As the first principal of HASSELL’s strategy team, Evodia Alaterou combines data with curiosity to determine what exactly makes ‘good design’.
The South African-born designer studied architecture before doing a Masters in Environmental Psychology. She now leads a team dedicated to developing a deeper understanding of the people at the centre of HASSELL’s projects.
It mightn’t be as glamorous as designing skyscrapers and luxury homes, but Alaterou admits it’s the perfect fit for her.
“I realised early on that I wasn’t a superstar designer,” she says.
“I was always interested in the people who were going to occupy the spaces and asked questions like: ‘What do these people do? What kinds of lives do they live? How will the space enhance their lives?’.”
These days, Alaterou’s team analyses the data of a project over a long timeframe, sharing insights that help businesses fine-tune their strategic objectives and heighten organisational performance through figures like attendance numbers, visitor numbers and overall employee wellbeing.
One of their most recent projects was a series of Australasian workplaces for the engineering firm, Arup.
The collaboration started in 2013 by understanding the business, employees and culture within the region. Over the following six years, the project went far beyond just aesthetics to create new workplace guidelines, pilot projects change the way Arup engaged with clients and collaborators.
“Our aim was to bring strategy to life through design,” Alaterou says.
“Arup wanted to be more than an engineering firm. It wanted to be a trusted advisor and more visible in the local community. It was exciting to see that happen through the new guidelines and strategy.”
Alaterou’s strategic thinking has also come in handy on other HASSELL projects, including the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering and the Sydney Theatre Company.
As part of our ongoing series on Australian principals, ADR sat down with Evodia Alaterou to chat about her new role and how strategy begets beautiful architecture.
What drew you to design?
I always wanted to work in a profession where the product of my work was real, something that people could see, touch and interact with. Even though I didn’t know much about architecture when I was a teenager (architects draw pretty buildings, right?!) I loved the idea of creating something that one experiences and that has longevity. At architecture school, and in my early career, I learned how complex buildings are, how much technical detailing there is (not my strength!) and how long it takes to go from an idea to a built product (challenging for someone who gets bored quickly!). Fortunately I also learned that there are many career avenues within design and I set off to find my niche.
What has been your most memorable project to date?
The project that pivoted my career into strategy was the HQ for IPC Media (now TI Media) in London. I was working at Bennett Interior Design and my role on the project was to translate the brief into the early space plans. It opened a whole new world to me. The brief was done by DEGW, and it was brilliant to see how it connected the business of publishing magazines to spatial design and defined the type of working environment that would best support that business. During that time, I participated in interviews with business leaders, including fascinating discussions with various editors of well-known magazines, and loved hearing their stories about their businesses and what was important to them. I was hooked! I had to learn more. Shortly afterwards, I joined DEGW as a design strategist and haven’t looked back since.
What is it like working in the strategy team?
Strategists are different to designers because you don’t go to university and walk out as a graduate design strategist. Design strategists are made on the job and those interested in the profession come from varied and diverse backgrounds. In the HASSELL Strategy team we have qualifications in architecture, information technology, fine arts, industrial design, real estate and psychology, and this diversity means we think in many different ways. I love the fact that our strategists are inquisitive, they have an incredible thirst for knowledge, be it about our clients and their businesses, industry trends or the world in general. This brings a richness and completeness to our work, so that our design strategies are customised for each client and ready to be brought to life through design.
What advice would you give yourself (and young designers) today?
Nobody knows all the answers. I think if you pretend to always know, you’ll never expand your knowledge. Be confident with what you know, but be ok with not knowing everything. That gives you permission to be curious, to go and learn more and talk to others because ultimately things work out better when done together.