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In our recurring series, MCM’s Design Director and BCorp Lead explores the projects that made him the creative and human-centred designer he is today.
Parmar is an experienced Design Director and Creative Lead at MCM, a purpose driven design consultancy based in London. His work with global leading clients has given him insight and expertise into the challenges corporate clients face with their commercial real estate, and how having a beautiful looking office is simply not enough to deliver an engaged workforce and business innovation. People are at the core of his approach and guiding clients to provide a positive and healthy work experience for their employees remains his primary goal.
Parmar led MCM in becoming a Certified Bcorp in June 2021, and has since led their journey to continual improvement.
At heart he is an agent of change, never underestimating the responsibility of design to create an exciting, inclusive and sustainable future.
I should be open up front; I don’t believe any single project can shape you. In my opinion it’s a product of your experiences, the challenges you face and the lessons you learn on each project. During my career I’ve been lucky to have been involved in many outstanding projects that (although I probably didn’t realise at the time) gave me the hard lessons I needed to develop into the designer I am today. Two projects in my recent experience that immediately spring to mind are Howden Group Holdings (previously Hyperion) and Conde Nast.
Although my role changes somewhat depending on the project, I’d say it usually falls into three main camps; Inspirer – Taking our clients and our design team on a journey that allows them to think outside of the restraints of their own experience and giving them access to more diverse perspectives. Problem solver – If you’re not solving problems, you’re not a designer, you’re an artist. I once read that somewhere and it’s stuck with me. Making the project fun – as client relationship manager falls under my banner, one of the things I’m passionate about is making the design process fun. It should be an inspiring and enjoyable journey for everyone involved from project sponsors to the people using the space.
Howden was formative because of the complexity of the project. At the time they were four different arms of the business all with different cultures coming together for the first time under one roof. This meant some extensive engagement to understand how each would function and where the opportunities were to encourage connection and collaboration between the brands. Conde Nast was a slightly different challenge, as we were designing the space to attract a new type of talent for the world class publishing brand. Therefore, we had a smaller sample group with whom to engage. Usually, our people first approach involves a deep understanding of the end users but when those end users aren’t working for the business yet, your approach to design must flex to suit.
I think the Howden project challenged everyone on the team, including the client. I personally felt responsible to ensure that we were pushing them far enough whilst ensuring their key workflows were not affected. Navigating multiple stakeholder groups to ensure everyone had a voice and trying to bring that into one holistic solution was, at times, difficult. But I believe we delivered a workplace experience that was a world of difference from their previous offices whilst retaining the essence of each part of the organisation.
Conde Nast was challenging because we were keen to create a space very different to the rest of their portfolio whilst retaining the heritage of the brand. When you’re working with such a creative powerhouse that owns titles such as Vogue, GQ and Wired amongst many others, it’s important leverage that creativity in the right way. We were adamant that visitors should immediately feel the reach and impact of the brand from the moment they entered the space, part of this solution was the combination of the digital (a huge portrait screen where content is constantly evolving) and the analogue (a physical reference library featuring all their titles).
I believe I have a growth mindset and therefore love learning about new processes, materials, and ways to do things. One of the big drivers for the Howden project was including a level of amenity and service that would rival what clients and employees could expect to find outside of the building. This included three barista run cafés, a Michelin level dining experience for clients and wellness spaces where employees could refresh and unwind. We worked closely with their building management team and hospitality manager to ensure the experience was seamless and that the social spaces could be flexible enough to cater for all types of events, from watching major sporting events to company all hands.
Conde Nast was equally educational as it was one of the first times, I had worked with teams who work in agile squads. Suddenly you realise that whatever amazing surfaces we included as part of the design would likely be covered in post-it notes within the first day of occupation. But that is the reality of human centred design, you’re not trying to create spectacular looking artifacts, you’re trying to create spaces that will enable people to do their best work.
We had a highly skilled team working on Howden and everyone was willing to get their hands dirty to ensure we delivered a world class project for the client. Workplace Design has so many interdependencies, therefore working in a silo simply won’t deliver the results. We spent a lot of time in the client’s space, observing, interviewing, workshopping to ensure we had a good understanding of their culture and requirements. From the offset our design team worked closely with our in-house behavioural change teams to ensure we were engaging with Howden employees around how their behaviours would match the new ways of working and tools we were proposing.
Collaboration was also a key success factor for Conde Nast, with a small steering group it was critical that everyone considered not only their own needs, but those of the talent that would shortly be joining their team. We facilitated lots of immersive workshops to trial and test different design hypothesis. At first nothing was off the table, and through debate and discussion we refined what kinds of spaces would be suitable for the teams occupying the office and what would create the right type of experience for new joiners to feel immersed into the brand.
Even the worst jobs inform your future decisions. Lucky for me, both jobs were great projects to be involved in. I had the pleasure of working with an excellent team and forged good relationships with both clients. What has been most enlightening for me is that both these projects were designed pre-pandemic yet have still been successful in a post-pandemic world of work. This isn’t by chance, for both projects particular attention was given to the spaces that would provide a sense of community and enhance connection to colleagues and belonging to the brand. What we’re finding now is that these spaces have become a real reason for people to be in the office, they are alive with people rebuilding those relationships that have suffered during the isolation of the pandemic and continue to provide choice and flexibility to suit evolving working patterns. They have a real purpose.
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