• Lucy Grant

Town Hall #31 - The New Possible - USA


Rick Bell - Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University

Dan Formosa - Designer at Dan Formosa!, Co-founder at 4B

Ophenia Liang - Director & Co-founder at Digital Crew

Julie Ockerby - Creative Director & Principle at Meli Studio Australia

Ronnie Peters - Creative Director at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Karin Soukup - Managing Partner at COLLINS

Jay Valgora - Principal at STUDIO V Architecture

Jon Winebrenner - Creative Director at Sonn Technology


SPUR Regional Strategy - Four Future Scenarios for the San Francisco Bay Area


In Your Shoes with Mauro Porcini - Episode 5: With Ravi Naidoo


Dan Formosa

design can have a huge effect on behavior

Karin Soukup

everybody's trying to be more flexible and adaptable to the conditions of work
we're seeing a lot of those companies decide to maybe go fully remote into the future, or relinquish their headquarters altogether
companies are kind of taking initiatives in their own hand
the idea of wonder and provocation and magnetism can go miles with regards to starting the conversation.
I find a lot of inspiration in the younger generation who's demanding change number one, and not looking up for answers, but looking down in a way
[the younger generation] have avenues for communication, they have a voice, they have a platform, they have visibility, so I think by speaking to that generation more clearly, you can go miles
we do need optimism, it is a momentous force, but it needs to come with a pragmatism

Ophenia Liang

China is a market that we need to crack... and is actually the only market, that is growing

Jay Valgora

[on NYC] we're taking back our streets and transforming the city
there's going to be a new creative surge in New York, which I think is a fantastic thing
we're seeing new neighborhoods emerge... we're going to be changing the way we live and work... we've all gotten a graduate degree in remote working... I would have never believed it a year ago
as I look forward to hiring in the new year, I'm thinking that that's an opportunity to get talent that might not even be here in the city
cities are our greatest devices for greater sustainability, greater equity, higher levels of education, bettering people
I think some of our greatest expressions of optimism and hope come from some of the most challenging times

Rick Bell

what is the new possible? I'd like to change the discourse to what is the new plausible, or maybe the new probable
the outdoors is being animated by design
[on the Town Hall] This is virtual travel - We have Vancouver and Sydney and Melbourne and San Francisco. So many cities represented... the change in technology that allows us to be places that we are not physically, that is very, very exciting
put all the metaphysical stuff aside and deal with how you improve, how you make things grow, how you make things change

Jon Winebrenner

some of the most creative moments that I've had in my life have come out of some of the darker periods of my life
challenges seem to drive human nature and creativity in a lot of ways

Ronnie Peters

the fact that we can have these conversations and share and do this globally and amongst each other, that alone is just such a huge boost

Mark Bergin

For the country to accelerate into the future and get through the pandemic, it's actually the people who are not aligned, who aren't already on the bus, that are the challenge
we're Next People... We're probably more in love with status next, than we are with status quo
to make America great again you have to get in love with the future


Mark Bergin 00:01

Hi, everybody, I'm Mark Bergin, the founder of DRIVENxDESIGN and the Design Exec Club. You're listening to a Design Exec Club Town Hall. This is number 31 and we're focusing in on the US market. I'm really fortunate here to have eight of the smartest people that I know who are actually focusing on what's going on here. What I do want to do, though, is actually refer to we are missing one of our Indians who fell off today, which is Melissa Collins, and she fell off for a very common reason, which is her son was unwell. And therefore she's having to do the carrying role. And across the world, as we do these Town Halls, we see that it's the prevalence of the female participants being interrupted, they were scheduled to be on the calls, but they actually weren't there. And I still think that's something we haven't worked out how to deal with. The next time we go do another round of these, we're going to focus on that inclusion and equity and how do we go solve some of that, because we've got to make sure that everyone's minds in these discussions. Dan Formosa, I want to go across to you and I want to go talk about the new normal, returning to normal, whatever the hell normal is. I know in the States in the last couple of weeks, the idea of returning to normal transmission from a government perspective seems to have changed around a bit. But we know this pandemic is with us for quite a period of time. What do you think the new normal or coping with this will be?

