Heightening awareness of design-driven objects.

Interview with experience consultant laura guido-clark. Cusp 2011.

we created a color palette for 111 navy chair made from 111 recycled coke bottles and collaborated with their internal team to drive the aesthetic towards a singular and “velvet” finish.

In anticipation of Cusp Conference 2011, we are telephone chatting with guest speaker .
[DesignApplause] What do you call yourself professionally?
[Laura-Guido-Clark] I think you started with probably the toughest question. But I think we kind of landed on “experience consultants” because we’re trying to shape the human experience. How color, material, finish, and pattern, the skin of surfaces, affects the human experience.

[DA] What’s your background? How did you evolve into an ?
[LGC] I’ve always loved science and loved design so while in college I didn’t know if I wanted to be a doctor or a designer and found out the processes were really similar. And of course I wound up being a designer and my degree is in interior design. But I went back and studied textile design. A bit later when with my former partner, we were getting many surface design projects. BTW, my partner retired and I’ve since been on my own nine years. But I discovered how much I loved working with surfaces, what they could do, and how you would engage whether you put your hand on a fabric, held a cell phone, sat in a car, all of these experiences became important to me and as well as how it made people feel.

[DA] What’s your office environment like?
[LGC] It’s colorful. It’s a combination of old and new in terms of furniture. Of course the surfaces are quite tactile and engaging. The walls and work tables are white because we have to view color. It’s a warm environment, a lot of natural light. And it’s homey.

[DA] You mention natural light. Is that the best light to test color?
[LGC] Natural light is great, it’s an ideal light. But we have to test in all lighting environments. We are very mindful of the context of things and how they’re used. If your product resides in fluorescent lighting, then we test with that light.

[DA] What’s the non-natural ambient light in your office?
[LGC] Our ambient light is warm light rather than cool. So no fluorescent unless in our test areas.

[DA] I’m in the middle of writing an article about buying LED lighting in 2012 aware that the incandescent has been congress mandated to cease and desist. What’s your opinion on LED’s?
[LGC] We’re aware of LED development but I need to learn more about it before I can comment. But lighting is indeed going through a revolution and we’re getting closer to where we can really control our lighting environment experience. It’s how we feel and respond in lighting environments, it’s an active vs a passive experience and that’s exciting to me.

[DA} The new LED's coming down the pike are very high-tech, some almost artforms. I'm all for the government, in this case, forcing the lighting manufacturers to create a more energy efficient and aesthetic light source. Do you get involved in shape?
[LGC] What’s nice, our team is getting involved very early on and we’ve been able to educate our client that color is not a band-aid and we in fact do get involved with shape that addresses humanistic qualities and materialities. So, while we’re not industrial designers we are asked to weigh in on many aspects, in particular the humanistic aspects of our products which can range from a car to a toothbrush.

[DA] What disciplines make up your team?
[LGC] We are cross-disciplined with graphic and industrial designers, and marketing strategists. And we are global.

[DA] A tempting phrase the following question, “are your solutions only skin-deep?” How deep do you go?
[LGC] We do go really deep. What we realize and honor is intuition in design but we also have to honor process, and observation, and science. We’ve trademarked this process “Climatology™” and this process was in response to a company that had to change a large production line. And the company has to trust your opinion. It’s not enough to say that you have this feeling that pink is the new color. Climatology looks at things in a much bigger way. We try to access the temperature, reading the social, political, economic, and emotional climate, and what we’re really looking for are the human values it impacts. The values and desires will translate into color, materials, and pattern. And we can substantiate these attributes and give a brand a DNA. So yes, we go really deep.

[DA] How old is the Climatology process?
[LGC] It was trademarked six or seven years ago.

[DA] How early to you become involved and what’s the typical time frame?
[LGC] Our research is generally three to six months. We take a lot of time to research what a brand is, what it stands for. Our due diligence seeks to make something come alive through our mapping process in Climatology.

[DA] You were quoted in this month’s “United States of design” issue of Fast Company, regarding the state of design in the USA. You say “sometimes we prefer the quick fix over the long haul. Our culture isn’t’ necessarily disciplined or long suffering.” It’s not unusual for designers with global experience to say European business may be more emotion driven, while the US may be more a marketed-to culture business mindset, less about the heart and more to where it’s going, an implication of a long-haul objective. What are you referring to?
[LGC] Maybe I’m looking at it from a different standpoint. If we talk about Japan I’m thinking in terms of patience more than process. I think in our culture there is a lot of due diligence and in the projects I’ve been involved in, Japan for example, there’s also a sameness in due diligence. I’m talking about the patience in results. And I’m thinking how quickly we cycle things. There is something to be said about, let’s think about kids and their expectation of what technology has brought, even on a global level, that things are happening very quickly. When I think about Sony for example, how they had the patience to penetrate this market and they have shown they are pointed to be in it for the long-haul. I do believe that there are cultures that are more disposable, that we’re really looking at it on a different basis of sustainability. I do believe the US is also research driven and looking at sustainability but I wouldn’t say that patience is number one in our culture.

