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As the President and CEO of Teague, John Barratt is responsible for positioning the company for future success and building upon Teague’s rich heritage. During his three years in this position, Barratt has guided Teague in building and strengthening partnerships with some of the world’s leading brands. The result of these collaborative partnerships is design work that has been recognized with a growing roster of international design awards.

Born in the UK, Barratt began his career in 1990, working as a product designer at Exatiss Concept Design in Paris, France. After nearly five years of product development and international business relationship management in France—having experiencing an initial taste of both the highs and lows of French design consulting—he moved to Philips Design in Holland. At Philips, Barratt worked under Stafano Marzano, learning how to design at a truly world class level; the move proved to be a career defining step.

Barratt spent five years at Philips, holding leading positions in their Hong Kong, Eindhoven, and New York Studios. In his final role, as Strategic Design Manger, Barratt’s focus was twofold: to establish and implement a coherent brand language across Philips’ ranges of telecommunication products; and to initiate, mentor, and implement a future-focused Ideation Process for the burgeoning mobile phone market.

Barratt’s global experience and both operational and strategic roles at Philips Design facilitated his move to Teague in 1999; he also credits his work at Philips with the discovery of his true passion – building, leading and inspiring great teams to achieve extraordinary results.

Hi John, it is great to talk to someone who has such a big influence on my flying experiences and on the experiences that so many other people have with products that have been designed by Teague.

This year (ed.: 2006, when the interview was conducted), Teague is celebrating its 80 year anniversary as well as the legacy of founder Walter Dorwin Teague. Walter Teague was dedicated to furthering the role of design in everyday life and played a pivotal role in establishing design as it has become today. Could you give an example of how his philosophy has influenced the way the company is today and how we might find examples in our everyday life that can remind us of his design philosophy?

Walter Dorwin Teague was a true pioneer; he understood the importance of emotion and believed our ultimate goal was to create a pleasurable experience for the users of the objects we design. Seems simple enough, though over the years I believe the industry has somewhat lost sight of that. Design today has become a bit of a business press darling, in some respects that exposure has raised the bar, but I don’t know that the design industry has properly capitalized on that. I’d like to see more examples of design leading business; educating, mentoring and demonstrating the massive economic potential of emotionally relevant products.

Teague today is very much the same as it was, we subscribe to the same basic founding philosophy – to create a pleasurable experience for the users of the objects we design.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner exterior markingsTeague has had a design partnership with The Boeing Company for over 60 years now, which is an amazing achievement by itself. I was wondering, how did Teague find a way to keep innovation alive in their designs for Boeing and for the benefit of the people traveling in their airplanes, without losing connection with these end-users and their flying experiences?

Designing for the transportation industry is an extraordinary act. Aircraft typically require a development time of sometimes up to 10 years, add to that a service life of at least 10 years, and your talking about designing a product today that will be still in service in perhaps 20 years time – designing a product that remains relevant for two decades is no small feat. And to have been doing it for 60 years is truly unprecedented. In that context we keep innovation alive by recruiting the best talent from the world’s leading design schools, and we team these individuals with extremely experienced aviation design experts. The combination can be quite explosive! We have also developed what we refer to as a Collaboration 2.0 of sorts, a philosophy in which we reach out to like minded individuals or companies globally to partner with us on these fascinating design journeys.

We set the highest high expectations for ourselves, that being said, the design of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner required a new design process to ensure those expectations were met, and ideally, exceeded. Our primary objective was to re-enliven the spirit of flight, which we accomplish by creating a distinctive, collaborative cross-discipline design process and research strategy. This new approach not only allowed, but demanded that the end user, in this case, travelers the world over, were considered foremost. We invested an unbelievable amount of time into uncovering the unarticulated needs of consumers, in my mind, those implicit needs that so often fall to the wayside should be considered equivalent, if not more important then affirmed desires.