Dan Formosa 01:22

Yeah, well, it's crazy here in the US, you know. If you turn on the news in here, how many people literally died today and yesterday and the day before? This would have been outrageously shocking months ago. Now, it's kind of oh, it happened again, you know. Not that it's acceptable, but the new normal has turned a bit into the normal. So I think we are learning to live or, I don't want to say accept because that sounds like we're complacent, but I think we're willing to accept the fact that this may go on for a while with or without the vaccine. The interesting things to watch will be what sort of innovations of different techniques of how changes in lifestyle will adapt or emerge.

Mark Bergin 02:20

And I think there Dan what I've noticed is, in the last month, you've gone in the US from having around 50,000 infections a day, up to over 190,000 (seems like 150,000 is the average at the moment). So there's a tripling in a month that's in there, which is mind boggling. But then if you go look at the deaths, and there's always a little bit of a lag between the infection and the death event, but it's gone from early in the pandemic, when New York first got it, it was close to 4% of people were dying from COVID. Now it's under 1%. So the innovation, the learnings from the medical care is definitely there. But the innovations and learning from how do you put a mask on? How do you prevent it from happening, that part hasn't happened, the social distancing, those protocols that happen at a public level? So I find that really interesting that you've got in highly controlled scientifically based environments, as medicine is that we're seeing innovation accelerating. When we get down into the political culture wars perspective, we're actually seeing going in the opposite direction. And that's going to be interesting to work out how does the messaging go through to arrest that? Because I think in a little while Julie Ockerby is going to talk about the case in Australia. And then the case in Melbourne where I am, we've gone from having a runaway COVID outbreak as a second outbreak. And we're down now to, I think we're up to about 20 days of zero infections in a row, which means you can arrest it if you bring in those social behaviors. But that's interesting to work out, how do you bring that in?

Dan Formosa 03:59

Yeah, well, you know, behavior, the topic of design and behavior, and healthcare and behavior, energy efficiency and behavior, it's always been frontier land for a long time, because we don't know enough about how to control behavior or how to influence behavior. We know that design can have a huge effect on behavior. We need to know more and more and more about it. I would watch that percentage of mortality, because what's happening as the number of cases explode, is the hospitals are getting overloaded. So while they are getting better at treating COVID, they may just not have the bandwidth to treat all cases of COVID. So if that spikes up a little bit, it may not be a surprise. Also, as vaccines are starting to be introduced. of course, not everyone's going to get one. There's going to be resistance to the vaccines. So I think we're going to see this roller coaster ride of cases for a while. Hopefully a diminishing roller coaster ride, and hopefully new strains of the virus won't, you know, emerge as those things tend to do, you know, stronger strains of the virus. It's interesting to take a look at what used to be strange is now acceptable. The new normal is now the normal.

Mark Bergin 05:26

And that I think we've seen in a range of ways, that acceleration of something that used to be abnormal, becoming either through frequency of engagement or adoption, that people are saying, well, that's now become the normal. And there's going be some of those things that we want to move away from. We know that social media and mobile device addiction, we've actually seen some of that change quite a bit. And there are a couple of events, whether it's Cambridge or analytic or a few other events, maybe Kanye said something. But you know, people have changed their behaviors. How are we going to go see this happen?

Dan Formosa 06:04

I'll tell you one thing, I'm very curious to watch is, one of the issues that masks have is fogging. And as the weather gets colder, they're just going to, you know, they'll fog glasses much more much quicker. So it'll be interesting to see how, even if you are trying to be compliant, you need to somehow cope with the fact that you can't see, in some cases. So the weather is going to have an effect on just the protective equipment that we're going to be wearing, that would be interesting to watch.

Mark Bergin 06:40

And so we had when we went into the severe lockdown in Melbourne, that they allowed people to wear bandanas, they allowed them to wear face shields, it was like you just had to have some mask covering. And then they changed that. But now what's happening is that people believe it's acceptable to wear the mask just over your mouth, not your nose. Apparently, your nose doesn't actually transmit the virus!! And I go that's interesting. And generally people with glasses who aren't wearing them because it's not going to fog up then. So I think you're absolutely right there, when hopefully we see somebody who comes up with something that solves it. I want to go across now we're going to go to Vancouver to you, Jon. Your world is similar to what we've got. It isn't the United States, it's almost the United States.

Jon Winebrenner 07:27

Definitely, we're influenced by it. There's no question about it.

