At Maike Design we strive to…

How do you define what is really important to you? Your fundamental values, both personally and in business. You just kind of know them right? Have you ever tried to clearly express what those things are? Its surprisingly difficult to do!

Earlier in the year I did some work with my business coach and we did an exercise to identify my ‘Guiding Principles’. I’ve heard it called various names on podcasts or interviews and had actually already done the exercise previously but then hadn’t followed through to work out how to make it useful until I went through it with Roland.

It is quite simple – write down 100 sentences starting with “At *Maike Design* we strive to…”

The thing with 100 sentences is that there aren’t 100 completely different things you can write. I didn’t manage 100, I think I got to 80 or so. I started off with all the obvious ones …listen to my clients, design to engage all the senses, support local craftspeople, respond to context and site, etc… and when I got to about 20 and I’d run out.

Then it started to get interesting, because 20 isn’t enough, you’ve got to keep going. I started to repeat myself but each time it went a little deeper and was a little more specific. The sweeping statements I’d made early on were being unpacked and examined more closely.

Once I had it all written down, looking at my sentences I began to re-arrange them into groups.  I saw that my aspirations fell into 4 main categories: Design, Clients, Personal and Business. Within each of these groups I looked at how similar statements could be further grouped and summarised into more concise sentences.

The key to the Guiding Principles is that there are to be no grey areas. They are actionable and focussed statements that will always be at the core of everything I do. It took a couple of goes to find just the right words.  It really helped to have someone to work through them with, so find a buddy if you’re going to do it.  I am really happy with what I’ve ended up with – they do reflect how I strive to run my business and its nice having them clearly expressed and easy to communicate.

We collaborate:

Our design projects are a team effort. We listen and value the input of our clients, builders and consultants.

We work with nice people:

We conduct ourselves considerately, respectfully and with care and choose to work with people who will behave in the same way.

We work with dedicated people:

We are dedicated to providing a quality outcome for all our projects and have worked to put in place carefully considered systems and processes. We choose to work with people who are also dedicated to our processes and the successful completion of our projects.

We create thoughtful design:

We believe that the best designs are a delight to experience and we work to ensure our designs are a unique reflection of each project’s context and client.

We believe in the importance of details:

We create spaces that celebrate the nuances of daily domestic rituals as a balance of beauty and function. We value quality construction, craftsmanship, bespoke detailing and honest materiality.

We communicate efficiently and honestly:

We take responsibility for our projects and provide solution-oriented support for our clients throughout our process. We do not shy away from transparent and upfront communication even when the news isn’t good.

We are thorough:

Documentation is the best way to communicate the design to others, so we ensure our process is thorough and documentation is concise.

We charge fees that allow us to do great work:

Our fees reflect the quality of our work and the time taken to create unique, thoughtful spaces and ensure our projects run as smoothly as possible. To do this we work on projects that have realistic budgets and clients who understand the value we can bring to their project.

We look after everyone involved:

The process of building a home takes time.  Its success depends on forming a solid and lasting relationship with those involved. Family is a key consideration in everything we do. This includes our actual family, professional family and client’s family. As an organisation we care for everyone immediately involved in our process as well extending to the people that they care about as well.

What does a design business need?

The full review of my business and process had been in the back of my mind for quite a while.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who has plenty of good intention but no real way to direct them into something productive.  I’d listen to some podcasts, make notes in my ‘Business Development’ notebook, maybe do a recommended exercise or two and then get busy …so I would put aside the plans and the notebook for another few months.

I thought I’d quickly catch up you on a three main areas that I had been considering as a way to get clear on what my starting point was.

These are ideas I knew would be part of my overall direction but I had decided on each in isolation, without any overall strategy for implementation.  I’ll write about them all separately to go into each of them in more detail as I work through them.

The first is my general process.  Since starting Maike Design I have been tweaking each project and how it is presented to clients.  I arrived at the current general outline of my process through roughly testing what worked and what didn’t.  I originally started with the same main phases of Concept Design, Design Development etc that we are all taught, but quickly realised how big these stages are and how much each of them contains.   I now have a set of stages and sub-stages that I am generally happy with.  During my review so far I have started to look at what outcomes I need for each stage to successfully lead into the next and then designing the process from my clients’ point of view – what will they need from me to ensure that the project is as enjoyable as possible and to feel like that stage of work has been successfully completed.  My goal is to fully review and thoroughly document my process.

As a way to get myself moving, at the start of this year I did the Myers Briggs and NEO-PIR tests.  I know that not everyone is convinced about the validity of being able to sort personalities into easily definable traits, but for me it was a great way to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses.  It started me thinking about what parts of the practice I want to be responsible for and what I am not best suited for.  (In the interest of making this an open discussion…I was an INFJ and in the NEO-PIR test scored relatively evenly apart from creativity and organisation, apparently an unusual combination, where I was right at the top of the chart).

