How lists can alleviate mental load

More than once, in previous posts I’ve mentioned that I’d be lost without my lists. I’ve had a few people ask about how I use them to organise myself, so I thought I’d give you a quick rundown on my system.

If lists aren’t your thing, skip this one and we can chat more next month.

For me, lists serve two purposes. They alleviate mental load and they track progress.

Your brain can get overwhelmed a lot quicker than you might think. Did you know, your conscious brain can only process around 40 bits of information per second while your subconscious mind can process a whopping 11 million! When your conscious brain is trying to remember even a few extra things, it loses the ability to critically process additional information and you have less capacity for good decision making and creativity.

In a study by Stanford University professor Bav Shiv two groups of participants were asked to remember a number while deciding if they were going to have chocolate cake or fruit salad. One group was asked to remember a two-digit number and the other a seven-digit number. Two digits is easy to remember but in previous studies seven digits had been shown to be the upper limit of working memory. The participants with the two-digit number were more likely to make the healthier more rational choice of fruit salad, while the group remembering the longer number fell back on their subconscious impulse for the chocolate cake.

That’s only a small choice to make but it was a measurable difference when remembering just a few extra numbers. So why would you want to use up any of your precious conscious ‘bits’ trying to remember every last thing you’ve got to do.

Especially now that a lot of us have children at home full time, we fill so many different roles. These all have a set of jobs that need to be done, phone calls to make, deadlines to meet and things to remember. So many things.

My list is where I keep everything I need to do and remember so that I don’t have to remember. It frees up my brain and lets me concentrate on the task at hand.  It helps me to prioritise and make sure I’m making progress on the tasks that are the most urgent. On days when I feel like I’ve struggled through, it gives me a sense of achievement, because it’s a visible reminder of what I have managed to get done.

The first thing to do is to make a list of everything. I mean EVERYTHING, for every aspect of your life. Don’t worry about categorising them or thinking them through too much just get it all out of your head.  Try not to gloss over big overview tasks with one item. Break them down into steps so you can tackle one step at a time. I like to keep tasks small enough that I could get them finished in a day.

Now group tasks together. This could be into categories – projects, business, personal tasks, family tasks, things that need doing around the house. You might rather group them by the type of task they are – phone calls, deskwork, errands. Whatever suits the types of items you have and the way you like to allocate or block your time. If you notice that you have any large overview tasks, now’s the time to break them down into smaller components.

I have a few different places where I keep this information. For my general tasks I prefer to do this on paper and I have my list in my paper diary. In Asana I have my project process overview, yearly goals and ideas for personal creative projects, because they are less of a day to day focus. I also have some reusable lists for things like: everything I need to pack for the kids if we go away for the night or what I need to bring with me to a site measure.

At the start of every week I take some time to sit down with a coffee and review and update my list. I actually re-write it each week in my diary. I’m well aware this seems like overkill. But it removes all the finished tasks and helps clarify what I’d like to achieve in the coming week, I flag tasks that have a deadline or I need to prioritise. I enjoy the ritual or starting my week with a clear idea of what I want to achieve for the week.

To stay focussed I use a strategy of the Daily Three / Weekly One, which I first heard of through the BizChix podcast. Each day I select three tasks I will get done. Even if everything goes wrong in the day and I only get those three things done, that is enough and I’ve made progress. The Weekly One is a way to take on larger tasks. I’ve chosen to use this as one business development task each week. It helps me to make progress every week on business related jobs that are too easy to sideline for more urgent tasks.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, there’s never much time to celebrate small goals and achievements.

When you’ve finished something, get a big fat texta and cross it off your list. Take a moment to feel good about getting something done.

Using InDesign as a design tool

Part of my process review has been to identify templates to streamline the production of a project. In early design presentations these template layouts include sketches, renders, diagrams, plans and line drawings.  I had been making the layout pages in Photoshop only because this was the program I am the fastest at using.  I did have title block files set up but Photoshop isn’t made for layouts and it was certainly not the most efficient way of working.

So, I switched to InDesign, which is exactly made for doing this kind of work.

It does take a bit of time to get InDesign running smoothly which is the main reason why I hadn’t made the move sooner.

