2×4 design studio: “Every project starts with a conversation”
We recently interviewed Jeffrey to learn what makes 2x4 unique, and to understand the process they follow to tackle each project. He emphasized the importance of getting to know clients and understanding their goals.
Jeffrey Ludlow is a professor at the IE School of Architecture and Design, where he teaches courses for the Master in Strategic Design of Spaces and the Bachelor in Design. He also runs the 2×4 office in Madrid, a design studio that works on diverse projects in multiple fields. Their list of clients includes Nike, Herzog & de Meuron, Kanye West, MoMA, Prada and DFI.
“Every project starts with a conversation,” Jeffrey started. “When designing something for a client we try to view it from the point of view of the customer, which is a big part of the planning. And what we try to do is find a specific point of view that is the point of view of the client—but within the broader context of their world and their sector.” This allows for greater creativity and enables 2×4 to create effective projects that achieve their purpose. “Some people sort of call it the strategy, some people call it design thinking. We just always called it the first phase of our process,” he added.
When 2×4 is approached by a client with a specific project, the first step is to listen carefully to understand what they want. Jeffrey considers this to be part of the research phase. “We look at their offices. We go visit them secretly,” he said. In one recent case they dropped by the client’s store and bought some shoes, in order to gain insight into the service, the ambiance and the products. Although this isn’t a formal meeting, it provides valuable information on how the client operates.
2×4 tries to remain somewhat anonymous in their work, as everything they do involves collaboration with their clients. “In a way, it’s not our portfolio; we’re hired to do this, and so it’s very important for it to be the client’s work. It’s a joint process,” Jeffrey explained. “The studio and the client have to work together, like two chefs cooking in the same kitchen.”
Of course, one of the most important aspects of the studio is the team. It’s a combination of individuals with great talent in different areas. “Here we try to have half and half in terms of architects and graphic designers. But at the same time, we have a whole other category of subconsultants.” This category might include lighting designers or programmers, depending on the nature of the project. Even though some employees are hired exclusively for certain projects, every team member is important to the company.
When developing a design for the client, it’s best to focus on the big picture, and avoid thinking about the end result as a solution to a problem. A problem can have many solutions, but there might only be one that will tick all the right boxes. It’s important to keep asking questions, which will lead to other questions, until the client’s vision is revealed. According to Jeffrey, “it’s almost like 20 questions, and once you arrive at something (after those 20 questions), it’s not necessarily a solution, but now you know more about the client.”
Communication is vital, especially when talking to a client. It’s important to describe your ideas clearly and directly. “You’re not going to explain economics and mathematics and quantum physics to everyday people,” said Jeffrey. In other words, it’s essential to be able to communicate complex ideas in a way that’s accessible to your audience. Describing a concept in a narrative format, for example, will likely prove more effective and meaningful than a traditional PowerPoint presentation.
2×4’s unique strategy for taking on projects is part of what makes them a leader in their field. From the very first meeting with the client to the implementation of the final framework, Jeffrey and his team prioritize communication and clarity. When it comes to design, creativity is combined with careful planning and efficient execution. Not only do these qualities make 2×4 stand out, but they represent the fundamental values that Jeffrey and his fellow professors strive to impart throughout their courses. At the IE School of Architecture and Design, students learn from the top industry professionals of today in order to become the leaders of tomorrow.