#BeyondCOVID Town Hall - USA02
Updated: Jul 24
#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.
Rick Bell - Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University NYC
Matteo Bologna - President at Mucca
Megan Bowker - Design Director at COLLINS
Brian Collins - CCO at COLLINS
Melissa Cullens - Chief Experience Officer at Ellevest
Dan Formosa - Designer at Dan Formosa!
William Knight - Director at ReNew
Julie Ockerby - CEO - Creative Director and Principal at Meli Studio Australia
Ronnie Peters - Creative Director at Studio 360 & Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Mauro Porcini - SVP and Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo
Jay Valgora - Principal at STUDIO V Architecture
Jon Winebrenner - President at Hurdler Studio
There is a moment here that is somewhat exciting because we’re trying to understand how to innovate the company we were before COVID and try to understand what company we will be getting out of this crisis - Mauro Porcini
I always find it interesting that while the design profession is always talking about change, they’re kind of very slow to change - Dan Formosa
I think there's going to be a little more soul searching going on in the profession - Dan Formosa
One of the problems the industry faces is its inability to cross-communicate, cross-pollinate across generations, and be more evolutionary in terms of how it should be facing the future - William Knight
I think this is an extraordinary moment for us to revisit the principles on which we should be organising ourselves, how we should promote ourselves, what our events and our activities are really focusing on - William Knight
We're at a frontier and we cannot bring the language from 20th century thinking - these are new order problems. We cannot solve these new order problems with language or mind tools from the 20th century - Brian Collins
We can't be problem solvers anymore, we can be problem seekers - Brian Collins
COVID-19 has shown us that human centred design is a ridiculous notion - Brian Collins
I'm still walking through this and I don't want to go back to doing things exactly the way I've done it before - Jon Winebrenner
I was looking back over 20 years and thinking about 9/11, the 2008 crash and then now. And they’re completely different, but there are some real common themes in there as a designer - Ronnie Peters
How can we take the virtual spaces to the next level and not just try and replicate what we have in the real-world space? - Ronnie Peters
When we check in with one another, the answers are honest, and I think that that is a real gift to be able to find out how somebody really feels in the moment before you're going to have a creative conversation with them - Melissa Cullens
I've never felt prouder of a group of people or of a communication strategy or something in my life because I feel like we really made difference - Melissa Cullens
The money is never about the number in your account, it's about the possibilities that it enables. It's about the ability to put your kid in the school that you want to put them in. It's about being able to imagine the beach house that you might have one day. It's about all of those little life things. It's been an incredible moment to see that through the eyes of our community - Melissa Cullens
We will no longer have an office, which in a certain way is beautiful because you don't have to deal with landlords or electricity bills. But, on the other side, you know, I love when you are a team and you see each other together, you bond, you turn your head, you look at the other person - Matteo Bologna
How do you get the human behaviour that has worked so well for us but bring it into the digital world? - Mark Bergin
I think our cities are still our greatest device for education, equality for diversity for opportunity. And I think cities are not ending. But they're going to accelerate in their reinvention. And I think this crisis is all about that - Jay Valgora
The social equity issues of how public space can be used and redefined will be paramount - Rick Bell
Public space will be much more intensely used, but it'll seem less crowded - Rick Bell
Mark Bergin [00:00:00] Hi, welcome to another #BeyondCOVID Town Hall. This time it's the US and I've got a fantastic panel of people here. Today we're going with an open mic, everybody is going to be in the bullpen, everybody is going to be doing things here. I'm going to let the presenters go through and present themselves, but we're going to have links to their bios as we do on the site.
The first person I want to speak to here is Mauro Porcini. Now, Mauro, you've got a phenomenal business because at PepsiCo where you've got your snacks, you've got your healthy foods, you've got food services, you would have had a really interesting mix of things that have happened for you in the last couple of months, and you're probably also thinking out into the next three to five years. Can you give me a quick snapshot of the PepsiCo world?
Mauro Porcini [00:00:44] Well, first of all, hi everybody. It’s been an interesting period, obviously, pretty surreal. The business of snacking and drinking didn't slow down too much. We saw an increase in the eCommerce business with a lot of orders, an increase of the comfort food and he comfort beverage at the beginning. But now, a lot of our healthy products are flying off the shelf, the digital shelf. As a company, we are looking at the moments right now. We are trying to understand how to serve our society in the best possible way. And through our sales organisation, that never stops, even in the middle of the crisis they kept working - our heroes inside the organisation. We're also looking at the future with two scenarios. The first one is the future, so the rebounds and trying to understand how things will evolve in the coming months, in the coming six to 12 months, but then also looking at the at the future between five months and the three years, and looking at how we work, how we produce, how we interact with each other, how we act as a company, and try to understand where we can build efficiencies, where we can accelerate certain things. For instance, we are doubling down on data, on digital technologies, on our eCommerce platform. So, there is a moment here that is somewhat exciting because we’re trying to understand how to innovate the company we were before COVID and try to understand what company we will be getting out of this crisis.