By reviewing past project presentations, I now have templates for every type of design presentation.  The templates are an outline of everything that should be presented at each stage.  They ensure the design thinking is shown in a logical way and nothing is missed.  The content will differ from project to project but the basic information required stays much the same.

Each one has three types of Master Pages with title blocks and scale bars – 1:100, 1:50 and Not to Scale. These Master Pages are used for every page other than the front Title page.  I use a non-printing reference layer for additional notes, instructions or anything I might forget.

There are a couple of tricks I’ve included in my templates that I wish I had know about sooner:

Table of Contents:

In the top menu select LAYOUT > Table of Contents.

In the pop-up box write the title you want to appear at the top of your table of contents.

Create a new Style called “Table of Contents” (you can of course call it whatever you like but why overcomplicate things?).

This Style will need to be assigned to the title of each page you want to have appear in your table of contents.

In the same pop-up box you can edit how your numbers show up. You can also change how your table of contents looks using the paragraph styles tool.  It can be as complicated or simple as you want depending on how far you go into changing settings.

When your document is finished with a title on each page, make sure the table of contents text box is selected.

Then in the top menu select LAYOUT > Update Table of Contents.

Like magic the table of contents will populate itself, no need for manual updates. Hooray!

Cross Referenced Text:

If you have the same text in multiple places then Cross Referenced text is your friend.  For example, you can write the project details once on the cover page and have them update in the title block on every page.

Make a text box on your title page.  Write your project title and address in the box.  This is your Master Text.  I have put an orange square around any Master Text in my reference layer so I can easily see everything that needs to be updated.

Create another text box in the title block of your Master Page or Working Page.  Click into the box so your cursor is showing.

In the top menu select TYPE > Hyperlinks & Cross-References > Insert Cross-Reference

In the pop up box, select the paragraph you want to use as your Master Text. It will populate the second text box with the same text as the Master.

When you have made changes to your Master text, in the top menu select TYPE > Hyperlinks & Cross-References > Update Cross-Reference.

Just like the table of contents it will update all text linked to that reference text.

There is also an option similar to Cross Referenced Text called Synchronised text.

Draw a text box and type your Master Text in.  Select the text box.

In the top menu go to EDIT > Place and Link and draw a new text box.  The text will automatically appear in the new text box.  Repeat this process for additional instances.

You can format the secondary text boxes if you wish.  If you make changes to the master text, you will get the yellow triangle icon on the text box alerting you that it has been changed.  When you update it will revert to the Master Text.

This option will work between multiple documents, if the changes are saved in the document.

I prefer to use Cross Referenced Text because it doesn’t copy the Paragraph Style into secondary text boxes.  I can use a large bold style on my title page and reduce the text in my titleblock.  The text will update but not the style.  The Synchronised Text method updates the text and the paragraph style so they all look the same.

Automatic Date:

The last tip is to automatically date your pages to show the date you print the document.

Draw a text box

In the top menu select TYPE > Text Variables > Insert Variables > Output date

It won’t necessarily show up correctly but will update when you print

You can edit how the date is shown by selecting TYPE > Text Variables > Define

Double click on “Output Date” where you can change the Date format to suit the way you want it to show up. For design presentations I use the month and year only. This means I can PDF a file ahead of the actual day I’m presenting it without having the date show incorrectly.

I hope these help you to streamline your workflow. If you have any tips of your own, let me know.

Maike Design bookshelves and workbench with artwork

Home has always been important

I have always felt that ‘Home’ is an important concept. So much so that I have chosen to focus Maike Design Studio on creating and investigating residential design. Now that we are spending more time than ever inside, the importance of finding or creating a place to retreat to that makes us feel at home should not be underestimated.

There is a beautiful phrase in The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard that for me perfectly sums up what a home is:

“…the house shelters day dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Architecturally, a space is a house – a container. It is the act of living in the space that creates a home. A dwelling (noun) collects us together with our loved ones but is nothing without the act of dwelling (verb) within it to animate and fill its spaces.

A home is not a transformative tool, but rather provides the space and stability to just be ourselves. It is without outside expectations and is a base that provides us with stillness and rejuvenation. It represents what is secure and familiar, in contrast to the potentially unknown world outside.

