I attach a great deal of importance to my working environment. When I arrived at Renault in 1987 I was placed in premises devoid of any charm whatsoever. It’s fortunate that I discovered the facilities after I had signed on the dotted line as I might have had second thoughts and moved on somewhere else, it was that bad. The first thing that struck me was the carpet! Now the French like to poke fun at their British neighbors for the world of their own that they have developed, over the years, when it comes down to carpets in provincial hotels. Well this was worst, a carpet that even my English dog would have have felt offended, had it lined his proverbial dog house.
Design Centre industrial Loft
Not only was the Design Centre depressingly boring and uninspiring, it had the added attraction of being too small. This was a plus point in some ways, because a request for a move was more than justified. Being a financially fragile company, we had to find a solution at the lowest possible cost. We managed to take over 20,000 square meters in an old abandoned factory down by the Seine for our operations: the same place where Louis Renault had set up the company back in 1898.
What we ended up with may have been out of step with the rest of the company, but it soon became the-must-see area within Renault : a real cultural hotspot and then some more. And yet the environment was metallic and bare bones industrial, but we had plenty of zenithal light, plenty of space, as well as an abundance of colors and high impact graphics, all done with a minimal budget… A significant contribution to the recipe for a creative renaissance.
Environment and creativity is what this is all about. A nice comfy environment is not the objective, neither is an overwhelming decor that dwarfs the individual, nor a sound system permanently calling «Mr Dupont to the reception», nor hard rock music that rocks you away from that thought you had just a moment ago, just before that headache hit you, and that you just cannot remember.
What did I give as an objective to the interior designer who took the challenge of transforming this mechanical cemetery into a creative hive? First thing first, to encourage a sense of pride for all the design community who would enter the Design Center each morning. Entrances are there to communicate who you are, what you are, and what a clever bunch of innovative people work there, and that : whoever is entering the place has to know that they are dealing with people who are simply demanding in terms of excellence. As I often said : «Good enough is not enough if you dream of becoming great».
Where else was our attention directed to? We’d found that, by a bit of luck, our building was delivering «Northern light», the best according to generations of great artists and draughtsmen. We had the space, we put in many plants to break up the rigorous man made structure, we put lots and lots of display areas to pin sketches and internal chit chat… is that it? Of course not!
The most important is yet to come, we gave all our attention to that all important area in a design center, the coffee spot. Where else do you exchange with others, from within your studio or from another studio, or the studio engineers or the cleaning lady who comes from Senegal and whose son wants to become a rap singer?
The coffee spot is where minds relax, where minds are receptive, exchanges take place, informal evaluations follow up, advice is given to the new recruits, the color and trim girls and boys with their unusual feathers, remind you to think color as well as form and function or feasibility, or cost or performance, or that innovative hinge mechanism that seems to continuously grown in size… We set up a sketch corner where every studio were asked to display renewable work, a place was also given for the outside world, be it new trends, hobbies, events and «just out» on the market.
A few years later in 1997,when we decamped to our brand new design home west of Paris, at a place called the Technocentre, to house all the creative teams and units of the company, able to accommodate 8,000 people, included the 270 that then made up the Design team, (the Design team then grew to a total of close to 500 within the next 10 years).The key advantage of the Technocentre was that it enabled the Design team to rub shoulders – one could say brains – on a day to day basis with literally thousands of colleagues beavering away in product and process engineering, purchasing, and so on. Well this was the theory, it turned out not to function as well as some thought, most technically minded people still looked upon designers like a chicken looks at a fork.
On the down side we were away from the busy, exciting life in the city and now more likely to meeting grazing cows on the way to work rather than the real changing world of our customers.
And then there was the building… very clean and almost clinical, modern to the last visual criteria of the day, functional and rational as well as desperately lacking in warmth and humanity. I quickly understood that we had left our future in the hands of the architects and that we were in danger of losing our souls, our joie de vivre, the spring of the cuckoo clock was broken.
It also turned out that this physical move came about at the time that we were living a technological revolution, and very quickly this resulted in a major process shake-up through the massive arrival of digital equipment, power walls, and all eyes on the computer, with what we aptly had named : G3D, for Global Digital Design Development.
Studios were silent, designers listened to their own music, earphones riveted to their ears, nothing on the display boards, some boards still had their protective covers… Each studio had set up little coffee corners… The ice age was upon us..
It took an enormous concerted effort to melt the ice, to alter the route of this sea mammoth, and it started with an analytical comparison between our old lively studios and our newly appointed, deadly boring, thinking shops. What we did find led us to implement a 5 point plan, here it is :
1 – Are we in Design?
The entrance to the Design Centre was the subject of much attention, we imagined it like a decompression chamber, a long corridor welcoming the visitors with soft music in a darkened environment where projected images led to the message «The future has never been so close»…
Changing exhibitions, be they technical, or product related were regularly organized to add interest and provide exchanges between design staff and visitors.
2 – What happened to our identity?
None of the new studios had an established identity, so we organized that each entity should define their specificity, through color, graphics, texture, lighting, plants.
3 – How about communicating?
This became the most significant part of the project which was continuously refined, we established weekly presentations, we insisted that a minimum number of paper images of in progress projects be displayed to encourage exchanges. Design and innovation are propagated through exchange, by creating sparks that result from rubbing brains together, which eventually becomes a little flame, before becoming a roaring fire.
4 – How about getting together?
All studios were encouraged to set up speak easy corners, fitted with soft furniture, close to the coffee machine, surrounded with a well run trend corner, and a screen showing the latest trend missions that had been undertaken.
5 – Can I give you a hand?
All new designers were assigned an experienced designer, a volunteer, to help out in their integration, this becoming all important in the digital age, when each designer had his or her eyes riveted to a wondrous screen.
Progressively the design activity once again found its lost impetus, the spirit was back, it did so at the same time as it confirmed the impressive reduction of product development time, 20 weeks all in all, associated with a design development cost reduction of 51%, thanks to the intensive use of a highly innovative digital process, G3D, thus aligning itself on the world’s most efficient manufacturer in the area of speed.
Clearly the actions we took to rethink our environment, making it more human, softer, better, as we moved into our new digital world made it possible to find a new balance, yes we had lost the plot for a while, but you know : it’s never too late to live happily ever after.
Patrick le Quément is a world famous Car Designer. Patrick’s motto is: Design = Quality; as SVP Renault Corporate Design, his structural changes were to develop an independent and innovative formal language, turning Renault Design in an effective brand name.
Patrick is now working as independant Designer, and President of the Advisory Board “the Sustainable Design School”.
‘Great workplace is not espresso or sushi launches, it is stunning colleagues: we help each other to be great’ by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (Blue Ocean for your innovation commitment).
‘Pushing people out of offices, employees run into each other, generating ideas and solutions’ via @johnsonwhitney (Why Innovators love constraints).
‘Google London show-off funky office’ by @lucykellaway (For creativity, forget the funky office).
‘If you’re working in a terrible place, then start-up a new place in your head‘ by Brian Millar, strategy director at Sense Worldwide.