Mark Bergin [00:02:41] Okay. So, what I find really interesting now is there's this mixture of, say, struggling and dealing with the challenge, but also the thriving side. And I think most people are actually getting used to the fact that we’re in the abnormal where things aren't as they were two months ago. But we also know that the sun comes up, we have to think #beyondCOVID and we have to actually plan for what comes then.
Dan Formosa, now Dan, you've been in the design industry for long enough that the idea of change, interruption, uncertainty is just in everyday occurrence for you. What are you seeing? Are people in your world actually beginning to talk about doomsday? Are they talking about what's ahead?
Dan Formosa [00:03:28] Well, I think business wise there's a lot of opportunity, it just may be different types of opportunities. So, I think a lot of people, companies, organisations need to come out of this crisis globally. I think with the best mindset, we're going to say is opportunity, and there is a lot of opportunity. It really depends though on how quickly people in my profession, the design profession change. I always find it interesting that while the design profession is always talking about change, they’re kind of very slow to change. The profession itself hasn't evolved radically since the 1980s when I started, maybe even the late seventies, and in a way it hasn't changed radically since the 1940s you know, the way we design things and the way we engineer things is the same way we've always designed things and engineer things. So part of what I do is I bring that perspective to a lot of companies or clients or projects and really do some soul searching and say, well, if we want to have an effect and want to innovate, do we really need to work the same old way? So, I think there's going to be a little more soul searching going on in the profession.
Mark Bergin [00:04:48] Yeah, and I want to then toss to Will Knight, because, well, you're running in the UK a thing called Design Dialogue. I was on a call where I think there was 70 people who were in the design promotion, the design communication space who were talking about, well, what is London design week? What’s the expo space? For those of you who don't know Will, he's been Expo Director for Dubai Design Week, 100% Design, Clerkenwell Design Week. So, he's right at the peak of what's actually going to happen in the design communications space? You're seeing that there's a bit of a crossroads there as Dan was talking about. Evolution is happening before our eyes, is it graceful or is it stumbling?
William Knight [00:05:21] I'd like to think it's neither of those things. I think it should be evolutionary. And one of the problems the industry faces is its inability to cross-communicate, cross-pollinate across generations, and be more evolutionary in terms of how it should be facing the future. I think Dan's got a really good point. It doesn't seem to be a sector that services itself. As advocates of design, we're able to kind of sell this message into our clients and present beautifully. What we're not able to do is necessarily look inwards and think about how we position ourselves as a movement, as a way of doing things, and as a problem-solving community.
I think this is an extraordinary moment for us to revisit the principles on which we should be organising ourselves, how we should promote ourselves, what our events and our activities are really focusing on. So, I just think this is an amazing time for us to go to have these sorts of conversations and reorganise.
Mark Bergin [00:06:34] Yeah, and I think one of the themes that came up in that call was that the framing side - is designed actually a sun that the world, everything else, moves around, or is it a planet, or maybe design is a moon that is in orbit around other planets. And Mauro, if I went and looked at PepsiCo, it doesn't exist for design, but design is in orbit around the PepsiCo organisation, helping it to think and reimagine how the operations work, how the brands are positioned, the offering of the product. And it's getting that balance right of the framing that I think is the big challenge. And when we come back to what Dan was saying, it hasn't evolved much and we need to work out how to accelerate and firm that up a bit, because there seems to be some people in a very old campus kind of culture and for other people it's part of actually accelerating economic opportunities.
Brian, you and the team of Collins, you've got a full pallet of work at the moment. You're absolutely going gangbusters. Is that because your clients are saying, we need to actually either adapt or we need to reimagine for what's next?
Brian Collins [00:07:38] Both, and we're actually hiring and have a number of roles open for really good people. So, if you know any really good client facing leaders, or good creative directors who could join us, please do [let them know]. We've been blessed, fortunate, it’s just been kind of remarkable. They’re looking to go through this and reinvent. Here's the puzzle: part of it is we've entered a new world and we don't have the language for it. You know, whenever I've travelled around the world and I've gone to Italy, I don't speak Italian, so I have to depend on the Italians being able to speak English, you know? So I get to Ireland and Australia, New Zealand, and London and I'm fine, fortunately, but for the real frontier places, I don't have the language for it. We're at a frontier and we cannot bring the language from the 20th century thinking - these are new order problems. We cannot solve these new order problems with language or mind tools from the 20th century.