The results led me to my second idea: automate as many repetitive non-creative tasks as possible to allow for the maximum amount of time to concentrate on the design aspects of my projects – so combine high levels of organization with high levels of creativity.  I also hope it will allow me to be more productive and to scale the business when I’m ready.   Already I am a pretty organised person, I love a good filing structure and have a system of to-do lists that make me feel calm and happy inside.  But I found that for every project I would pull bits and pieces from past templates, start files from scratch and spend time working out or tweaking things that I could have already worked out once, if I’d taken the time.  My goal is to not make any technical decision more than once unless it is in the context of a future process review.  I don’t just mean a set of practice standards or letterheads, I mean everything I can possibly capture ahead of time in presentations, notes in schedules, drawings standards and administration tasks.  I want to be able to dedicate as much brain space to producing creative and thoughtful designs as humanly possible.  That and my inner organiser is happily rubbing her hand together at the thought of all the systems and templates I am going to have to implement to make this idea work.

Finally, the third is to approach each project as a chance to exchange ideas and make sure this is key part of my process.  One mistake I made when I first began was overestimating how much most people know about the design and construction process.  I hadn’t realised that in some cases their only exposure to a design project is what is shown on reality tv, which is not in fact, reality.  I have decided to build my entire process around providing plentiful and clear information every step of the way, even for the basic stuff that I had previously assumed was known.  I would do everything I can to foster a relationship that encourages questions and where possible pre-empts what they will be.  I believe that the better understanding of the practical and theoretical aspects of design I can pass onto my clients, the more they can be genuinely involved in the project and confidently feel an intellectual and emotional link to the design and the decisions that are being made.  I don’t want my work to seem like a superficial, fashionable response, smoke and mirrors, or an outcome that I magically and perhaps randomly arrive at.

All three of these ideas need to work together as well as being part of a larger brand and business strategy.  So, armed with a full notebook and a mess of other ideas, I have decided to get serious about it.

Hello, let me introduce myself


Thanks for visiting.

These posts will be a place to share our design inspiration, current work and updates on how we are developing as a studio.

I didn’t aspire to running a design practice when I first started my career.  I had always imagined myself working in a large, established practice.  I wasn’t a business person, I was a designer – so starting Maike Design wasn’t a well planned or particularly well executed undertaking.

First of all, I’ll step a little further back for a minute… After working in a huge team to deliver a multi billion dollar project, I had just landed a job at my favourite Architecture firm.  My dream job.  I had been wanting to work for this practice since first started studying design.  Their work is amazing and I was a little star struck just being in their offices.  At the same time, I started my Architecture Masters so was working part time and studying full time.  A couple of months in, as a result of the exhausting long hours on the previous project my body just packed in.  My immune system stopped regulating itself, my face swelled up like I’d been stung by a bee and I could barely make it through the day without needing to have a sleep.  It wasn’t great.

I was trying to work out how I was going to balance my health, work and study (and who knows, maybe even have a little bit of time for some life) when the opportunity to do my own project came up.  It seemed to be the answer I was looking for.  I could balance various deadlines without being tied to normal office hours.

And that is how I started.

I was only trying to replace a part time wage while I was studying.  This eased the financial transition but didn’t provide much scope to employ outside help. Like many lean start up practices, I have been doing everything myself while also trying to do the actual project work.  I built a passable template website, designed my own logo, set up all my own documents and have an embarrassingly clumsy excel spreadsheet where I keep track of my profit and loss.

As well as starting financially lean, I started lean on time.  Until now, this has been a part time venture.  Since starting Maike Design I have also finished my Architecture Masters, built and run a shared workspace, renovated (sometimes actually on the tools) two houses for my partner and our family, had two babies and started an Illustration practice.  This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to stop and examine my business to see what it can do when given some full time attention.

While I still have projects running at various stages I have been making sure I take time to spend with my new little family.  Right now, as I’m writing this our second baby is 4 months old and she’s asleep on a pillow on my lap.

I have decided to use this period as an opportunity to completely renovate my business, examine every part of my process and overhaul my systems and templates.  I’ve always been a very organised person but lately I’ve gone from being not-a-business-person, to an obsessive business podcast consumer, an enthusiastic systems junkie and a hesitant but optimistic planner of future success.

I’ve found that while there is an overwhelming amount of general business information available, there is very little discussion around this aspect of architectural practice beyond the traditionally taught processes.   I don’t think these should be automatically assumed to be the best way of doing things.  For Maike Design Studio I particularly want to create a project process that puts an emphasis on making time for creative exploration, client involvement and communicating the value that thoughtful design decisions can bring to any built outcome.

I’d love to start an open and frank discussion with anyone interested about alternative methods of delivering architectural projects.  Hopefully we can share our ideas of what it takes to set up and maintain a successful design practice.  I hope that by documenting my journey here it might be helpful to someone in their business.

See you again soon!