A People-First Place

Design Collaborative’s focus on designing for engagement starts at home.
Jun 5, 2019
Tammy Davis
Tim Brumbeloe

As an architectural and engineering firm, Design Collaborative has built its reputation on creating beautiful spaces that foster meaningful interactions among the people who use them. By considering people before buildings, the firm has created an impressive portfolio of people-first places created by a staff that offers expertise without ego. According to mechanical engineer and partner Craig Scully, “None of us is better than the sum of us.”

In a conversation with several of Design Collaborative’s team members, it doesn’t take long to find a common thread among diverse personalities and talents. Every one of them is clearly happy to be part of a culture that values individual input in the spirit of true collaboration. 

“Everybody’s on a level playing field on any project,” says architect Matt Elliott. “I truly believe we check our egos at the door.”

Elliott’s fellow architect Rebecca Martin agrees. “Everyone here feels valued,” she says. “Even when I interviewed here, everyone was friendly and welcoming and seemed to care about me, and I wasn’t even an employee yet.”

One way the company helps its people feel valued is by aligning them in market-focused teams that support their individual passions. Martin, who plays piano and has a passion for music, is part of a Workplace team that is designing a project for Sweetwater Sound. Understandably, the job has taken on a deeper meaning for her. “It’s been really exciting to be part of a project at a place where I’ve been a customer, too.”

No matter what a person’s role in the company, everyone at Design Collaborative has a voice. “We get a lot of really bright young staff and interns with great ideas,” says Elliott. “You can approach anyone in this office at any time.”

Electrical engineer Gaby Moynahan feels the same way. “This is a place where you feel as comfortable talking to a partner as a peer.”

In fact, Design Collaborative’s partners have three-walled, open offices, ensuring their accessibility. Just as it does for clients, the firm intentionally uses its workspace layout to foster collaborative interactions. Disciplines are intermixed rather than being organized by function. All levels of experience are mingled together, and the studio-like environment offers flexibility for people to move around according to projects and interests. 

Scully emphasizes the importance of design to a company’s ultimate success. “Great design is for people to interact with a building in a way that makes their life better,” he says. “It isn’t so much about the physical piece, but how people interact with the physical piece.”

It’s a component that can have significant impact on an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. Interior designer Lauren Elliott explains, “Without knowing the who-what-why behind [a workspace], we can’t do our jobs right,” she says. “Understanding how often you are in your workplace and how it affects your day is important. Environment matters.”

Design Collaborative has been intentional about building an environment in its own office that helps its staff feel appreciated and important. Everyone on the team believes that the well-being of its own employees translates into better outcomes for clients. 

Lauren Elliott likens the staff to a group of friends. “We work hard and play hard together,” she says. “We’re a group of friends and we go above and beyond for each other.”

The company sponsors a variety of group activities that range from fun events to wellness activities. Martin believes that the efforts support healthy employees and a collegial atmosphere, which increases her personal sense of value. Matt Elliott thinks that these group events help employees form strong bonds with each other, too.

“It makes the workday much different when you’re working with friends,” he says.

The hiring process also plays a key role in maintaining Design Collaborative’s cooperative culture. “Expertise is the price of admission,” says Scully. “Our interview process addresses more of the fit.”

Moynahan agrees. “The people who have made it here are the ones who have contributed to our culture,” she says. “We all work together and focus on building our relationships with our colleagues in other disciplines.”

In the end, everyone agrees that it always comes back to the people. “We always bring the focus around to the people, not the walls,” says Martin. “It’s about helping people do what they do – better.”

 For Design Collaborative, that holds true for both the buildings it designs and the people who design them. 

Design Collaborative

Address: 200 E. Main St., Suite 600 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802

Phone: (260) 422-4241

Website: designcollaborative.com

Years in Business: 27

Number of Employees: 74

Products & Services: Architecture, engineering, and interior design focusing on higher education, health care and workplace markets across the nation. We work best with clients that value relationships as much as buildings, and our goal is to make life better for the people who live, work, play, learn, heal or worship inside those buildings.

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