Problem solving… What are you talking about? The only problem solver I know is the guy who I have to call to fix my roof at my house here on Cape Cod. Problem solving… what? Like do we have to wait until a problem arise? we can't be problem solvers anymore, we can be problem seekers. The other language that we've inherited from a later part of the 20th century is the idea that we have design for pain points, as if that's the only thing that matters. Or, the fact that we've designed our entire practice around a series of centric ideas: User centric, consumer centric, human centric, as if that's the only metric that mattered. COVID-19 has shown us that human centred design is a ridiculous notion. It wiped it off the planet. It's human centric, like that's the only thing that matters. What about the material chain? What about the supply chain? What about the knock-on effects? I can drink plastic water all day long and I throw the bottle away. I somehow artfully hide the consequences of the fact that our ocean is filled with fishes that are being turned into plastic. Can you give design awards to the new plastic bottle? Oh, well done. Without recognising the knock-on effects. Human centric? We can't do this anymore.
And then the other word that's kills me is sustainability. What a poisonous word. Sustainability is a step, sustainability is an idea, is an ally of the status quo. Okay, the sustainable conference we have. We have to rethink the inability in all the language that we use. It's not going to solve this. It's not going to solve the problems that we're going to be faced with in the 21st century.
Jon Winebrenner [00:10:48] This makes me wonder, what is it that maybe we are learning as individuals? Let's take off our designer hats... we're human beings sitting here staring at a bunch of pictures on the screen. What have we learned from being isolated for the last two months or whatever timeframe it has been for each of you? Cause I've walked out of this, well, you know, I'm still walking through this and I don't want to go back to doing things exactly the way I've done it before. I don't want to sit there and pitch design products and go through all sorts of research to get products done. I'm currently working on projects that are very specific to needs that are immediate based off of opportunities and demands that are born out of COVID. That's, that's where I've come from, from the last meeting that we had.
Rick Bell [00:11:44] You know, I don’t have a quick answer, but picking up on your reaction to Brian, I think you're right. Sustainability is status quo, and resiliency is almost a reactionary word. Bouncing back to something from before. I think the words we're looking for are a combination. Looking at the screen of autonomy and connection. You know, we're looking at a bunch of different images, and here we are in our own private spaces, or ex-wives’ private spaces. And, you know, we're also connected. What can you take from the individual, from the Baker's dozen of us on the screen? You know, you talk about how that relates to cities. What can cities do autonomously, self-reliantly - from agriculture to, relating where jobs are to housing, and what requires a connection that may bypass regionalism or federalism… and then talk about what Melbourne and Sydney are doing with London and New York, to start with.
Mark Bergin [00:12:55] So I want to throw it over to Ronnie Peters here because Ronnie’s history in the last 20 years has been, well, he's a Maverick designer. All of the things that he gets involved with, they're right at the cutting edge of design projects. Whether it's been with a time, whether it's things that we've been doing around pet genomes, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, you're heading the projects which are about the unknowns and aren't necessarily about solving today's problem, but solving maybe three to five or even 10 year problems down the track. Is the idea of normal for you that it's always in this state of flux? Cause Jon’s suggesting that actually we don't want to go back to normal, but I don't think you've lived in normal for the last 20 years.
Ronnie Peters [00:13:53] Right, yeah. I think it's an interesting point. I was looking back over 20 years and thinking about 9/11, the 2008 crash and then now. And they’re completely different, but there are some real common themes in there as a designer. And for me, what happened to the business and how I watched people around me react and things that I did and mistakes that I made then, and then thinking about what we're going to do, what we're doing differently now.
So, on Sunday night, we launched the world's first ever TV show premiere for Disney and the national geographic in a 3D movie theatre. So, we created this 3D movie theatre in the last two weeks. Bob Iger came along, president of Disney, and we had other people in there, and we created this themed room around the theme of the movie theatre to really start to think about, well, if we can't go to physical spaces, what can we start to do in the virtual spaces? How can we take the virtual spaces to the next level and not just try and replicate what we have in the real-world space? I don't see that going away at all. And think about, you know, some of these discussion about the new normal, to really start thinking as designers. Mauro as you were talking about looking at the near, mid and then the long term… where are we actually going in that direction and what do we contribute there? So that, that's one project.
