Learning from first-hand experience
Before I moved to San Francisco I was a designer at Bureau Blank. As a consultancy we valued the importance our clients’ specialities and knew great work begins with a deep understanding of the problem, the context around it and those who experience it. Research can take many forms but sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and get to know your client’s business from a holistic point of view. On a photography project for one of our clients, an expert developer and operator of energy businesses, I was lucky enough to experience this perspective with site visits in three countries.
Our first stop was a wind farm in Brazil. It was fascinating to see the huge turbines towering over the landscape, but it was the company’s social projects that really made an impact on me. I understood their commitment to sustainable energy but as we visited schools, arts classes and sports activities I better understood their vision of sustainable communities. Meeting the children who benefited from guitar lessons or learning how to grow vegetables gave their work a sense of authenticity I could bring to the designs I produced.
From Latin America we flew to Europe to visit solar energy and natural gas plants in Italy. The employees ensured we were properly instructed on all the safety procedures and wearing the correct equipment. It’s easy to grasp the importance of safety in principle, but as we stood on the roof of a factory fitted with solar panels, carefully harnessed to the support wires, the reality of the situation for those who work there ceased to be theoretical. When I think of the employees they’re no longer personas to consider, they’re real people with genuine use-case scenarios.
Our final location was Bulgaria where the alphabet is constructed with Cyrillic script. As I studied corporate newsletters and posters in a language I couldn’t read the familiar aspects of the business came into clear focus. The words may have been translated but everyone was dealing with the same challenges and goals. It was through these channels that the importance of a united brand shone through.
In total I traveled to five power plants with a photographer to capture images of the client’s work. Seeing things first hand brought a deeper level of understanding and a fresh sense of their mission. We may have spent the majority of the trip looking through a camera lens, but really I was looking through a new perspective, one I recommend seeking out in every client relationship.