Mark Bergin 07:30

Yeah. But your world is actually, in the pre conversation, you talked about the confusion and the clarity aspects of what's going on. And I'm really interested about that. Because if there's confusion, there's an opportunity for clarity. And that comes down to people understanding and then saying, Well, we've diagnose where the confusion is, how do we do a rapid intervention to create that clarity? Has that phase began? Or is it still just the confusion of chaos that you've got?

Jon Winebrenner 08:00

Ah, that's a very interesting question, because it's very specific to a conversation that I was having today around the confusion in particular, as we talked about before this all started, the creative, in particular, the dance industry. So if you look at open spaces, like a dance studio, and you have children coming in, it's different, it's similar to a school, but it's considered an exercise, so they're being closed down. So where the problems coming in is from the government level. They've shut them down and said, You come to us with your reopening plan, and we will approve them as they come along, as we get to them. Now, you're hearing one group in North Vancouver that's been able to open up but another group in Coquitlam, which is 20 kilometers east of Vancouver, they can't open up the studios. And the town that I live in, which is called Richmond, hasn't been open. There's just, it's very disjointed. So there's a lot of confusion and frustration happening. But also what you're starting to see is, as day by day goes on, and all of these reopening plans are being submitted to the government, the government is tuning their message. And it seems like they're cherry picking information and doing almost like a social experiment of taking information from different groups and then re-implementing it as it goes forward. And that's my hypothesis of what's going on. It's just a really interesting observation.

Mark Bergin 09:47

And I think when we head across in a moment and we go talk with Karin, that the type of work that we get major branding and communication agencies to do is to work out what are those messages? And what are the troubles that we need to predict. And it seems like we're actually reacting there rather than turning around and being proactive. So what I do want to do is before we go across and we talk deeper about that, I want to go and talk to you Julie Ockerby, because, you know, you're almost in the Australian context. You've had a cruise ship that came in with a fat 7-800 people who there was infection amongst them, who all got off the cruise ship, and then were in the Sydney population. You've had the state of Victoria have a large outbreak, and then there's circulation between the cities. But Sydney seems to be able to work out how to go and live with very low infection transmission rates. But I don't think you're wearing masks as a state yet, is that optional or mandatory?

Julie Ockerby 10:55

It's optional. A few months ago, it was suggested that it was a good idea to wear masks on public transport. But you know, really, the mask wearing was probably 30%. Having said that, not a lot of people took public transport anyway. Look, we are in comparison to the US, by far very lucky, very lucky. One, we don't have the population numbers that you do. And our rate hasn't been that high in comparison. But for us, for example, where Mark is in Victoria and Melbourne, they've just come out of four months of lockdown and pretty harsh lockdown too. I think what's proven there, is lockdown actually does work, as harsh as it is, it does work. And this week, we've had one of our other states, South Australia, overnight, has gone into six days, six nights worth of lockdown and very harsh lockdown as well - Like pretty much Stage 4. And what they found is this COVID down in South Australia is a very short term living strain. And basically it's a new strain of COVID, which I find quite frightening because we kind of get on top of what was the old strain to start off with. But in New South Wales, I think our biggest hurdles have been that certain borders domestically for us have been closed to us. A few weeks ago we had sort of a little bit of a cluster, but not a huge community transmission. And most of the numbers we are getting are from hotel quarantines. So we're learning to live with it, you know? Our restaurants, our schools, everything, we're just learning to live with it. We're forming new habits. We're keeping our economy going as best as possible. And I think we're trying to have an outlook beyond COVID. But I think similarly to what Dan was saying, the notion of COVID being a very temporary situation is not the case, I think it's going to hit Bell Curves, it's going to hit peaks and troughs. And our country's showing that it is, you know, we're one moment everyone is open to go to South Australia. And as of this week, everyone's virtually blocked their way to South Australia and back. So it causes havic for this nation down the bottom of the earth here. But we do look at our peers in Europe and certainly in your country. And you know, we do feel very lucky here in comparison. But we're learning as we go. We're no different to anyone else in the world. You know what works here may not work there. What works there may not work here. It's just we're learning. And I think our policies and procedures are evolving as it goes along. And our biggest challenges now is keeping our economy going. I don't think we will feel the impact until next year, when the majority of our government support ceases in March. I think next year is when we really will feel the recession. Commercially buildings, I find it very tough. Because what I think, Jay will touch on this a bit later, is people have learned to live and work remotely. And so they're choosing the lifestyle over, you know, transporting themselves into the city and being amongst it all. So there's pros and cons of this whole life that we've lived this year and certainly I think real estate, residentially have gone straight up along the beautiful beach areas because people are opting to buy and live there and work from there rather than commuting into the city.