The other thing, you know we've taken full advantage of this time to look at all the things we can do with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. We're not able to go out and test and use the test track and use the facilities and be together. We’re doing telematics design and we're looking at designing systems and software systems and doing the UX and the UI design. And that's keeping that team really engaged and really busy. So, yes, it's sort of evolving to the moment, but also like looking forward and I think the virtual space, you know, this is something really interesting. Trade shows are what we're looking at the moment. A lot of people are talking to us about the fact that we're not going to be going to trade shows so much. We're not going to be traveling so much. And these zoom calls are great, but they're not a terrific experience, we can do better.
Matteo Bologna [00:16:14] But they are better than a trade show?
Mark Bergin [00:16:16] Well, actually, that's really interesting Matteo. They're very different than the trade show, but what we're doing here is we're connecting humans rather than actually moving physical items around. We recorded a new show called ‘Not Milano’ yesterday, which is actually about well seeing the furniture shows aren't happening, how do we go connect people about what's happening in the interior space? And what came out of it was at some point you still want to sit in the chair. You know, at some point you still want to find out if that new cartel chair that's been launched, is it something that you really want to sit in? It might look gorgeous, it may actually have the right visual expression, but does it have the comfort there? And so, I suppose it is that point where we've got these calls, but nothing is going to meet a dozen people sitting at a table. But, that's probably somewhere between 12 to 24 months away before we're all connected at different parts of the world. So, I think for Ronnie, it's really interesting what you've been doing with Disney.
Now I want to throw it to Melissa Cullens who's from Ellevest, because Ellevest has spent their time to go and actually focus on female focused financial products. And if I go think some of the people who are probably the most likely hit (because there was 175 years of the current rate of change before women actually get financial equality to men). So, you know, the Ellevest are trying to go solve the problem. What's happened for you with your cohort? The products that you've got out there, have they been shaped right? Has it decimated you? Has it taken off? Have you been like food markets where it's actually all of a sudden there’s this peak? Has it been like Mauro’s snacks, which have gone through the roof? Tell us about what's happening in the Ellevest world.
Melissa Cullens [00:17:59] You know, I never thought I would be in finance and I definitely never thought I would ride through a week like we had in the stock market, alongside Sallie Krawcheck, watching everybody's accounts do this (emphatic up and down motion). Every day you wake up and it's an update from the investments team and you're just panicked because in the venture business, you live on the edge of whether or not somebody is going to give you your next round of funding. The team that you employ and the product and the client that you service is so dependent in this case, not just on how the market performs for your clients, but also how the venture market is going to open and close. And so those were some rough, rough days for us.
Similar to what Brian was saying, we made some very smart choices very, very quickly about batting down the hatches, cutting any kind of extraneous expense that we did not need. We are considering going fully remote, getting rid of the expense of the office, finding new ways to work, finding new ways to connect with one another. And it has been surprisingly easy in terms of everything around. I think there's a lot more than just saying that we're working remote. We're also working remote in the middle of a pandemic. And so, you have to do a lot to ensure that the wellbeing of your team is being cared for, which has brought forward some real authenticity in terms of conversations between different departments in different teams. I find that we spend a lot less time arguing with one another about what our individual ego’s idea is, and a lot more time coming to the solution. When we check in with one another, the answers are honest, and I think that that is a real gift to be able to find out how somebody really feels in the moment before you're going to have a creative conversation with them because it puts everybody in a moment to really be present with the work, which has been really cool. From the perspective of our clientele, I mean the first thing we did was we went into response mode. We have to communicate. We have to explain to you what's happening. Our communications team has spent many a night going through every single document that's come out of the government in terms of different types of relief and types of response. We opened all of our products up. We’re doing live webinars and we're seeing record numbers of engagement. Just people flocking to us because we do work really hard to make sure that we cut the crap with the language and make sure that it's explained in a human way that is relevant to the decisions that you're making. We do our best to break it down in a way that can be digested within the time that you have.
So, you know, it's been surprising to see that we've had net inflows. We just pulled back a 100 questions survey. It should never, never have been allowed to go out at that length. But finding out that amongst all of the women in our community, the sample size, you know, 72% of them after being with us for five years, have at least four weeks of savings. Some of them have over six months of savings. And I've never felt prouder of a group of people or of a communication strategy or something in my life because I feel like we really made difference. And we didn't do it with a coffee table book. You know, we did it organisationally as a team, putting what will make a difference to people first.