[DA] Agree with the patience thing. May we quote you again? Two years ago, in the Fast Company blog, you made a little opine on focus groups and how they don’t work when used to determine a creative solution. The comments on that post were very insightful and well articulated as well. Did you have any fallout from that article?
[LGC] I got more of a positive response than a negative response. Steve Jobs has even spoken against focus groups. You can’t be asking for that sense of validation if you do. When you’re talking about your due diligence, if you really feel that you’ve brought in best, and have done your homework you should stick with that. People will always have their opinions and it’s about who you listen to and who you’re trying to please, and I often feel that in a focus group you’re trying to please everyone. And your product begins to look like that and you wind up not making a statement on who you really are.
[DA] Yes, many times a focus group is used as validation within your own company, to sell those who are remotely involved in the creative process.
[LGC] Right, in those situations you want guarantees. I don’t know of any design process where risk isn’t involved. When you want guarantees you move towards safety. And with safety and many times you get compromise and you start to lose your point of view. Even Malcohm Gladwell in his book Blink, he talks about how companies would have missed out on some of their best introductions if they would have listened to focus groups. Herman Miller is a good example. No one wanted the chair in the focus groups.
[DA] You’re talking about the Aeron chair. The focus groups hated that chair.
[LGC] Herman Miller did six years of research and the chair becomes number one in the market. Yes, and that’s the risk part. And now you have to give Apple credit. they’re not asking for permission, they’re doing what they believe in.

[DA] Personally, I think folks hire us because of what we like. I like the classics, and as a result I get to work on a lot of projects I like that have classic overtones. How do you take yourself out of the equation when your recommending this or that?
[LGC] I think it’s very important to start each project with a blank canvas and always ask the “what if” as well as truly understanding your client’s point of view. They’re hiring you for your expertise but it’s not about imposing your sensibility, but by the same token you are trying to make things exciting for them. It goes back to you also having that deep understanding of who they are and where they want to go. So I try to become really empathic and try to be a very good listener.

[DA] How do you present your surface and color solutions to your client?
[LGC] The first thing we do is talk about the “why” behind it. So there’s always this feeling that it’s substantiated and something deeper. And if it’s a deep dive its Climatelogy can be a very in-depth report about what’s going on and what’s the humanistic values and how we’re going to move towards that. The presentation always involves visuals that show how we got to where we got to. Because everything we do is tactile it involves the actual color, material, and finish because that’s what really is going to move them. That’s the end result. That’s the visual response we need because that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the marketplace.

[DA] When you wish to match color on different materials, say the interior of a car, the dashboard, the seats, the carpeting. How do you go about it?
[LGC] We work with different lighting sources but many times it has to be about reflectivity and absorption and sometimes we don’t want it to match exactly. Sometimes we want it to be a rich experience. Many times it’s letting the material be its optimal self. If it’s a wood you want to be aware of the grain. If it’s leather you probably don’t want it to be perfect like vinyl. If materials can be themselves then they can work together.

[DA] Yes, totally agree. Graphic designer Jim Sebastian championed a color matching system called the “Colorcurve System” that addressed the tendency of some colors to appear different on a variety of surfaces, materials, and in different lighting conditions. This system was based on light reflectance curves and not on pigment formulations. It made it possible to match color that would remain closely matched even as the light source varied. The company, Colorcurve System Inc., is nowhere to be found but this scientific color matching system was so good and precise it must exist somewhere under another name. That’s what instigated this question in the first place. I used it several times when an exact match was required for printed brochures, packaging, product and tradeshow exhibits.
[LGC] I own the system and used to work with it many years ago. It was an intuitive, precise system to use. Sorry it isn’t still around!
[DA] editor’s note: Jim Sabastian responded, the Colorcurve System is discontinued. He’s aware of a European system called “Natural Color System” and suggests looking into it.

[DA] I’m going to ask you a question I think I know the answer to. Are you digital or sketchbook?
[LGC] I am very much about imagery and collage which puts me half in each world but I am not amazingly well versed on the computer. I’m a much more hands on person.
[DA] I’m somewhat surprised, my research leading up to our chat placed you as a techie. So you are a traditional creative embracing the technology.
[LGC] Ha! I embrace technology but my team is well versed. I use technology a bit differently. I’m really a hands on person and that’s why I’ve always loved color, materials, and finishes. It’s a 3-D world. The imagery on a screen is beautiful but I love the 3-D world.
[DA] I do to. And it’s a gift to be able to visualize and see the 3-D, not everyone has the gift.
[LGC] Aren’t you excited about the new 3-D technology and how they can build up layers to create models. Incredibly exciting.

[DA] I’m not as well-versed in 3-D as maybe I should be. But I’m aware that many new capabilities are being announced almost daily. Are there any schools that specialize in color or surface design?
[LGC] I have taught color at CCA (California College of Art) but I haven’t found any teaching color or color theory. What I find most is different disciplines when it comes to applying color, like industrial designers or even interior designers who are a little more comfortable, but they’re not as comfortable with the medium because there is not a lot of exposure to color. The thing I find most important in teaching color is to eliminate the fear for rich experimentation. That’s where wonderful things happen. It’s really about experiment.