Mark Bergin 14:46

And so what I found interesting as we've been talking about there contextually for people in the US, the idea of hotel quarantine. Now, that's not happening in the US. If you fly into the US, you're not being locked in a hotel for two weeks as mandatory detention until you've worked out do you have the disease or not? That's what's happening here. If you want to move between the states and the states are locked down, if you're coming from an infected state, and you want to go to a non infected state you have a two week quarantine in a hotel. And you can only go through major ports, airport, so you can't actually go across road borders. So it's really interesting that difference there. But the other thing I found really interesting was, you were talking about government support, and in the US there's been very little government support that's been going out to help. And if I go look throughout Europe, there's been government supported help. In Hong Kong, there's been government support. In mainland China, there's been support. So these are all different conditions that force people to say, Well, my COVID experience and my normal has shifted, and therefore I need to do some things. Karin, I want to go and have a talk to you, because you're on the west coast in San Francisco, where we can see that beautiful sunset, just happening there behind you. But your organization, you've got east coast offices, you've got west coast offices, and I think in your east coast office that you've actually been working at Do you re-lease the building? Or do you actually look at the different topology of having micro studios closer to where people are living rather than having a mega studio, where your corporate clients might come in and be impressed by the foyer?

Karin Soukup 16:29

Sure. I mean, I think everybody's trying to be more flexible and adaptable to the conditions of work, generally speaking. I know out of our east coast office, you know, we just reassessed whether that footprint was necessary at all. And then over the course of last year, have decided to kind of relocate and do exactly as you just said, kind of a micro office approach. And I think on the west coast, we're kind of hunkering down. It was already a smaller office in the first place, but really watching the trends. (dogs come on screen) Sorry ....

Mark Bergin 16:59

Oh, no, no. That's fantastic. We've got two unexpected guests here. And who are your unexpected guests? Help us out? We're humans and they're dogs.

Karin Soukup 17:10

Free holing Bean and Casper, the friendly ghost?

Mark Bergin 17:15

Well, they're more than welcome to interrupt us. Keep going.

Karin Soukup 17:22

Anyway, west coast, I think we're really paying attention to our client base in terms of how they're responding early on. We work with a lot of software companies out of San Francisco, as you might expect. And I think they took quite conservative measures to kind of have their employees work from home, which they often already do, at least one day a week, if not two. And so I think we quickly were able to pivot and follow suit to their practices. And as I'm sure many folks on the call already know, we're seeing a lot of those companies decide to maybe go fully remote into the future, or kind of relinquish their headquarters altogether. So I think there's a lot of opportunities that come from that. But I think a trend that I see from that more holistically, in terms of what we're seeing with our work is, you know, the fact that companies are kind of taking initiatives in their own hand. I think to some of what you were talking about Jon, this kind of disruption of leadership and kind of lack of leadership and confusion that comes with that. It feels a little Lord of the Flies, to be honest. And I don't recommend anybody watch the 19, I think 63 or 53 version. But it's terrifying if you go and re watch it. Now anyway, you know, I think there's a lot of themes there that hold true, which is like, Who are we following? You know, what are the powers of persuasion? Which from a branding and communications perspective, is very much kind of playing a role in everything from COVID efficacy to how we kind of, you know, vote and who we follow and what we believe in. But I think we're seeing corporations as a whole, really think about their power, you know, or those that are disenfranchised within corporations and in the world and reassess their role in terms of creating equality. And I think even employees are trying to do more to apply pressures within the infrastructure of corporations then corporations doing that, you know, for us. Even with our partners, we're asking new questions around, you know, what we're all working in service of, and how we can kind of advance it within an organizational level, at the very least.