And when I think about reinventing, rebuilding, we've talked a lot about financial rebuilding. We started out with financial repair. Which is a little bit about going back to where we were, and I forget who said, we're not going back. You know what we were is gone, it blew up. Essentially, we have to make a new world, and I think an essential part of that will be about remaking money. Understanding the experience of money from all of the different perspectives of those - I think the New York times called this a She Session - because women are more likely to be on the front lines. They're more likely to be in a lower income service job that is more likely to be laid off. And so, we have an opportunity at Ellevest to really do meaningful work. The money is never about the number in your account, it's about the possibilities that it enables. It's about the ability to put your kid in the school that you want to put them in. It's about being able to imagine the beach house that you might have one day. It's about all of those little life things. It's been an incredible moment to see that through the eyes of our community.
Mark Bergin [00:22:59] Matteo Bologna, I want to do to just throw it to you here and talk to you because one of your projects that you worked on last year was for a small grocery store that had a couple of stores in New York, and it was to go work on the home brand product. Now, unfortunately, that company faulted, and they actually were in financial trouble. They've then gone through a process where they've been bought, so the store is still trading. It's changed ownership, but that product that you actually went and helped them with, the home brand product, is now flying off the shelves. You know, there's just a microcosm of all of those cycles about money and commerce just in that little story there. That probably has some damage, I think he was a supplier still have an account that needs to be sorted out with the previous context. But we know that the upside of that economic cycle goes on, the product is moving, but we do get some bruising and some injury that comes around. Hopefully that's not the state for all of your portfolio. That might just be one of those cases.
Matteo Bologna [00:24:06} Yeah, I mean, unfortunately we don't get royalties out of those products. Otherwise, we would probably be able to buy back that bankrupt company because the product sold well. Nevertheless, they still owe us like $40,000 that we will never see probably. And for a studio like ours, it's not been a really good thing. We are small and we put all our chips into some jobs, and when we do those jobs is difficult for us to go and look for other jobs. So, we ended up in a kind of, what you say in English, an extremely shitty position. Where now, you know, I'm glad that you guys are able to think about three years, four years, five years but unfortunately our studio is not backed up by VCs or stuff like that. So, our future is the two months of the PPP loan. I think everybody knows what the PPP loan is, and it's not great. You know, we have clients calling us that want to do job with us. But two days ago, we had a woman from a restaurant (she has five restaurants) and now they want to launch a product as the final thing they want to do. But they closed four of the restaurants and now they only have one. And she was crying on the phone and she said that she has only $6,000 left in the bank account. So, it's great to hear what PepsiCo is doing but then there's a reality that is so excruciating. You know, it's really difficult to think about ideas on how to change your business because, and actually that's what we are doing right now, we are trying to reach out to clients before they are coming to us.
Now, our job is knocking at people's doors, actually, people's zoom windows – if you have any work for us, call us. So, we changed completely the way we work. Today I was on the phone with an IT guy to help figure out a way to put all our servers into a Google cloud, so that we will no longer have an office. Which in a certain way is beautiful because you don't have to deal with a lot of landlords or electricity bills. But on the other side, you know, I love when you are a team and you see each other together, you bond, you turn your head, you look at the other person’s computer and say, what's that shit!? Or why you're doing that? Not, I don't, I never say this word to my employees! I wouldn't ever say that, but sometimes it's like, really? Do you still use Optima? It's a font for the people who are not in graphic design. Sorry, Brian, I know is your favourite font.
Mark Bergin [00:27:56] Thank you for being honest about the hit. Because, you know, when I used to run the studio, I knew that if I had two months of expenses as my cashflow reserve, I could probably work out how to go through things and it wasn’t going to be too hard. If I got under 50 days, I knew I was having pain. I was going to have to start to juggle things. It was more urgent that I went and got the purchase order, that I got the payment out of somebody and I wasn't doing the work. I was distracted by actually trying to get the money because it was short there. And that's an important thing that's going to interrupt the cycles for people to get from just responding, and then getting to actually recovering and then rebuilding and moving out from there. So, I think we need to be aware that there's some people who've got interrupted cycles. So, at the moment you'd say that Mucca Design has an interrupted cycle on being able to thrive. Although new opportunities come in, there's still some distraction factor there, and that may take six or 12 months before you're going to go build up those reserves. If you're lucky, somebody going to walk in with a behemoth job, but that's called luck, it's not called a business strategy. So, I'm feeling for you because I've been in that circumstance. I understand exactly where that is.
I want to get across to Megan here. Megan Bowker, you're relatively young compared to the rest of the people on the call here, which is fantastic. But you've got a fantastic thing that you're now having to go out and help us go pitch and propose the new things that are coming through. But you're pitching and proposing things often in zoom calls. You don't have that face to face. You can't read the subtle body language in the room. How's that working for you?
