in, if they don't get them filling beds, then there's problem. So I think that's gonna be interesting as new possibilities, but aged care as the way that we've always imagined it could be done, rather than how it might have been done where there wasn't a spotlight on it.

Julie Ockerby 22:49

Yeah, that's right. I mean, leadership is so incredibly important as business owners, as community leaders, thought leaders, whatever, that's been highlighted more so during the last six months I think, and particularly in the Aged Care space. The homes that have had good leaders have had no issues. The ones that haven't had good leaders have just, you know, been a mess, basically. It's the same problem with the quarantine issue in the hotels, no leadership, nothing. It's just you run your own race. And you know, it becomes a disaster.

Mark Bergin 23:24

So Nancy, since we're talking about leadership, I want to talk to you. So I know, for you a new possibilities has been the revitalization of your fluro publication, which has been around for how long have you had Fluoro around?

Nancy Bugeja 23:39

It was born 10 years ago.

Mark Bergin 23:41

Wow. So you've got a chance to reimagine and rethink it, but what I love about Fluoro is that you've got the idea. It's about ideas, it's about collaboration, it's also about the creative soul, because often we get caught just thinking about the business part, the very pragmatic and we forget to actually service that creative soul that is in there. So that's one of the new opportunities that you've got. But I think you've also had with the studio that you've had to go and think about how you work in a post office space as well, there's no office anymore for HM, you're all doing what Hassan's been organizing, which is working from home.

Nancy Bugeja 24:21

Yep, absolutely, we still do have a studio which we haven't been allowed to operate out of, which is working fine, because I'm finding that you know, what this time has done for me and probably a lot of you, it's made us rethink how we actually want to work and it's been something on our radar for over a year this remote working. But suddenly we're borderless you know this no fixed address, it doesn't produce any anxiety anymore. It means that we are everywhere in anywhere. And it's also allowed me to just think a bit more deeply and you know, on the of what Richard was talking about getting in there with the CEOs and C suite helping them understand the depths of design, so it's no for us it's certainly no longer the aesthetic, it is how can design solve a problem? So we're taking this opportunity to relaunch a brand that's been sitting in hiatus for about three years, rethinking, almost like testing our own thinking around that deep thinking with one of our own brands, so it's been a really exciting time.

Mark Bergin 25:33

Cool. Well you know everywhere we're coming across ways that people are actually looking at new possibilities. The guys that Luminary, and particular Marty Drill, has been working on a program for a period of time called Redux. And the idea was that he has an office in Bali, and he was up there and noticed that there was all of these people who didn't seem to have enough work and there was all of this pollution. And so he's put together a platform that actually gives people, in like a gigging economy, it pays them to collect the rubbish, and that they then get paid by the amount of rubbish that they've collected, which then is responsibly disposed off. It's called Redux, there's going to be a link for. You know, they're 12 months down the track and they're just getting the stage that they're out to get the lift there. And now people are focusing on why that's important. You know, I think in aged care, we're focusing on why that's important. It sounds like Amber, that people are focusing on Creative Women's Circle, they need to work out how to connect more. We've got people with safety at home, that they're looking at that. The reimagined, how does your collaborative team work? Where are the new markets for Ophenia. So I think that's been really interesting seeing that now. So I also want to draw a little attention to two AI projects that I've seen. One is called Kaia Personal Trainer. Oh, I think that's right, we will put a link in there. It's a fitness app that actually uses your web camera and has an artificial intelligence based workout, are you doing the kinetics of the exercises properly? Are you not? It seems to be really well thought through from its onboarding and in its use, so people can have a look at that. And the other one is a company here out of Melbourne, which is called Predictive Fire, and they take the HR job application process and work through it using artificial intelligence. And rather than just exiting people without any knowledge, they are actually thinking that all the people who are applying are likely to also be customers. They're going through the roof because if you're thinking of places like Woolworths or Coles, they've had to onboard a huge number of staff very, very quickly. To go through that with an engine rather than just with a human doing it is going to be a much more efficient process. And what they probably wanted is not spit people out who now feel jilted by them that they actually feel there's been some respect in that process there. So we'll put some links into those. I know for ourselves that one of the new possibilities that we saw was how do we actually shine a spotlight on mid market designers who are emerging and haven't necessarily got through there. So in Hong Kong, New York and London, we've launched a program called Elevate, Elevate Hope is the full name for it. And the idea is how do we make sure that we're giving people that spotlight? That we're bringing them into this design executive circle we've got so that there's actually a new wave of people coming through, new talent, new people to collaborate with and we're not just trying to go stick with 'oh COVID happened, these are the people who are above a certain mark'. I think we need to make sure that we're continually doing that uplift process in there. But everybody, it's been fantastic hearing about possibilities rather than problems. The possibilities come around because there's some challenges and problems, but it seems like after six months, we've got an idea of how to find a path forward. We are probably still stumbling but it feels like there's a path forward. Before I wrap up, does anybody have anything that you're burning to talk about that we haven't gotten into yet? Wow, that's a that's a fantastic response. So we seem to have covered it all. Again, thank you for sharing your time and then talking about what are some of the new possibilities in this beyond COVID phase. Thank you everybody and give each other a round of applause and a huge hug because it's been fantastic what we've been able to get to. Thank you very much.

Hosted by: Mark Bergin

Podcast production: Pat Daly

Transcript: Otter AI

116 views0 comments