Thriving by Design

Design Collaborative positions itself for success by putting people first.
Jul 6, 2020
Tammy Davis
Jeffrey Crane & Tim Brumbeloe

the face of an economic downturn fueled by a global pandemic, the energy at Design Collaborative defies expectation. While other companies have switched to survival mode, this architectural firm has ramped up efforts to live out its motto: “Improving People’s Worlds.” 

“We’re problem solvers at our core,” says Associate Partner and Higher Education Studio Leader Nathan Woods, AIA. “We don’t just want to make our community better through design, but also through helping people.”

In the midst of the COVID crisis, Design Collaborative marshaled its resources not only to provide immediate relief, but also to look toward making future improvements. The company tapped its 3D printers to produce face shields for first responders, provided at no charge to healthcare clients. Woods and his colleagues are also proactively seeking to understand client and end user concerns to create better, healthier environments.

“We’re reaching out to the parents of college students to see what they’re hearing and what their concerns are,” explains Woods. “There are a lot of design opportunities to address challenges we’re facing to bring people back to school and back to work.”

Bringing meaningful improvements to people’s environments requires a collaborative attitude, both with clients and among team members. Design Collaborative has fostered an attitude of collaboration by building it into its culture. 

“We work really hard at communication,” says Ron Dick, AIA, director of design and one of the company’s founders. “We established environments where everyone is sharing, and we have a cross-pollination of ideas.”

Organizationally, the firm is focused on four primary market areas: higher education, healthcare, financial, and workplace with deep expertise in other markets such as industrial, multifamily housing, places of worship, among others. Architects may work in a particular studio or market, but they share ideas and resources freely across the firm. This kind of information exchange allows everyone to learn and grow, and ultimately clients benefit.

“I am excited by the conversations our healthcare architects and engineers are having with the other studios,” says Rachel Vedder, RA, senior associate and healthcare studio leader. “We’re asking and answering questions like, ‘How would infection control in a hospital translate to the college dorm of the future?’”

Not surprisingly, those internal conversations require a firm understanding of the clients. It starts with listening. “You have to understand what’s important to people,” says Dick. “On the external side, we start every project with clients by trying to understand their purpose and the problems or challenges they are trying to solve.”

This makes a difference to clients; what begins as a single project often turns into a long-standing relationship. Chuck Surack, CEO of Sweetwater Sound, notes that his company engages Design Collaborative for all its projects in Fort Wayne even though he has two experienced architects on staff. Sister Elise Kriss, president of the University of Saint Francis, cites a relationship with DC that spans more than 20 years, comprised of new construction and renovations of existing structures. Mike Packnett, CEO of Parkview Health, goes so far as to call Parkview’s relationship with DC a partnership: “‘Collaborative’ fits very well. Our projects with DC feel like partnerships, and it is evident that the company’s culture is focused on people, teamwork and relationships.”

Design Collaborative’s people-first posture means developing staff to build on each person’s strengths, deliberately recruiting a diverse talent pool, and creating opportunities for leadership throughout the company. It has been a deliberate process which has allowed the company to grow from its original three founders to more than 70 people. 

Pat Pasterick, AIA, CEO, and one of the original founders, stresses the importance of building a team focused on a broad range of talent. “When we started this company 28 years ago, we were determined from the beginning to build something that would transcend us,” says Pasterick. “We’ve had to maintain and distill a focus on the diversity of strengths. It has not only been empowering for the next group of leaders, but it has also improved the quality of our product. Our advantage really is our people.”

Indeed, Design Collaborative is thriving. Employees exude excitement not only about their work, but also about the company itself. They talk about doing what they love and making a difference in the communities around them. They define success not with dollar signs, but by a measure of personal fulfillment. Even in the current economic climate, the company seems well positioned to meet every challenge head on and ultimately to succeed. 

“To be able to flourish in good times and in challenging times like we face today can really define who you are as individuals and as a company,” says Adam James, RA, associate partner and workplace studio leader. “I personally believe the future at DC is incredibly bright; we have so many passionate people at our office who really care about the work we are doing and the clients we are trying to help.”

Dick adds, “Thriving to us just means getting better. Thriving means growing, and we’re getting stretched all the time.”

As Design Collaborative continues to bring award-winning design projects to life in Indiana and across the Midwest, others around the country have taken note. DC currently has work in progress as far away as Texas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. In addition, the company is attracting talent from around the country. 

“We’re drawing people to Indiana and back to Indiana,” says Dick. “Our reach has become much bigger than the region, and our strong people-first culture is attractive to talent who may not otherwise consider making Fort Wayne their home.”

It’s no wonder Design Collaborative has been named an Indiana Best Place to Work seven times. 

“We’ve created roles where people can apply their passion and values,” says Woods. “We create world class designs that are driven from the perspective of how to better serve our community. I’m not sure what more you could ask for. I think that’s why we’ve been thriving even through adversity.”

This relentless pursuit of helping clients, people, and communities thrive is evident in the passion for their craft and positive impact the company has on its clients, such as Turnstone, the Rescue Mission and countless other nonprofit organizations with whom the company has collaborated. Ultimately, what motivates Design Collaborative employees and leadership at all levels is bringing their clients’ vision to life to improve people’s worlds. 

Design Collaborative

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

Phone: (260) 422-4241

Website: designcollaborative.com

Years in Business: 28

Number of Employees: 70

Products & Services: Architecture, engineering, and interior design focusing on higher education, healthcare, workplace, financial and other vertical markets across the nation.

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