While the culture of collaboration is evident in a variety of ways throughout the BeLit family of companies, a recent initiative at True Design Studios took this core value in an especially creative direction.
“The traditional architecture education is typically focused on design, with little time spent on the industry and the technical aspects related to structures, waterproofing, dimensional lumber, etc.,” explains TDS Managing Principal Damon Roby. “While these are addressed in a general sense, often the first several years of a person’s career is spent learning all the basics of construction, CAD systems, and so forth. Likewise, there are many on our team who possess a strong sense of design but come from non-traditional educational backgrounds, which also requires them to spend a lot of time learning those same basics.”
The result? When combined with client demands and project deadlines, Damon says the opportunity to practice anything beyond technical skills can sometimes seem virtually non-existent.
“It was taking several years before some of our team members were getting a chance to engage with their first love and what likely brought them into our industry in the first place: Design,” he says. “We created the Collaborative Design Studio as an opportunity to improve employee engagement and to embrace BeLit’s Core Values – especially Passion and Collaboration.”
Beginning in August 2022, the first session of the Collaborative Design Studio (CDS) was composed of nine TDS and Apex employees from a variety of backgrounds who were invited to meet monthly in a collective environment focused on knowledge transfer and exchanging ideas specifically related to conceptual and schematic design. The inaugural group volunteered to participate in 12 sessions and provide essential feedback for improvement going forward. The pilot program wrapped up this summer with participants breaking into groups to put their skills to the test in a design competition judged by a panel of individuals from throughout the company.
“All designs submitted were well thought out and beautifully presented,” reports Damon. “Elisabet Matysik and Katherine Slava received an Honorable Mention for Best Presentation, while Kylie Eubanks and David Murray were chosen as the winners, each receiving an award and a gift card as a token of appreciation for all the hard work they put in.”
Beyond the satisfaction of any award, the group had clear takeaways from their CDS experience that underscore the value of the program. For those on the production team in particular, it was eye-opening to learn what goes into initial designs and base plan development for a new home design. Kylie, who studied architecture at the University of Florida and has worked in the Production Department since April of 2021, says she loves being part of a learning environment and has enjoyed both participating in and assisting with the CDS initiative.
“Belit loves knowledge transfer,” she says. “While the production team helps build the product, we are working with designs that have already been conceived. CDS allowed us to gain a sense for what it’s like to start from the very beginning, understand a client’s needs, and then work through the challenges that arise as the design comes together.”
“I learned that the process is about so much more than how a house looks,” agrees Katherine, an artist with no formal technical training who joined the Production Department in August of 2021. “For example, I got a lot of insight into how difficult wall placement can be when you’re figuring it out from scratch. It’s a challenge to make sure everything fits, meets code, and is practical before you can look at the other more aesthetic details. Tackling the challenge first hand – even when it meant late nights and redoing things ten times – is what helped me understand all that goes into creating a custom home and made me feel so proud of the finished product.”
Elisabet, Katherine’s CDS project partner, has been with Apex since the summer of 2020 and says she also had a positive experience: “I picked up good information and enjoyed collaborating. I also learned a lot about Revit from Kat and had a lot of fun.”
A second session of the CDS is already underway. Damon believes that providing ongoing opportunities for people who work on different aspects of a project to better understand each other’s roles and viewpoints will only strengthen the company’s Collaborative Design Process, the cornerstone of what sets BeLit apart in the industry.
“The Collaborative Design Studio is the first of its kind,” he explains. “It’s just one part of our continuing education initiative as we strive to help team members ignite their potential and create a work environment in which everyone can thrive.”