Mark Bergin 19:22

And one of the things I've observed is that globally, before we started the pandemic, which sounds like we all turned it on doesn't? Before the pandemic started, it was the economy, the extraction and the creation of wealth what was driving our narrative. There was a little bit about should we be thinking about social equity and there was a little bit about the environment, but they were like secondary considerations. It now feels like there's three primary leaders. One is, we've got to make sure that we're accelerating social equity, and Black Lives Matter has helped go bring that to the fore. We've also got to make sure we actually got sustainably environment. And we've also got a thriving economy and all three have to work together in there. And so that's gonna be interesting, because if I go back to the Federation's which Julie was talking about, the States of Australia, well, that was federated to solve a problem with taxation and border crossings about 100 or 120 years ago. And so what we've realized is we solved the taxation challenge of 100 years ago, but we didn't talk about how does the free movement work from economics across the country. The moment a challenge came up we blocked the borders. I think if I look at the United States, you've got this tremendous capacity as a country to go and actually scale just about anything. And I'm going to come and talk about Twitch and ask you some Twitch questions in a moment. Because if I go look at how Twitch has been able to go scale, that's because they got simple messaging, they thought of the challenges that would come through to their public, they got their framing right and they've been able to accelerate, which is exactly what Jon was talking about the governments aren't doing. Governments aren't getting the pre planning time, they're not going through the strategy, they're not going through the user centered design. They've done very little that is actually on the front foot. They're actually being reactive. And then if I go look at the American electoral system, it shows that the Federation that you've got as a federal government, has this idea that there's determination at a very micro level down at states and counties, which means the electoral system is really ineffective, and there's no best practice and there isn't scale in there. How do you then take that across into, then there's public health, which is at similar government levels delivered at that lower level. Yet, you've got organizations like Facebook and Twitter and Twitch, who have worked out how to get infinite scale there. So the knowledge exists in the country. It's actually our electoral systems and our government systems that seem to be holding it back. So I want to just ask there about Twitch, because I know at the beginning of the pandemic, Collins had done some great work on the rebranding for Twitch. But then, last time we were in the Town Hall, Brian Collins was rolling off all of the It's the biggest platform for this sort of streaming, the biggest platform for this streaming. And it's been through a phenominal growth. That growth doesn't happen if you didn't think about a framing that would allow it to happen. Is that your assumption?

Karin Soukup 22:26

I mean, I think that sure, framing plays a role in everything. And this story has to be appealing and attractive and connect with your audiences. I think Twitch is also in a very favorable position to some of the other trends that panelists here are talking about, which is kind of the virtualization, increased virtualization of experience and really kind of caters to a younger audience in terms of how they relate to each other, and how they can connect to each other. And so I think it's that combination of story in place, you know, a new type of place, really, that are enabling it to scale and in many ways upset, as you know, a more traditional version of social media that we might identify with.

Mark Bergin 23:06

What I do want to do is go across to Ophenia. Ophenia, your expertise is focusing on Chinese brands, both brands going into China, and also brands who are trying to get their voice out of China. One of the biggest retail days in the world has just happened, which was the Singles Day, the 11th of the 11th. I think it was like 30% growth. Is that right?

Ophenia Liang 23:30

Yeah, absolutely. So it was when the whole majority of the world is trying to cope with their minus GDP growth and cope with the pandemic, China, it's already projecting a positive GDP growth. And the Singles Day that the W11 just happened last week, it's just a glimpse into the consumption power that they have. And the gross merchandise sales was about $116 billion US dollars. And among all the countries that are exporting into China, that US is top two just after Japan. So when we're dealing with a lot of American brands, and we see in the beginning of the pandemic, that they all got a bit scared and kind of less of the business confidence. But then since the last quarter, and especially this quarter, we are seeing a lot of confidence that yes, China is a market that we need to crack and we are putting resources, and is actually the only market, that is growing. So they're putting in resource. And so this is not just in the FMCG sector, also in the B2B sectors as well. So it's pretty amazing. And I live in the world that I'm talking to business owners or brand owners in the Western world where they are concerned and they are working from home, they are trying to deal with this pandemic and family life, and the balance of it. When I'm working with my China team, and we actually opened up a new office in Shanghai this year as well, everything is fine. And we just had the biggest national holiday weekend - everybody went traveling and at the best time of the year. And it's just this massive different experience, I am dealing with on two sides of the world.

