Meet Our Team | VP of Design - Timothy Miller
What is the design thinking behind Blokable?
Our mission is to make housing affordable and accessible for everyone: how it is conceived, how it is sold, and how it is implemented. End users, including tenants occupying the buildings and building management companies, become a much more important piece of Blokable’s design focus than the typical project might consider. Millennials and boomers are going to fuel a whole new type of demand for living spaces as they converge on urban areas seeking culture and convenience, creating a whole new set of demands on the communities they live in. Blokable should be an easy-to-use tool for developers to pencil out their projects, a straightforward product for building management to operate and create efficiencies, and finally, a fun, delightful place for people to live and use.
Early on we knew that in order to create a new option to meet the growing demand by boomers and millennials who desire efficient living spaces, we had to think of Blokable as a product. Our design philosophy is built out of industrial product design, rooted in strong user experience research. We specifically push against thinking of what we sell as ‘architecture’. What we sell has to scale, meet complex user needs, integrate both software and hardware requirements, and be thought of as an industrially manufactured modular product. Traditional architectural thinking just doesn’t get us there. Instead, we refer to advances in airplane and automobile manufacturing best practices as we think through a problem.
Why design and housing?
At the inception of the company, we were discussing which aspects of construction we could disrupt. We explored ideas of how to help improve the commercial construction industry - working on malls, restaurants, office buildings. We then looked at the struggles of multifamily housing developers, the individual home builder, and any other number of building types. We landed on housing as a core business because it is both a huge market and, to us, a fundamental human right. We believe everyone deserves a roof over their heads, and this belief definitely gives more meaning to the work I do everyday.
How have you overcome the challenges of merging product design and architecture?
My early career was spent deep in the world of architecture. I spent hours immersed in code challenges, ADA compliance, details to keep water out, and city building departments. It is a world of inefficiencies and often frustration. Architecture and construction are also classic service businesses. That means to stay in business, teams are continually completing one job and simultaneously working to find and start the next. Profits and losses are contingent on the success of each individual project. If one or two projects become difficult, it can literally mean layoffs or even going out of business. All that work to shepherd a project through regulations and reviews, yet there is a razor fine edge between monetary success and failure. The goal at Blokable is to use a process more aligned to industrial design and view our solution space through the product lens to create innovation. I believe this is crucial to do first. When we know we have a superior approach or solution to a user need, then we navigate the architecture process. The key to our success will be working on new approaches to today’s inspection and review challenges and by developing all of our products with intelligent, three dimensional software so we can build using repeatable processes that align closely with government agencies’ requirements.
What is the story behind Blokable’s branding?
About a year after starting Blokable and before our initial launch in April, we knew we needed to thoughtfully inspect our brand and then develop an updated brand story that would help others fully appreciate what we are trying to do at Blokable. A lot had happened at Blokable since we developed the initial brand positioning in the spring of 2016. We worked with David Beglar out of San Francisco, who does amazing brand messaging work and with Brendan Hutchieson at Play&Co. in L.A. who is a multi-disciplinary designer. They helped to develop our new Blokable branding. At its core, Blokable is purposefully simple and direct. The brand messaging we developed really focuses on what we are doing and why. The brand identity was developed to carry that message. We are now fully focused on being the new home of smarter building. Our current campaign ‘Space.Shipped.’ really embodies how we want people to think about what we are doing. It boils the process down to us delivering manufactured space wherever you want it from the back of a flatbed. It really is that simple. No hassles, no red tape.
Who are your biggest design influencers? What would you ask them if you were to meet in person dead or alive?
Design icons used to be simpler to identify. Ten years ago I might have said the industrial designer Raymond Loewy or architect Mies Van der Rohe or developer Joseph Eichler. They were all design pioneers that brought us innovative manufacturing approaches to product development and design, reshaping the way we work and live. I even worked at TEAGUE, founded by Walter Dorwin Teague, an industrial design giant in his day as well. But, more than ever, design has transformed from a discipline of grand iconic personality driven design to highly data driven, technology laden, and user experience influenced design. The technology and products we use today are rarely invented and conceptualized by a design firm, but instead developed and worked on by a myriad of people and disciplines who at their core have uncovered an issue they want to solve. My favorite design partner is often a cognitive psychologist. These are people who really help me to understand what humans really perceive, feel, and desire without all the subjective design B.S. I truly believe that bringing in non-design disciplines into product development, especially human behavior focused disciplines, enables development of more comprehensive solutions that balance the design, business, and human perspectives.
My perspective on design now is that I want to understand what people are developing for tomorrow. I want to know what’s next. I am fascinated with how the physical and digital worlds are converging and wish I could be a fly on the wall at the MIT Media Lab or labs at Carnegie Mellon and be exposed to what these amazing brains are conceiving. I want to keep up with materials sciences labs across the world so that I can take advantage of all the amazing technological inventions being developed and engineered. We can do so much better than the current construction process offers today and these inventions will be at the heart of disrupting the industry.