Megan Bowker [00:29:46] It's an entirely new model of communication, learning interpersonal relationships through screen. It's funny, even understanding what live means is confusing because you can watch a live video and it looks exactly the same as something that could have millions of people on the side. But I think in terms of new business, it's been incredible to see how nimble and adaptive our internal team has been to work together and find new ways of communicating and collaborating to solve some of the same problems that we were doing in person. I feel like there's a pretty quick learning curve in terms of how you communicate with executives through screen. One failure goes a long way, if you know what I mean?
Mark Bergin [00:30:56] So, with the idea that you're having to go and connect, you know, pitching and proposing things is always difficult. I remember Mauro, when we went and did the podcast, you were talking about having to go out and try to convince people, and that they were really being imposters and they were being nice to you. There's that point where you have to turn around and get them to commit. And you have to get them to actually go from, “yeah that's a nice proposition” into “I’m actually backing it, I’m behind it” and that's very difficult to go doing on a call because the people just hit disconnect and they're out of the call, you know? At least before you had a corridor that you could walk down, and you could talk to them. We've got to work out how to go get that socialisation to happen and I think it's going to be fascinating to check in with you and then hear how you're building those skills and you know what's in the toolkit. I know one of the things that we do at the end of these calls is that we actually then ask everybody to hang around and we know when we're not recording. Then some things that they may not want recorded come out. People like Matteo can pitch not just in the call, but at other times. And that's a really interesting thing - how do you get the human behaviour that has worked so well for us but bring it into the digital world?
Jay Valgora, I want to get to talk to you about your architectural projects cause I'm sure, similar to the conversation we had with Melissa, there's probably been some money cycles that have been interrupted for you and with architecture longitudinal projects, there's the original design and then it needs to be funded and it needs to go through planning and it needs to get out of the ground. Then it gets built and then it needs to have the interiors done and then it's finished.
Now, you've got some projects that are in Hong Kong. You've got some projects that are in Brooklyn. I think you've got some down in Florida as well. Have some of them been interrupted from the money cycle or are they actually keeping their cadence because you haven't had to check in on the money cycle at the moment?
Jay Valgora [00:32:53] So it's been a crazy time. You know, a lot of people use architectural billings almost as a canary in the coal mine. It's kind of an indicator in the economy because a lot of times architectural projects stop and start early because they have such a long time horizon. So, as a matter of fact, the fed and other institutions even use what's called the ABI, the architectural billing index, as kind of a forward indicator. And it's kind of crazy. I don't know quite what to say. The ABI was down 30 points in a month. The most that had ever been down a month was eight, which was in the great recession of 2008, So in other words, it went down by a factor of three, three and a half times more than it ever went down in the history of the index, which is a half century old. So, it's kind of an astonishing thing. And on the other hand, looking even at what Brian said - and by the way, it's nice to see a bunch of old friends here and people I haven't connected with, that's one funny thing with these zoom calls, I feel like I'm kind of reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a while too, which has been kind of a nice fringe benefit of this. But on the other hand, our practice like his [Brian’s], we're shockingly busy. I'm almost afraid, I'm waiting for a shoe to fall. I've been worried that I thought our creative business, the way we work with staff, it would dramatically affect it. And it has affected us. But we were fortunate. We planned for it. We upgraded our internet service. We took care of everyone. We sent them home a little bit early. So, we felt we were ahead of the curve. And especially, you know, a bunch of you were here in Manhattan and in other locations. You know, Manhattan, came in pretty quickly in the United States and it was a crazy situation, we didn’t know what to expect.
Shockingly, we've remained fine. I think a big part of that, Mark, is the crazy diversity of our work. A lot of architects these days tend to become more and more specialised, and as you mentioned, we're doing projects geographically all over the world. We're doing projects in terms of type, that are all over the place, that are huge and small and urban, and you know, individual. We're doing projects that are all different scales. So, in that regard, we've been lucky because a lot of them have long time horizons. You know, I'm doing large residential buildings that won't be built until the year 2023. They're going to go further along in the cycle. We're doing huge business components. We're doing a crazy project right now. Just before we were hired, a large European fund wanted to reinvent the future of working. They talked to us and we negotiated a deal and then we closed on it, actually during the crisis, I was happy to close on new business. And now suddenly the whole notion of reinventing the workplace became all the more urgent, because they just purchased a billion dollar asset in Manhattan and they were realising that all the rules had changed and they hired us specifically because we don't design offices, like I've never designed an office interior. And they wanted us specifically to do it because they wanted somebody who doesn't just do the typical kind of project to do it. So, for us it's been fortunately an opportunity. In terms of our lives, the way we look at cities, and that's a huge part of our work, is the reinvention of the cities. And I'd like to know what you guys think.