Mark Bergin 25:22

And it is interesting how, you know, if I think back 18 months ago, dealing with companies in China, there was so much more formality with it. Last week, I was launching the boat that I sail on. So all of you know, I'm a tragic sailor. And so we're launching this wooden boat. But I've got to stop launching the boat because there's a Zoom call which is coming in from the west coast of the States, it's coming in from China, and it's in Australia with me. I'm sitting on a breakwater amongst these rocks, having the Zoom call with a lady in China who won't turn her camera on because it's too early in the morning, which I thought was just so cute. And then we've got a mum in on the west coast of the US who has not her dogs but their kids running through the call, because the kids are hungry. And we all accepted that what we were trying to do was get our minds to meet, but the pretense of that we didn't have another life that was able to be taken away. The quality of the call, the business that we discussed, was equal, as if we had have pretended to turn up to an office and be all wearing our business clothes, and being in you know, in a central location. So that was very interesting, just to have that snapshot moment. We decided to move the follow-up call two hours later, because it'd be really nice to go see the lady in China. And she agreed that that would be the time that she would be acceptable to in front of the camera and that it wasn't too late for the mum in San Francisco. And you go, isn't it interesting the things that we can talk about of how business works. But I think the big thing is that there's a lot of US brands which are still going across into Mainland China, because some of the people who have got the deepest pockets at the moment, are the mainland Chinese who are hungry for US brands. It just is, don't try to sell them a cow because there's trade tariffs on that. Don't try to sell them coal because there's trade tariffs on that. And we found that with rock lobster. So apparently, to make up for some of the trade tariffs that came into the US, there was a deal done with the US where American rock lobster would be allowed to go into China, but Australian rock lobster isn't. So we've got all these rock lobster farmers who are saying we're not catching any rock lobster at the moment. And I go, geopolitics is really interesting. But if you havn't got rock lobster, you haven't got cows, and you haven't got iron ore, you pretty well have a good trade route that's going on there, which is fantastic. So I want to continue on here and I want to then go across to my next person who is Jay. I want to go talk about the optimism you've got. As a leading architect who works both in New York, you've also got projects, throughout Asia, and you've got a particular project in Buffalo that I want to touch on as well there. You've got optimism about what's going to come out in the next 12 months.

Jay Valgora 28:12

I think that you know, in some ways Mark, the last six months have been devastating, because in some ways, you know, it's interesting as a contrast for me, because we've seen how we ignored all the opportunities or really missed all the opportunities to deal with a surge that's happening now. And being from New York having my studio here, it's interesting to me that New York was one of the first earliest hotspots and dealt with it early. But then watching you know, the pandemic spread across the rest of the country and surge today really is devastating. But I am really optimistic about the future. And in some ways, short term and in other ways long term. Here in New York City, my friends call me and they say, you know, are you okay? It seems like New York is crazy. And I'm thinking at the end of the summer, it was kind of wonderful watching the city start to bounce back, watching people be excited about the results of the election, watching people spread into a vibrant outdoor dining scene where we're taking back our streets and transforming the city not only this summer, but really in ways that I think are going to be transformative going forward. I'm also seeing things like new businesses emerging where there was already pressure on street level retail. And now I think there's going to be new opportunities for creativity where maker spaces, small industries, people making things are going to be starting to take over more retail spaces. I think there's going to, we're going to be seeing legislation where they're going to be pushing people to open up retail stores, where in the past developers would actually keep them closed until they could wait even a few years in order to get the rents they want. And I think there's going to be pressure to reopen those spaces. And that's going to lead to a new creative surge in New York, which I think is a fantastic thing. I see Ronnie nodding because he has a ground floor gallery in his building. So like those are the things that should be on those ground floor retail spaces and new creative things. And finally, I think there's longer term changes, where we're seeing new neighborhoods emerge. And we're really, I think, going to be changing the way we live and work. There is going to be some kind of a balance. And while I desperately miss working with my creative teams, I still come into my studio because I walk, you know, three minutes to work from my loft to my studio. I feel very lucky in that way. But I miss working with all of our creative teams. But we've all gotten a graduate degree in remote working, that would have been, I would have never believed it a year ago. And I have to tell you, it's so effective. I'm so proud of our teams. I was terrified as the owner of a firm - how was this going to work. And I have to say, they were working harder than I ever thought. Then I had to go to my staff and say, you guys have to take some time off, you have to strike some life balance, because everyone was working so hard. But I think going forward