A home is mentally quieter, even when we are physically closer to the noise and demands of members of our household.  We allow people into our homes on our terms and control (or rely on social etiquette to dictate) the line between public and private. The ability to control and layer the graduated relationship between us and the rest of the world defends the intimacy of our home.

Within a home we’ve also got to think about the dynamic between all members of the household. One characteristic of 21st century housing is the importance placed on separated, private spaces. The provision of individual spaces for every family member can be seen now in Australia across all socio-economic groups.  Interestingly this contrasts with the parallel development of open plan living.

An ill-conceived large space that combines all the home’s living activities does not allow for retreat or differing activities. The only retreat option is to absolute privacy – individual bedrooms and separate studies. There is no middle ground. Not allowing for a range of functionality and spatial qualities has led to the replication of spaces. Kitchens sit alongside a fully equipped butler’s pantries, theatre rooms or retreats counter the open plan lounge.

It is not the size of the house but the spatial quality, adjacency and function of shared family spaces, considered both individually and as part of the whole that create a delightful home.  Finding the balance of zoning, screening and visual connection between spaces provides unique areas, each suited to their function but in constant dialogue with those adjacent.  This allows for differing functions to co-habit the same space.

The opportunity to create this sense of home for other people is a huge privilege and one I enjoy immensely.  During this period of social distancing, I hope that the safety and familiarity of your home is bringing some calm to your days.

How to capture your process

I know that we’re all creative and every project is different … except they’re not.  The concept and design of every project is different BUT the framework for the process can and should be reused and refined as much as possible.

With Australia in lockdown there is a lot of uncertainty around projects and workload.  Many of you are working from home and I know that while there is a lull in project work, discussion is turning to taking some time to work on your business.  So, although being stuck inside on your own is not great and things are stressful right now, lets keep busy and start documenting your workflow.

Before I started, capturing my process was a bit overwhelming.  I know I’m not alone and plenty of people are putting it off because it seems like such a huge task.  If you’ve got children at home at the moment, it is still really achievable – you can easily use small blocks of time to review individual sections.  There isn’t anything in this post that is particularly difficult or a secret hack for getting it done.  I’m pleased to say, it’s really not as bad as it seems and you should just get started.

Here is what I did.  I hope it gives you some perspective and perhaps a starting point if you’re doing the same.

I looked at a few different tools to capture my workflow.  There are plenty of digital tools, from complex mind-maps and project management apps, through to good old pen and paper.  I started on pen and paper, because I tend to think best when I’ve got a pencil in my hand but quickly became frustrated by running out of space as I added tasks on top of each other.

After testing quite a few project management programs I settled on Asana as my documentation tool.  I have been using Asana as a to-do list and since I’m a list kind of person, decided it was a good fit for this process.  I wanted to document a full scope project as the base template for future projects that would become a ‘shopping list’ of tasks for any smaller scope project.

Asana is a powerful project management tool which I’m completely underutilising for lists.  It does have great features like sub-tasks, notes, descriptions and integrations with the time tracker Harvest.  In the future I’ll be able to see the work times attached to this shopping list of tasks to help plan workload and project allocations.

I pulled out a bunch of past projects, both successful and challenging, and looked at how they were structured.  I did have a loose process I had been working with but with every project the process would change slightly.  When I was looking through the projects, I tried to define what contributed to the success of some that was missing from others.  I looked at everything from how the design was presented to when information was provided.  From this I ended up with a defined set of stages.  Each of these stages is a clear deliverable package – either a design presentation or set of documents.  These became the SECTION headings in Asana and each has an associated list of tasks.

Under these Sections I got everything out of my head in one go and listed every single task I could think of.  Everything from sending meeting reminders, which consultants need to be involved, what the package includes, right through to invoicing at the end of a stage.  I revisited the list over a couple of weeks, adding layers of additional detail.  It took a few goes to get everything down… all 19 pages of it!!

The idea of documenting this process is to make it repeatable.  Once I had the list there were three questions I asked about each task that would make it possible for anyone to complete it:

Does it break down into smaller tasks?

