According to Evodia Alaterou, senior associate design strategy leader for HASSELL, has led the development of design strategies for some of Australia’s largest projects including Sydney Theatre Company, McKinsey, and SEEK.

You have said: “Increasing the size of our team not only allows us to deliver more, but it broadens and expands the wealth of experience and knowledge the team possesses. Great design starts with great strategy, and great strategy starts with people.”. In this age of increasing technology and automation, how can firms reconcile that trend with what you have found? Is this something that only larger firms could do?

Our aim is to create places people love, and in order to learn what people love, you need to spend time with them, getting to know them, and knowing how they operate.

People activate places, they bring places to life, and they create energy, atmosphere, vibrancy and love. A beautiful place that is not being used is just a beautiful place. A beautiful place with people in it, enjoying and loving being there is potentially life-changing.

Technology, including automation, AI etc are all excellent tools that will increasingly help the process along, that will do more of the process work, and that will free us up to spend time on the higher value work.

These technologies do not create places people love on their own, they are useful aids to strategic thinking, not a replacement for it.

How much does a diversely qualified workforce really help a firm and can you provide some examples where it has added value to the outcome of your projects.

People are most engaged and deliver their best work when they feel like their contribution is valued and respected. Physical workplace design is probably one of the most tangible tools an organisation has to demonstrate how much it values its people, every single one of them with all of their human traits and idiosyncrasies.

Design provides an opportunity to be inclusive, to firstly hear all the voices and opinions, and make informed decisions about the workplace provision. It’s not to say if you ask for a jacuzzi you’re going to get one, most people wouldn’t expect it even as they jokingly ask for it in every briefing session.

We are, however, seeing workplaces change to accommodate the increasingly diverse needs of their people.

These changes can be really small, like providing carers’ rooms or faith rooms (both of which are quite commonplace now but not so much five or 10 years ago). Bigger changes see the provision of a greater variety of bathroom facilities, gender neutral options for example.

We’re also seeing more options for parents and pet owners, for people needing more flexibility in how and when they work, and for lifestyle services (gyms, day care, food and drink offers, entertainment options, life admin services etc) either in the workplace or in the precinct.

Not only do these extras bring vibrancy and activation to workplaces and precincts, but also to our cities and they benefit the local communities.

Explain your concept of customisation in terms the STC project.

When we first started working with the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) it felt like the Wharf was broken, that everything needed fixing. The space was under such pressure that the STC couldn’t imagine what the solution would be.

The HASSELL Strategy team was engaged to consult with stakeholders to understand the varied needs and help the STC prioritise future work. As with most projects there are time and budget constraints and the STC wanted to be sure that it got the best value from a masterplanning process.

We customised our approach to suit the stakeholder profile and the information we needed to obtain.

For example, we reached out to members and industry professionals via online surveys, allowing us to maximise our coverage and reach. We spent time with the production crew, really seeing and experiencing how theatre is made, from the deliveries of raw materials to the final sets being wheeled onto the stage.

We conducted one to one interviews with leadership to understand the broader context of producing theatre, and ran many workshops to explore all the angles of running a world class theatre. These include looking after philanthropists, sponsors and donors, reaching out to the community, attracting more members and theatre goers, making productions and administering the whole process.

Through this in-depth discovery the priorities for the masterplan revealed themselves, and given the inclusive nature of the discovery process, these priorities were wholeheartedly accepted by the STC and fed into subsequent masterplanning phases.

How does a knowledge of other languages, fine arts and psychology help designers in the creative process of coming up with new and unique designs?

The HASSELL Strategy team is unique in that we’re strategists, not designers. While most of us have a background in design, we do not do any actual design work, and this distinction is important. We combine our experience in architectural design with the many other fields we are skilled in, including complementary design fields (eg graphic, industrial), arts, business studies, psychology and technology.

This diversity means we think and communicate in many different modes, including analytical, mathematical, spatial, conceptual and visual. Our brains are malleable and endlessly curious.

We don’t know all the answers, we’re just bloody good at asking the questions, and agile enough in our thinking to interpret them into design direction recommendations.

Working closely with our designers means these ideas are then explored creatively through the design process to result in new and unique designs each time for each client.

It is because each client is different, that each design and strategic approach is different.