How Selfless Collaboration Elevates Design

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Haril Pandya
Haril Pandya
Haril A. Pandya, FAIA LEED AP is the Senior Vice President, National Design & Practice Leader at NELSON Worldwide.

NELSON Worldwide’s Haril Pandya explores the importance of selfless collaboration in A&D to continue to elevate our industry. 

selfless collaboration

Why is great design so critical? And for that matter, what is “great design”? Who determines if the design is great? Is there a jury? Is it just simply public opinion? Is it how many awards are on your shelf?

We have been taught ever since design or architecture school that design needs to be excellent. We judge “excellent” in comparison to something else. So, if there’s excellent design, then it stands to reason that there must be bad design. Right?

It goes without saying that architecture and design is a blend of art and science. And yes, both of these components can be elevated. Think about what we knew in science 50 years ago versus today. What about forms of art or media today versus 50 years ago? They’ve both evolved, and one can even say they’ve been “elevated.”

office lobby with greenery

The Importance of Selfless Collaboration

Whether you are a recent graduate fresh out of design school or you’ve been practicing for 35 years or more, every project we take on – no matter how small or big – the solution is rooted in design. That is fundamental. It’s what our clients seek us out for, it’s what we are known for, and it’s the core of our mission and our purpose.

Design can be an egocentric profession at times because it is personal and, therefore, subjective, despite the fact that its outcome is for the masses – a contradiction in many ways. So how do we take something so personal to us and simultaneously be critical enough to give it the perspective it deserves, to make sure the solution is the best?

Now more than ever, it’s critical to combine our experiences, our expertise, and our life stories to produce the best possible outcome. Whether you’re an architect or designer, an accountant or a manager, we are moms, dads, artists, musicians, sculptors, photographers, writers, chefs, athletes, and more. These life experiences, when combined with our professional experiences, are what allow us as professionals to generate the best solutions.

office lobby with modern lighting example of selfless collaboration

Mentorship is Leadership

So why work together? As individuals, we can be critical or compassionate, opinionated or constructive,  egotistic or educative. The design profession is an apprentice-based field where experience is handed down from the more senior to the more junior, year over year, project over project. So how do we assemble all of that knowledge, whether it’s fresh and new, rooted in innovation, or gleaned from lessons learned over decades in multiple project types and places? Teamwork.

Whether the goal is to amass as many design awards as possible, or earn your license, become a fellow, contribute to a social cause like diversity, or advocate for the licensure of interior designers, they are only achieved if our sense of design and our ability to be self-critical is elevated. I am fortunate enough to be in a firm with incredible minds, incredible talent, incredible experience, and incredible diversity – with leadership playing a key role in mentorship.

Elevating design is not a box we check. It’s about how we challenge our beliefs – our fundamental perception of design – and implement them to show our clients that something can be more beautiful or can function better without costing more. It’s how we convince our clients that doing something strategically valuable today will help their ROI in the long run. Still, it begins with convincing ourselves that design is critical and that we are critical to design.

reception area example of selfless collaboration in design

Looking at Projects as Growth Opportunities

We have been collaborating across diverse practice areas to get opinions and challenge ourselves and others. There will always be a budget, and there will always be deadlines or other constraints. But that doesn’t stop the greatest architects and designers in the world from creating tremendous and beautiful solutions.

We have the tools we need to elevate design in our brains. The brain allows empathy, compassion, and curiosity, and the by-products are innovation, creativity, strategy, and beautiful design. I challenge everyone reading this column to reach out and find two or three people you work with regularly and two or three you don’t normally collaborate with and ask, “Can I have your opinion on something? Do you mind looking at this for a minute and giving me your thoughts?” At that moment, design has instantly become elevated.

The most beautiful or functional objects we see and use every day are not created by a single person. There is a team of experts that possess a wide variety of experiences that each play an important role. Artists can sign the bottom of their paintings, and architects can be memorialized on plaques, but it’s with a team of people that those outcomes happen. So reach out, challenge your design thinking, challenge the way you’ve been looking at a project for weeks. We are all here to help each other elevate design.

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