For example, the task ‘Site Measure’ includes a sub-task list of all the little bits and pieces beyond overall room size that needs to be documented and measured to accurately capture the existing conditions but could be easily forgotten.

Is there a template that could apply to this task?

This could be a canned email response, a drawing or document template or an information sheet.

Are there any documents associated with this task?

This refers to items like consultant documents, meeting minutes, contracts or photos.  If there are, I noted where they should be digitally filed in the project folder.

Creating a clear and detailed workflow gave me a set of templates that I need to create and showed me where I couldn’t articulate my steps as clearly as I would like.  I learned that my process was not clearly defined in the initial contact and pre-briefing stage.  I have since spent time working closely on what I want that experience to be for potential clients and how I can provide them with all the information they need to confidently start their projects.

There are so many details in this process that I can’t write about them all in one post.  If there’s any you’d like to know more about specifically please get in touch.

What does the process need to be?

Every business big and small has processes.  What differentiates a sustainable practice is the awareness and conscious implementation of this process.  Like many small business owners, I have unintentionally been developing a process through each of my projects.  It would be tweaked as I went but was a fluid development without ever giving myself the time or mental space to really consolidate the steps or consider how I wanted to operate.

The basic framework I have built my process around is pretty standard – I work mostly with a fixed fee using the design stages we are all taught in one form or another:

Sketch Design, Design Development, Construction Documentation and Site Attendance.

The issue I have with these stages is that they are BIG.  If each is undertaken as one body of work it is easy to lose sight of what it needs to achieve – timeframes are long and invoices are high.  To tackle this, I have been working with each one broken into around 3-4 sub stages.  These stages do not have allocated revisions but are specifically focussed so that comments can be rolled into the next stage.  Progress on the design and documentation is easy to track and is a clearly defined and tangible scope that each portion of the fee directly relates to.

In a previous post (this one – check it out here if you missed it) I outlined my goals for this review.  They all feed into the development of my workflow, which has to serve my clients, give me creative space as a designer and the allow for the future growth of Maike Design.

To serve my clients this process needs to effective and informative.

My Clients tend to be busy professionals with families.  They have plenty to take care of already and I believe that a big part of our job is to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.  By having a process where we take care of ‘all the things’ efficiently and effectively, the way we deliver our projects allows our clients to be involved but does not require them to be the problem solvers.

We need to communicate everything they need to know when they need to know it.  The ‘when they need to know it’ is important and by following a logical process the past understanding of the design informs the current stage.  The process outline being developed will capture all of these decisions and allocate them to the appropriate stage.

Often Clients say they don’t necessarily know what they want but they’ll know when they see it.  It is our responsibility to make sure the design intent and execution is communicated in our documentation and presented clearly.

To serve me as a designer the process needs to be efficient.

I believe two of the best things you can give to a design are a wide and varied range of inspiration and time.  Time for the ideas to percolate, for them to move through various subconscious filters and to be able to wander through the spaces in your mind, each time filling in a new detail or discovering a new opportunity.

I don’t want to spend time figuring out tasks over and over that I can do just once.  This process has to be efficient and allow me the maximum amount of time to spend on researching the background of an existing building and its context, really getting to know the needs of my clients, testing design ideas and enriching my design knowledge generally.

To be able to serve future aspirations for Maike Design, the process needs to be repeatable.

When I have someone working with me, I want the process to be documented and thorough enough that anyone on my team could technically jump onto any project and continue working on it at the standard my Clients and I expect.  I want my process to provide prompts through the process to make sure nothing is forgotten and information is gathered and incorporated into the project at the appropriate time.  This means that every detail of each step needs to be captured – what information needs to be gathered, where everything is filed, what templates apply, contact details of everyone involved and all the other nuts and bolts aspects need to be consistent between projects.

Now as I document my workflow and put together all the various templates and reference documents, the points listed above will act as my criterion for success.  In my next post I will run through how I am capturing this process and keeping track of everything.

Make things better

We have started 2020 with a heavy heart.

Australia has lost human life, millions of hectares of native bushland, thousands of homes and an estimated one billion animals and birds.  Our communities and delicate ecosystems have gone up in smoke and each day extraordinary fire fighters and volunteers are working to bring things under control.

