How European Design Thinking Is Inspiring Industries Across the U.S.

Designing a creative culture for success

The American way of doing business, especially with the creative industry, is the fascinating result of multiple contributions by entrepreneurs, thinkers and innovators from every corner of the world. It's a process that is as dynamic today as it was one or two centuries ago. In the business of design,  the European contribution, its methodologies and techniques, has proven to be highly successful here in the U.S., and I can attest to that. 

What exactly is European design thinking?

Design is a foundational pillar in Europe. Is is at the core of creativity no matter the industry, vertical, service or product. European design thinking is a particular approach to solving business problems with a clear process, defined roles, understanding client feedback and adopting a respectful creative emphasis. It's inspired by German culture—direct, clear, productive and efficient. This creative culture, which is now infused into most European design thinking, has allowed us to truly deliver on the creative output for our clients, and focus less on time based scoping and ridiculous rounds of feedback. It's an infectious culture that both our clients and our agency staff want to be part of. 

At Edenspiekermann, we design our client partnerships to be truly collaborative. We embed our teams onsite at the client, train them to understand feedback thoroughly, and to action it way earlier in the process to avoid the cumbersome and frustrating approval process at the end of a project. We are user-centered, and we apply that to every stage of the design process. For example, our ambitious project behind the new brand design and strategy for Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has become an example of efficiency in transportation service and digital products, where innovative design is implemented to solve real-world challenges.

Don't just design work, design a culture

Actually, designing culture and teams is just as important as designing the work itself. It's an area that creative agencies have neglected for years. The average human is productive for just three hours a day, and yet, as a whole, the creative industry still perpetuates a culture of long hours and inefficient work practices. It's no wonder that some of the very best creative talent is leaving for tech companies in Silicon Valley that emphasize benefits and contribute to a solid work-life balance. 

It's also a matter of being transparent when it comes to setting expectations on work productivity gains. This not only shows respect to your workplace, it also inspires everyone at your office to strive for excellence. This may seem like a blanket statement to some. However, when applying this European approach—on which Edenspiekermann prides itself—people respond wonderfully. 

It may take some adjustment and adaptation in the U.S., considering not only some cultural differences but also different policies on childcare, working parents, maternity leave, etc. In Europe, working long hours is not only discouraged, it is frowned upon. Work-life balance is seen as a crucial part of great work, and benefits such as lengthy paid vacation and generous parental leave are strictly enforced to ensure staff are fresh and focused where they are working. No good work or client service comes when your teams are burned out, frustrated and exhausted.

Work smarter, not necessarily longer hours

I've always believed creativity doesn't come in a 9-to-5 box. Culture within the workplace is often the first thing that breaks when unrealistic expectations are enforced. And if you add today's fast-paced, always-on digital age to this equation, you get more people unhappy and unproductive when they don't reach their full potential. 

We encourage discussion about hours and work style (level of comfort) with a manager, and to work out a schedule that benefits clients (respecting their time zones), teams (respecting their shifts) and, most important, yourself and what you bring to the workplace. Of course, with a team of engineers, creatives, producers and business minds, the personalities and skill sets are incredibly diverse. Arrange this in a way that works for your agency output and client deliverables on a project-by-project basis. The results will not only reflect on client projects and team dynamic, it will really deliver a fresh perspective.

There's no denying that the U.S. is a global leader in business and innovation, due in no small part to the positive and effective "can-do" attitude. However, there's still room for learning, acceptance and implementation of European methodologies and cultural nuances—within acceptable parameters—in the U.S. This merging of the two worlds can really benefit not only American agencies, but also the many Fortune 500 multinational organizations who partner with them.

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Anna Ibbotson
Anna Ibbotson is CEO of Edenspiekermann L.A.