What’s next for the design studio?

Design Director

In the Summer 2021 issue of INNOVATION magazine, the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) posed the question: How will designers return to the studio?

Dan Grossman provided a response on how Smart Design plans to emerge from the pandemic with a brand-new studio space.

A hypothesis-fueled studio

Like many other companies, Smart Design has spent the last year adapting to the changing world and weighing the pros and cons of physical and remote work as we plan for the future. Ultimately, we landed on one side of the fence: We are investing in a new 20,000-square-foot studio space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

But one thing is for certain, our new studio won’t have the same cadence it did in the pre-pandemic world. We believe that in order to move forward as an innovation design company, it is important to not just repeat the same habits. We view this opportunity as white space to design a truly hybrid office that fuses the best elements of in-person and remote work. We believe that our studio must be a work in progress where we test, learn, adapt, and ultimately, build new solutions – just like we do with our clients.

While we have seen other companies downsize, we believe retaining a physical space that is collaborative, functional, and inspiring is ultimately part of the magic that allows Smart Design to do its best work. Organizing complex information in a space helps us make connections and immerse ourselves in the subject matter. There is also more chance for serendipity and cross-fertilization of ideas. The ability to build and test physical prototypes is crucial for us as the physical act of making uncovers new possibilities. We also strongly believe in building a culture beyond work where we get to know each other and have fun.

At the same time, there are many benefits of a remote digital space we don’t want to lose. We can collaborate across geographies faster, more cheaply, and more sustainably. We have the ability to conduct remote research quickly without travel. It can be easier to find quiet time to focus, and shared tools means everything is accessible to everyone all the time. Personal life and work life can blend harmoniously, creating happier employees with well-rounded lives. We are looking to blend these worlds in our new space, allowing people to flexibly work between home and the office.

But there are still questions to be answered. What is the best way to facilitate activities with some collaborators together in a room and others remote? When are the moments in the design process where physical presence is required? The truth is, we don’t know yet, but we have some hypotheses, and we can build to learn.

Housed within an expansive building where Navy ships were once constructed, our new studio will consist of a variety of small structures and outdoor spaces for different activities, such as prototyping, working together, socializing, and alone time. The open space gives us the flexibility to pilot and iterate different technology setups and spatial configurations as we see new working patterns emerge. This will mimic the software development process in that we will push out updates as we learn from user behavior.

To create exceptional output, our hybrid studio must inspire creativity, build community, empower experimentation, provide focus, and produce quality work. We are excited for where this journey will take us when we open in summer 2021. 

About Dan Grossman, Design Director

Dan is an accomplished industrial design and strategy leader, with a broad range of experience across various categories and industries. At Smart he oversees physical product development, pushing the team to make products as beautiful as they are functional. He’s won numerous awards and patents and has had his work featured in the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Let’s design a smarter world together.