A Look Back, A Look Forward

Recently, IDSA asked us to contribute to an article about designers returning to the studio and the work world post-COVID. You’ll find our reflections on the past year below, and can find the full piece with insights from design leaders and team managers across corporate, in-house, agency, freelance, and academia in the latest issue of INNOVATION magazine


As a buzzing multidisciplinary design studio, we are in our sweet spot when working shoulder to shoulder to build brands, products, and experiences for our clients.

Which is why COVID-19 could have been our studio culture kryptonite. But I am stoked to report that we’ve made it to vaccine season with our team intact, healthy, and ready to pick up the pace on new ideas we incubated in our downtime.

In looking back over the year, I sorted my thoughts using the PMI method, what “Pluses,” “Minuses,” and “Interestings” stood out.

First the Pluses.

With our foot off the accelerator at times, we were able to dial in our Operations, IP, and remote tools for managing studio design processes and strategies. This included a more robust onboarding protocol for kicking off new work that accommodated more client voices and captured more explicit inputs. Love it.

We also used our slower pace to dial up the marketing and business development models for Sprout Studios introducing a new service offering, Sprout Viz. This had been gathering momentum awaiting the right moment to go live. When the pandemic amplified the challenges of traditional photography, preparation met opportunity. Bam. 

COVID-19 has helped us calibrate the perfect mix of in person and work from home. This new cadence has led to an even more solid studio culture and healthier work-life balance. Peace & Freedom. 

And a Minus.

We are people-persons who miss face-to-face and are powering through zoom-to-zoom fatigue. When the vibe of day-to-day, hands-on interaction is the chemistry of what you do, it’s like the band isn’t touring anymore. While our studio albums are fun, we thrive live.

Then the Interestings.

Walking through an empty, silent studio where all the screens are lit up and crushing CAD remotely is a weird, Zombieland experience.

Finding that extended client team members were meeting each other for the first time in our Zoom project workshops. (And then build stronger client relationships around those relationships when client teams became more vested in the project.)

Plus a Few Questions.

Will the spirit of co-opetition that flourished — as entire industries leaned in together to solve hard problems through full-contact design thinking — persist?

How much staying power will the ‘Low Touch Economy’ have on retail? Will the requirements of click-and-buy shopping become sticky conveniences that don’t reset? 

Will the gig economy gain even more traction as knowledge workers find that former naysayers are now woke to the promise of work from anywhere realities?

And a Takeaway.

At its core, design is a problem-solving enterprise that loves to take on hard questions. To that end, COVID-19 wasn’t kryptonite, it was an x-ray that revealed the opportunities for problem-solving and value creation in every domain it passed through.

It was also a form of design calisthenics, where everyone, us included, was asked to question assumptions and think differently about familiar things. That reality can actually strengthen a team’s creative muscles. It did ours.

“Put us in, coach. We’re ready to play.”

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