What Makes a Project Stand Out?

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BDG’s Andy Swann asks what it is that really makes that all-important  difference. Not that he’s looking for an answer – he has a simple solution of his own.

We all see a lot of projects. Whether new product designs, ideas, systems, processes, interiors or entire workplaces, they vary in all shapes and sizes. Some look amazing, but don’t work practically, some take the simplest ideas and deliver understated excellence. What is it that really makes a project stand out – where does the magic come from?

In truth, it’s very simple and it all starts from thinking about things in the right way. In my work I help people, teams and organisations to find creative perspectives. Because the human brain works around learned structures, it’s only by breaking those preconceived ideas that we can enable real creativity to happen. Attempting to bolt creativity onto something previously learned isn’t creativity, it’s tokenism.

An office designed around aesthetics for aesthetics sake can never be functional or truly deliver an amazing experience for the end user, just as throwing outlandish colours and furnishings into a design for no real reason can never truly offer anything new, because it doesn’t break the mould. Going back to last month’s column, where I mentioned design thinking, to really add magic to a project, it needs to be understood from the start.

By breaking down what the project really needs to achieve, we can create a platform for what can truly be delivered, within such constraints as budget and time. At BDG architecture + design, before a line is drawn on paper, the Workplace Strategy team takes  the time to gather thousands of data points to build a picture of the organisation, its people, how they work, how they could work, the space, the possibility and the opportunity. This insight is then used to inform a design, which can then push those boundaries to not only deliver to requirements, but deliver something that adds magic. BDG’s recent BCO Innovation awards for two completely different projects highlight how that approach creates stand-out results.

In researching my book, The Human Workplace, I came across many examples of organisations taking on projects – whether in service or process design, workplace, or another area of their work. Those with the greatest success were the ones taking the less-obvious route by breaking the mould, but at the same time retaining a logical approach, by understanding from the start what they were really trying to achieve.

Microsoft are using data not to control their people and ensure they are working, but to provide them with the most personalised experience at work, ensuring they have exactly the right tools and environment to be their best as individuals and teams. Schneider Electric are operating global wellness and workplace programmes that give the local teams the opportunity to assess and improve their own conditions, sharing them with the entire workforce and enabling crowdsourced perspectives to be distributed for the benefit of everyone.

The most successful projects are always those that side-step the obvious, by educating themselves with the right level of insight at the start and retaining a connection with their purpose. If you’re not doing something for the right reasons, it will never stand out.

If you’re attempting to create a world-class workplace, but your overriding purpose is to save money, it will fail. However, if you create an amazing workplace that allows people to be their absolute best, not only will it likely save money on real estate and operational costs, it will also deliver enhanced productivity and output – creating profit! Either way, unless you truly understand the project through insight, it will never truly stand out.

I’ve recently been working with some large organisations, helping them to bring customer insight to inform decisions around new products and services. They realise that the project needs to deliver something for those people, so the end users should be involved in informing the project. It’s not a difficult position, but it’s an important one to remember.

As we create projects and we look to make them stand out, it’s our responsibility as creators to stay mindful of and committed to what those projects are for. They are not vehicles purely to showcase our range of creative skills, but to use them sensitively and sympathetically to deliver on very specific needs. When we remember that, we can all do our
best work.