You know, people are coming back and asking again, is the city dead? Is this the end of the city? We're all gonna work remote. We're all going to travel out to our country homes. I don't think so. I mean, you know, I think, was it Ronnie who mentioned it? Since I've been in New York, we had a great recession, we had a terrorist attack. The entire city was flooded. I walked with my children through the canyons of Manhattan in complete darkness and said, remember this? You must remember this because we have to take care of this and fix this. For us, this is really the prefigurative climate change. This is part of one of the greater challenges of just reinventing our cities. I think our cities are still our greatest device for education, equality for diversity for opportunity. And I think cities are not ending. But they're going to accelerate in their reinvention. And I think this crisis is all about that.
Mark Bergin [00:36:40] And I think, you know, one of the events in New York that wasn't remembered in that list, there was Superstorm Sandy and you know, Superstorm Sandy showed the frailty of the build space. And I know PBS has got a great documentary series about cities that are under threat from water. We know that there's problems in Venice. We know there's problems in Florida, there's problems in Tokyo, in London, in New York. And, you know, building resilience in cities isn't something which is necessarily a policy decision that's reactive.
I want to throw over to Rick bell. Rick, when you were the Head of Design at NYC those resilience programs were key. But the building of it and commissioning of public and private spaces, they go to actually keep the momentum. In Sydney, Australia, we've had something like 57 major buildings that were approved last month. Normally they do about five to 10. So now we've actually got another problem in the city that there's now a glut of work. So, what's happening in New York? You've got your role at Columbia, and you've still got your finger in the pie with what's happening around the city. Is it being built out or has it helped?
Rick Bell [00:37:57] No, we've been doing a weekly lunchtime program on rebuilding infrastructure. What are the critical projects? What's happening now? What's been put on hold? And just a shout out to Jay. I mean, Jay could talk so much more eloquently about waterfront economic development and the use of design to create opportunity and profitability with some of the things he's done that I've seen in Brooklyn. I think from the public sector side, and there are lots of projects, including Brooklyn Bridge Park that are privately owned public space. People use them, and the density, the densification, re-densification, bringing people back, whether it's to a stadium, a concert hall, or a restaurant or a bar is recreating a sense of what is the social distance going forward? A lot depends on what happens with the vaccine. You know, is this a question of months or is it years that we're talking about?
Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor in Paris, was having a similar discussion yesterday, and he was showing illustrations of taking over streets so that restaurants could expand beyond the terrace, beyond the sidewalk, and have the same numbers of people perhaps as before, but in greater space, some of which previously was defined as public. You take that to a larger scale and the parks, whether they're linear parks connecting neighbourhoods or oases that are larger in size become a place of refuge, a place where people can both be connected and separate. There are manifestations of that that had already been happening. In looking at how the idea of a healthier city, re-naturation of city, active design, bringing more possibilities for physical activity in everyday life. I think we'll also be looking at how public space can contribute to the relief of the wellbeing, the mental wellbeing, the psychological wellbeing, issues of this confinement - which for some with decent spaces has been less painful than for others crowded into very small spaces that are lightless. You know, the social equity issues of how public space can be used and redefined will be paramount and are being worked on now. The first two speakers in the program, I don’t have much of a blurb for it, were both people in the public sector working on public buildings and on infrastructure. The next talk coming up on Tuesday will be with the city's chief climate policy advisor and the head of One NYC. The comments and the questions that have come in from the many people, the hundreds of people participating in, have been fascinating because they're talking on the one hand about how it impacts their own profitability, their own jobs. When are they going to get paid? When are the new jobs coming? And on the other hand, the concern about others that has been demonstrated by heroes in every walk of life; service industries, architecture, engineering, construction industries, design professions in general – it’s been phenomenal. So, the takeaway, I think for public space is that it will be much more intensely used, but it'll seem less crowded.
There are times you can go into the Highline in Manhattan and go for a jog with nobody else there, but when are those times? We'll see, as Scott was saying yesterday, the 24/7 city everywhere, office buildings being used 24 hours a day. Columbia announced today that they're doing three terms, not two. Spreading things out and keeping people together at the same time seems like a paradox, but you started before we went on record wondering where the word flummox came from. I took the opportunity to look it up, and the OED says, the West Midlands, not from Australia, the US, and it meant throwing things down in a kind of a disarray. That's where our economy is now, you know, but people are starting to pick up the pieces.