I can imagine that designing for flying experiences is a hell of a job in which you need to consider many different important factors such as safety regulations, security regulations, the fact that people are cramped in a rather small space for a long period of time with all the related complications, etc., etc. How can you make sure that you are creating a pleasurable experience for travelers and still take all of these factors into account? What are the most important compromises you need to make in the designs?

Our long standing relationship with Boeing significantly aids in the process. As we were the first to design for commercial flight, we were somewhat responsible for setting the initial guidelines. It’s relatively easy to design around rules and regulations when you are party to establishing those guidelines. There are parameters certainly; there are limitations to consider as there would be with any environmental design project; however those guidelines in no way limit creativity, in fact, I feel they encourage innovative thinking.

frog-owned-emotions.gifTo get to the more emotional part of this interview, I found this nice quote at the IDSA website:

“When it comes to the product, sparks should fly.
People make purchase decisions instantaneously. In a matter of seconds, they have a good idea of whether you’re the right fit. Within that window, anything can happen and it’s 90% emotional. Today, understanding the sense behind the sparks requires more than just the same old approach to research. It requires new thinking, new techniques, and new ways of getting close to your audience in order to come up with breakthrough ideas and strategies.â€?

I a way you have touched here what I am trying to talk about on this website: unraveling (emotional) experiences to improve design, products, services and eventually touch people’s lives. What doesn’t become clear in this quote is what these new ways of thinking, new techniques and approach to research are. Would you happen to have any thoughts or suggestions on that? I have to warn you, an answer that is too complete could make part of this website redundant 😉 but I am indeed curious to hear more about it.

In terms of process and design methodologies I probably can’t add much more to this debate than your previous participants have. However I think I can maybe add philosophically. I believe today’s problems are terribly complex, involving social, cultural, technological and design trends. Within this context creating compelling emotional experiences requires much more expertise than any one firm can offer – I truly believe that. In recognition of that our Collaboration 2.0 approach that I mentioned earlier has been a real help, When we employ that approach our role becomes one of synthesizers, pulling in experts from different fields to work alongside us and our clients to address these complex issues. This pooled knowledge is powerful, and gets us closer to being able to create culturally relevant and emotionally engaging products.

philips-design.gifCollaboration 2.0 seems a vital part of Teague’s approach. The 2.0 part indicates that it involves something new, different from traditional collaboration. How is collaboration 2.0 different and could you give an example of how it benefits to the design?

There are different levels to Teague’s Collaborative approach:

  • Level 1 is our insistence on hiring talent that loves to work as part of a team. Internal collaboration, or teamwork, is a core value of Teague.
  • Level 2 is our extra-ordinary emphasis on client collaboration. Boeing 60+ years, Panasonic 18+ years, Microsoft 10+ years…HP….Samsung…. all long term, collaborative partnerships, some of which completely blur the traditional consultant-client relationships.
  • Level 3 is our desire to collaborate with peers. This requires tremendous self knowledge and the willingness to embrace knowledge from ‘outsiders’! We have partnered with over 100 peers from the industry over the past six years, always with one goal in mind – to create the optimum solutions for our client’s complex problems.

The new interior design for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner was done by Teague. First of all, let me congratulate you and the Teague team on that, it looks like something completely out of the ordinary airplane interiors. Real amazing stuff. In a quote I found as an introduction to your speech at the DMI conference you stated the following:

Boeing 787 Dreamliner interior“Passenger well-being, on both an emotional and physical level, relies heavily on collaborative and research-orientated design practices. In designing the highly-anticipated 787 Dreamliner, Teague and Boeing employed a variety of design research techniques to determine the needs and desires of commercial travellers the world over. Defining and responding to the collective needs and desires of air travellers fueled the design process, permitting new, unconventional ideas to flourish and succeed in an industry renowned for strict standards. The results surpassed expectationsâ€?

Could you explain us a bit about this high profile project by Teague? I have also been wondering, the expectations you mentioned, were they based on travelers experiences? In which way have you made sure that passenger well-being as you said, was secured on both an emotional as a physical level?