[DA] What drives your projects? Are you given products that present new materials you are not familiar with?
[LGC] What drives the projects is your curiosity and asking “what if” and looking at the materials as if you’ve never seen them before even though you’ve seen them a million times. And you work with others who really understand materiality and really research the new materials and think about how those properties might be used as an asset to the industrial designer to create something that is more revolutionary. And it really depends on what the industrial designer is trying to say. If they’re trying to do something classic we research differently than if they’re trying to something that is say, more experimental, driving towards technology. Those are things we have to understand before we start.

[DA]
Designers who get into research like you do might all say the most exciting projects are the ones they know zero about. It forces the issue of starting from scratch.
[LGC] Yes! It’s exciting, exhilarating when you start with that blank empty piece of paper. It’s very satisfying when you are asking yourself questions. It’s unfolding all the different layers which is such a great part of the process.

[DA] What inspires you?
{LGC] Nature is an amazing inspiration, like watching what true beauty is and how things change. From a color standpoint no one does it better than nature. There’s also that whole sense of humanity, this sense that we’re so much more connected than we sometimes acknowledge. And I think that the human heart, this ability to be open, this ability to reach out, and be vulnerable, it also inspiring. And that we can ask the question “why” and we can be continuously curious. That gives a reason everyday to get up because you get to learn something new if you choose to.

[DA] I’m pretty opinionated (maybe to a fault ) about color and textures, there are ones that I love and hate. Just look into my closet and those colors and fabrics are there and have been for long time. What about you?
[LGC] I can’t say that I dislike any one color? For me color is about context and relationships. So while something might not feel right to me, maybe isolated or in a pair, i can add a third color, i can love the whole, all the colors together. To me it’s about playing and understanding the relationship they have to one another. One of the exercises we actually did in school was to take a color that they liked and one they hated and then find a color in the middle that married them. And most of the time they actually didn’t hate that color anymore.

[DA] How do your “surface” yourself and your living environment?
[LGC] I like to layer things. In terms of clothes I like things simple, I love the whole unexpected idea that something might be a salvaged edge or show me that there was a human hand involved. I love this whole idea of juxtaposing different types of materiality. In terms of what I surround myself with and be inspired, I love color and I love different materials and have different materials mirror one another like a linen sofa, a glass table, a velvet cushion. I like the way materials talk to one another. I drive a little red Mini Cooper which makes me happy. She’s something like a cartoon. I just love her.
[DA] What’s her name?
[LGC] Her name is Beatrice. I like to have fun and I like to explore. I like to be out and about, I like to observe things. I love to people-watch. I think that’s incredibly telling. I guess that’s kind of a reflection of how I approach my work.

[DA] How does your own work represent your own philosophy on the state of design?
[LGC] My work is humanistic. It often solves problems but it also allows you to discover things in your life that perhaps you didn’t even know that you needed and it engages you in a way that is much deeper than just the surface. It’s not just a pretty thing. It’s something that you want around for a long long time. That’s a big goal. You know, the primary tenet of eco-consciousness, you have to want it, you have to create desire. Because, even if it’s made of an eco material and you don’t want it around, it’s no longer eco-conscious.


[DA] Laura, what’s your life like now?
[LGC] Last year I kind of had an epiphany, I realized I spent a great deal of time trying to discover what a client’s DNA was and encouraging them more of who they were in the world but then sometimes I wasn’t doing that for my own company. And that epiphany allowed a shift into looking at life beyond work and I’m in the process of forming a non-profit, hoping that it makes people smile and makes people feel like they’re respected and valued, mainly through color. I’m really excited about that. I really can’t wait to interface with more kids and make changes that maybe can make the world just a little bit better.
[DA] That sounds absolutely wonderful and great.
[LGC] Yay!

[DA] What’s next?
[LGC] I’m speaking at Cusp Conference next week as you know. And we’re going to introduce the non-profit at Cusp which is exciting. And other things on the horizon: cameras, textiles and furniture finishes.

[DA] Do you have a question?
[LGC] Tell me about DesignApplause.
[DA] Another story! Laura, we now have a better understanding of what an experience consultant is. See you at Cusp.
[LGC] See you at [ Cusp ]

[ guido-clark background ]
Laura Guido-Clark is a designer whose passion is to make the human response to products more meaningful through color, material, finish and pattern. Through her trademarked process, Climatology(tm), she researches and tracks relevant changes on the social, political, economic and emotional fronts. She distills these collective traces of the consumer consciousness into a thesis about their needs and unfulfilled desires – figuring out what people really want and why, often before they even know it themselves.
Her multiple disciplinary design studio collaborates with companies like Kodak, HP, LG and Toyota – as well as start-ups across industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, and home furnishings. Her textile and pattern design include work for HBF, Pallas, FLOR and Uncommon. As a result of her expertise, Laura has been invited to speak both nationally and internationally on design, and is an expert design blogger for Fast Company magazine. [ l-gc studio ]

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