At Stby, we have always put learning at the centre of our studio practice. After all, if you position yourself at the forefront of design research, and have the ambition to push the boundaries of the field, you need to keep developing continuously. This has never been a burden to us. To the contrary, we have always found that the people working in our studio are eager to learn. They want to work at Stby because they can learn.
But how does a small studio like ours, with 10 people across two locations organise this? It is not as easy as you may think. Studios like ours are very project driven. Learning on projects is of course always happening, but as a small studio you can only learn so much from projects you do yourself. There may be some time available between busy projects to explore more widely, but when you only think about learning once things quiet down a bit, there is little consistency or continuity in the learning process.
With our partners from the global Reach Network, we started to experiment with a structured approach to learning from intercompany exchanges among a wide circle of peers. This network comprises 18 studios in 22 countries on 6 continents, with over 150 people working at the Reach Network studios. A very rich and diverse pool of peers to learn from! We regularly do projects together, in different varieties of partners per project. In these projects, a lot of learning on projects was happening already. But we also saw a larger potential to learn from each other’s work and perspectives on design research in a broad sense.
Over the past few years we have landed on a format that brings us together every two weeks in either the Reach Craft Studio or the Reach Sparkle Studio. This refers to two key aspects of our work around the globe. Firstly there are the tools and methods that we use, and that we need to keep reflecting on and developing. These are discussed in the Reach Craft Studio, one at a time. One of the 18 studios presents a brief case study, focusing on ‘one thing that worked well’ and its impact on the client or partner. Secondly, we learn about, and further deepen, the soft skills needed in our work in the Reach Sparkle Studio. Think of ‘active listening’ or ‘sparking curiosity’. How does one do that, from Indonesia to Mexico? These soft skills have all kinds of cultural aspects to learn about, and there is not one way of doing it around the world. Same applies to the tools and methods actually, we learned.
Design research is not only about clients and the participants, but also about us, the researchers / for me, the Reach School sessions are a safe digital space where we reflect on ourselves, as human beings, and what makes us happy professionals.
These sessions really help me to broaden my perspective beyond the Western design education and context that I have developed my practice in. Active listening in many countries is rather different from how we do this in the Netherlands. Good for me to know, but also for our clients.