Again, understanding and responding to unarticulated needs was key. It’s easy to react to what’s in front of you, a finished product, but what if the average consumer was in charge of creating the ideal product – what would that be, what would that look like? That’s what we aimed to do, to determine and respond to that ideal. Of course a lot went into that, this particular project had a global audience and had to translate accordingly. We endlessly validated and iterated full scale models, we sent teams across the globe in flight to directly connect to the current experience, we employed new research techniques across cultures, engaged in cross-team integration….we considered every single element that consumers would come in contact with, and we did it persistently with passion over a period of many years. It’s impossible to properly explain the process in a paragraph – basically we established a new wholly collaborative process and did that by organizing an amazing group of talent that was driven to design a product that was created expressly for the end user. We aimed not for our own ideal, but for the consumer’s ideal, a challenge to say the least, certainly the road less traveled, but what an incredible journey!

Samsung ProjectorBesides for Boeing, Teague has designed for many important clients such as HP and Microsoft. Which products do you consider to be the best examples that have made a difference in people’s lives to improve product experience?

I’m not even going there Marco! I dislike looking at our past work, always eager to look forward not backward. A cop-out? …maybe!

Haha, ok, I respect that John. But allow me to go back to your personal (professional) past for a moment. You have worked several years at Philips Design, who share a similar conviction of the importance of design in people’s lives. Recently, you had the honor of receiving the Design Management Team of the Year Award with your Teague design team. Teague received the award together with Philips Design.

With your experience in both companies and acknowledging that both have pretty similar goals in designing for people, what are the most important differences and similarities in bringing these goals into practice?

The similarities between Philips Design and Teague? Well Eindhoven and Seattle have about the same annual rainfall…other than that I have to say that the Teague team is much better looking than the Philips Design team! Being more serious for a moment, I think the similarities are quite substantial. Teague has a culture based on building long term relationships with customers; Boeing, Microsoft, Panasonic, Samsung, Hewlett Packard are all long term clients for Teague. That longevity enables us to act as strategic partners for many of these companies, in a manner not dissimilar to Philips Designs strategic relationship with Philips.

Philips Design had an enormous influence on me; it is a phenomenal company combining thought leadership with amazing tactical skills. I bring the knowledge I learned there to bear every day in my role at Teague. I am excited to be in a position that requires me to meld the heritage of Teague with the best contemporary thinking in the design world.

dislike.gifIf you would have to describe what “designing for emotionâ€? refers to, what would your definition and personal view on that definition be?

I think we’re starting to see a directional shift in the industry, ironically coming full circle, embracing the philosophies of past pioneers akin to our very own Walter Dorwin Teague. For example Teague’s work with Texaco in the 1930’s was what we today might call ’emotional branding’.

The role he played with Texaco interests me – acting as their Creative Director. He taught us that an emotional response involves creating a comprehensive story that touches many fields – branding, design, publishing, interactive and advertising. I think that approach would come close to defining my own view on how to design for an emotional response.

This “emotional brandingâ€? Teague did with Texaco interests me. When the current company Teague creates products, which elements of Walter Teague’s approach are still kept alive in the design process? Can we assume that products that are in the Teague portfolio are mostly products that create strong emotional responses?

We hope so! Of course some are more successful than others, but we do try to evoke responses on different levels – the visceral level (I love it, I want it, what is it!), the behavioral level (after use my respect for this product increases), and on the self actualization level (I want to be known as owning this product). As we design we attempt to cover these different types of responses and in doing so hopefully create products that are a pleasure to own and interact with.

In which way and to what extend do you feel designers can influence the emotional experience people have with their design, which in fact is a one-way conversation (the object cannot respond in the same way as another person could)?

