Several years ago, I moderated a panel at a design conference in Dubai. Among the panelists was a guy from Boeing, who dazzled the crowd with a slide show of the interior of the 787 Dreamliner. It was a view into an aviation experience that could make you forget what a nightmare travel has become: spacious, bright, with big windows, and a cabin that glowed. It made you want to grab your passport and go.
Turns out, the designers behind that vision of aviation’s future (as well as the bulk of Boeing’s portfolio) mostly hail from Teague, one of the powerhouse design firms of the Pacific Northwest for the past 80 years. And the man at the helm is John Barratt, an exceedingly well-traveled Brit, who’s done stints in Paris, Hong Kong, Eindhoven, and New York, before settling in Seattle as Teague’s President and CEO.
During his five years at Philips Design, he worked under the passionate and poetic Stefano Marzano, eventually heading the strategic design team for Philip’s telecommunications projects.
At Teague, Barratt has tried to shape the culture by focusing on three principles: 1) Creativity Always Wins; 2) Allow the Best to do Their Best; 3) Hardware has to be Humble.
“My job is to create conditions that will attract the best, and an organizational structure that will allow them to do their best work,” he says. “There’s a tendency in the creative world to have designers overburdened by things that aren’t where they add most value. I try to make sure that doesn’t happen.” As for the third piece: “Hardware is on a second tier to content or the experience,” he says. A radical idea for a company that also counts HP, Microsoft, Panasonic and Samsung among its clients.
Area firms are increasingly coming to Teague for thought leadership. For Microsoft, Teague produced a variety of thought-provoking pieces for internal consumption to help executives envision the future. For Boeing, Teague developed an innovation curriculum to help the organization apply a design process to problem solving.
“I see my role as infusing a few strands of Barratt DNA into the macro Teague DNA, rather than turning it upside down and shaking it,” he says.
Here are some of Teague’s latest, greatest hits:
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The Gateway One, All-in-One PC.
The Paperclip Lamp.