I was going to keep writing about my process review but this is not business as usual.  In the face of a tragedy of this scale it didn’t really seem important.  There is another thought that has been growing during my review and setup that I wanted to share: how do we make a lasting difference to the world?

When I was little, I had a book called Miss Rumphius.  It is a story about a girl who was captivated by her grandfather’s stories.  He told her that as well as having adventures she had to do something to make the world more beautiful.  She grew up, went on adventures all over the world and when she grew old she lived by the sea.  Remembering that she hadn’t done what she promised her grandfather, she tried to figure out what to do, but she thought that the world was already quite beautiful.  Eventually after a patch of lupins brought her joy, she decided she would plant lupin seeds across the country.  Every year the flowers bloomed and turned countryside into a colourful sea of flowers for everyone to enjoy.

I think lupins might be a weed so the story kind of comes apart but the sentiment of having a responsibility to leave things better than you found them, however you are able, has stuck with me.  It is one of the reasons I am drawn to design and the built environment.  As a bunch of people, I love how thoughtful designers and Architects are.  I believe that well considered design has the capability to create change.  It can improve quality of life on an individual level and create social shifts and greater efficiency on a larger scale.

I have been feeling it particularly since having children – I think it made me look more closely at the world beyond my own lifespan and like many people, I have felt the larger, growing shift towards the realisation that things aren’t just going to work themselves out and the people that we have in the past entrusted to make high level change, are not.  The tragic events of this summer have shown the magnitude of what we are facing.

After having Flynn, our oldest, we realised that the plastic we put in the recycle bin wasn’t being recycled so did everything we could to eradicate disposable plastic from our lifestyle.  We then looked closely at where all our money was going.  We changed our bank accounts and homeloan to a more ethical bank, shifted superannuation accounts and changed (and drastically reduced) how we shopped.

When Kira was born I felt acutely how small our changes were in the scheme of things.  I couldn’t read the news, talk about social issues, politics or the environment without feeling helpless, upset and angry.  Eventually I made a decision – one thing I absolutely wanted for my children was for them to feel hopeful and know that they could always make a difference.

How was I going to teach them this if I was completely overwhelmed?

‘I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.’

Jana Stanfield

The response to the bushfires has highlighted how beautiful, supportive and generous people can be.  I hope that this momentum can be maintained to be the catalyst for real awareness and lasting change in environmental policy and planning.

As well as the immediate bushfire response, there are other wonderful examples of people working to create large positive scale change across a range of fields.  A few that I’ve found particularly inventive and inspiring are:

The Nightingale group have shifted the landscape of residential developments and proved that there is a better approach to inner city housing provisions than what has been provided by the previous developer-driven model.

A non-profit called Career-Tracker provide a professional network and support system for indigenous young adults through education and career opportunities that would likely not be available to them otherwise.

Photographer Jeremy Cowart and Michael Moore are putting together the Purpose Hotel where every aspect of your stay is linked to a cause or a need.  All the items within the hotel are sourced from humanitarian foundations or to support local creative industries.

Architects Assist is a platform for Architects and Building Designers to provide pro bono services to people who are affected by disasters to assist in the rebuilding of their homes and lives.

Over the last year or so I have been discussing this with other designers and colleagues and have found that I’m not the only one feeling like this.  But beyond donating some money, how do you get started?  As an individual, how do I find the time, traction and influence to create something bigger than just a single person?

I have plans that will be implemented as Maike Design grows.  I am working to provide a workplace that provides flexibility for the requirements of family equally to both partners.  I want to look at sharing with my team the decision of where a portion of our profits will go in order to contribute to social and environmental causes.  I want to provide an environment that supports and encourages ongoing education and development opportunities including engaging with community agendas.

These plans are all in-house and feel too small.  But I’ve got to start somewhere.

I don’t have an answer, just a lot of questions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas you are implementing to make a positive change.

In the meantime I encourage you to join me in supporting the organisations who are providing critical support to the victims of this disaster.  Every little bit helps.

Wires wildlife rescue appeal

Red Cross disaster relief fund

Or get some ideas of changes you can make from Instagram account be_an_unfucker

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!