Well in some ways isn’t that one of our goals as an industry – that the object becomes a subject, that can in fact respond? When you get home your dog is delighted to see you, ready to obey, play, challenge. Why aren’t products like that? Greet you when they see you? Wake up when you pat them? Know what mood you’re in? I think we have a LONG way to go in evolving our interactions with products, the future is bright!

Boeing Tiger Lounge

With over 15 years of experience, what would you say has been the most significant change in the design field since you started? And, in regard to “emotional designâ€?, do you share the opinion of Hartmut Esslinger (frog design) that it has been around for over 40 years or do you feel that in the last years a lot more has changed (compared to 40 years ago) in making products more fun, more emotionally engaging and just nicer to use/ own?

Most significant change in the design industry in past 15 years? The coffee is MUCH better today!

No fair, how can I disagree with Hartmut Esslinger, he’s one of my personal heroes! Talk about a fabulous firm and heritage. Frog owned my emotions in the 80’s as I went through design school. Each back cover of Form magazine displayed their wares – each and every one a winner. I am very jealous.

Earlier this year Teague was invited to present at the IDSA National conference in the US on the subject of ‘Staying Relevant’ in design. Because I believe in collaboration, I asked three firms I particularly admire to join me, they were One and Co (Jonah Becker), Philips Design (Scott Lehman) and Frog design (Mark Rolston). These three gentlemen are super talented and generous. Together we outlined the major trends that we collectively believe have significantly influenced the industry over the past few years, I’d like to share them with you now:

  • “It’s not about the object, stupid!â€?
    I guess its obvious from the title, but we believe today’s powerful creative’s realize that the object is just a prop – yes you have to design it faultlessly – but it’s just part of a broader story we need to be crafting..
  • Globalization
    What an opportunity, lets all embrace this one. Learn to understand different cultures, their idiosyncrasies, their ideologies, and then translate them into relevant products. It’s also about learning to team globally – a thrilling opportunity.
  • Individuality
    If you go into a design Studio and hear words like ‘cool’ used to describe the work, run as fast as you can! The language of today’s design Studios need to be about “relevanceâ€?, “cultureâ€? “empathyâ€?… today’s marketplace is fragmented, hard to define, and driven by the cult of the individual. It’s a fascinating place, and it requires a new level of human understanding.

  • There’s no such thing as ideal conditions
    This one is particularly close to me heart. Timelines are short. Expectations are long. Budgets are tight… there’s no such thing as ideal conditions. The key is in taking what you have and still making it shine. Making it look easy. A task that requires unconditional commitment.

XboxTo conclude, could you give some pointers for designers that care for people but don’t know how to translate this into their designs? How can they “T(w)eagueâ€? their designs?

You mean pointers for those that want to be relevant in today’s design world, that’s how I might re-phrase your question. That’s a big one, I’d say… Work hard, hard like you REALLY want it, and get used to it, don’t think that it will stop one day – it won’t. Be sure that you’re comfortable with that, and that the important people around you are equally comfortable. Then, get out and see the world. Not only travel mind you, go live and work in a foreign country, preferably in a country where you don’t speak the language – that will teach you about the importance of connecting with people on an emotional level; – because you can’t communicate otherwise. Find an organization that will challenge you, one in which you’re nervous about being part of because you’re not sure you deserve to be there, and embrace it – everything about it. Learn to cherish being a part of a team, drive collaboration within your team, reach out for inputs – internally, externally wherever you need to. Listen like your life depended on it, hone those listening skills, then hone them some more – designers are notorious for talking when they should be listening, don’t fall into that trap – EVER. Respect what you do, AND who you do it for – design is an honorable profession, please don’t forget that. Be optimistic, be very optimistic. Drink 3 liters of water a day. And last but certainly not least, always maintain a sense of humor.

John, with these wise words I would like to conclude and thank you very much for your time and inspiration. Us designers will be sure to print out your final words and hang them on the wall above our beds!

Marco, it was a pleasure, thank you.

An excellent Spanish translation of this interview by Luis Lopez Toledo can be read at Chilepd.

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