Mark Bergin [00:42:13] Yeah. Julie Ockerby, I want to throw it over to you because we've seen globally the aged care - which is as an architect, interior designer one of your specialties – aged care turned into aged harm very quickly. And the distance from people being detected with an infection in aged care, and then making sure there was isolation, making sure that procedures were then protecting the other residents was very slow. Is that inherently because of the way that the spaces are designed, where they become their own little bubble? They're almost like being in a spaceship. Have we got to wider respond to that? Because, it's terrible If we got to look at the type of impact that comes, if you're in an aged care facility and somebody gets infected, you're likely to not only get infected but also die.
Julie Ockerby [00:43:01] I don't think it has much to do with the spatial design as to how COVID has ripped through a lot of these homes. Purely it's been operational management as to how it has been contained or not contained as such. So, for all of our friends overseas, we've had nationally three homes that have been core epicentres of COVID and virtually every couple of weeks there'll be a death that will come from one of those homes.
Having said that, our national death toll is sitting at a hundred. So compared to the US numbers, it's very low. I still think that we're one of the much luckier countries, and certainly our aged care system is in a much better position than in most other countries, but the containment of COVID in these homes has been difficult purely because of operational, not so much design. So, I put on a lot of hats. I put on my old registered nurses’ hat, and then I put on my designers’ hat, and it very much is a health science.
Mark Bergin [00:44:16] So, I want to then dig in a little bit because Mauro started off a call talking about, that there's giving into the whole of the organisation. And so, the hardware of the building isn't necessarily the problem. So that's good cause we can respond quickly because as the hardware of the building takes a long time. The software of the building, the operations, that seems to be where the problem comes in. And I think, you know, if we look at some of the work that Collin's are doing, Collin's are actually involved in how you go deal with the software or something that's either a physical product, a digital service, or a build space. And that to me is the really interesting thing, as software for our society has lots of bugs in it. We're happy to go to an upgrade of our phone operating system. Our apps are always being upgraded, but we don't seem to take the same approach when it comes to the way that we go deal with services that we see that have an obvious problem.
I know that when Superstorm Sandy came through New York that there was this urgent need for people to change the software society of how they went and responded. The same happened with the GFC. I think what we're saying Ellevest doing there, which upgrading the software for the society for women who want to go and actually get agency in their financial future. It is actually working out how we get the software in aged care to be contemporary to the challenge. That's the big thing. And that's interesting because as an architect, interior designer, you might find that the response is less about a wet building site, and now more about the digital systems, the workflows, which is where your nursing comes in.
Julie Ockerby [00:45:53] Yeah, it is very much about everything you said, operational and software side, which is the people's side. And you know, overall, I'm finding people who have been a lot nicer and kinder to each other. Whereas life was a bit too busy for that before. I mean, you'd walk down the street a few months ago and you’d barely get a hello from anyone. Now, every person you pass it’s like Hello! Hello! Hello! You know, people are a lot kinder and nicer. I mean, I find I'm a little bit nicer nowadays too. But it is the software which has made the biggest difference. And when I say software in terms of these aged care homes, I mean the people side, how they’re dealing with families who are unable to see their loved ones in the home. And the reality is a lot of the residents in these homes are 80 plus years old. They're not going to be ventilated. The truth is if they get COVID, it's just a management task and if they survive, if they survive it, but the likelihood is they've not. So, there's a lot of EQ that needs to come out. Is that a design factor? I think that's a human design behavioural response that we all need to be aware of. I know that similar to you I have a very small firm, there's six of us. Cashflow has always, is always an issue and it's a small firm. In this pandemic it continues to be so different. I'm pretty pragmatic like that, but having a very young team, the mental health fees is that play with them, you know working from home, we try and keep in touch with each other a few times a day. And that's not me spot checking on them. It's really to say that they're doing okay, and some mornings are okay and by the afternoon they're not. And vice versa. It depends. So, where we're staggering our restart in the next few weeks, cause our restrictions to have been softly lifting for the last couple of weeks and we'll, and will continue to over the next few weeks. So, we'll start at 50% capacity back in the studio. But it has come across my mind, do we keep working from home and just shut the office down?
Matteo Bologna [00:48:15] Yes, I think that's a good idea! And by the way, I just got a call, they approved the contract. So, we have six months.
Mark Bergin [00:48:29] Actually, I'm going to wrap up the call here because you know we're going to hang a little bit and I hope the people who are watching this also spend some time reflecting after they've gone to watch it. To my Design Executive Club dozen thank you so much for your minds, it's been fantastic to have you again. And to our viewers, we'll be back with another US edition in a month’s time, and every week there's one of these either in Asia, Australia, Europe & UK, or the US and we hope that you're finding these strategic insights useful.
Hosted by: Mark Bergin
Podcast Production: Pat Daly
Notes and Publication: Lucy Grant