Miller Hull

Perspectives. A Culture of Curiosity

6-18-2024 | Perspectives

In the discipline of architecture, where every space tells a story and every design decision shapes the broader built environment, the value of curiosity cannot be overstated. Miller Hull has always believed that the workplace is an extension of the classroom, and that continuing education is critical in pushing the bounds of creativity in the professional world and the industry at large.

The idea for Design Panel started with Bob and Dave, our founders and leaders. A few years out of school, they longed for the days of intellectual exploration without the programmatic constraints of real-world projects. They recalled the studio critiques of their university years and yearned for the kinds of ideas and insights gleaned from these riveting debates. The two decided to try their hands at recreating this same environment, only this time, in the office. With a studio population of only 30 people, no one had any idea that this informal weekly summit would become the breeding ground for design progress, a place where ideas intersected, and breakthroughs were born.

Many decades later, Design Panel has become a cornerstone of Miller Hull’s identity and culture and has advanced our projects in ways that would have otherwise been impossible.

Studio Environment with a Salon Culture
As the firm evolved, so did its approach to collaboration. What began as casual gatherings around a table blossomed into a dynamic studio environment where every employee – no matter their role at the firm or their familiarity with the project – was encouraged to contribute their unique perspective. The discussions gained momentum and became more dynamic and vibrant, assuming a quality similar to that of the quintessential “Salon,” a forum lauded for its interdisciplinary nature and emphasis on conversation. These were the places – the platforms – that had bred some of the world’s most riveting ideas, and it soon became clear that Miller Hull was cultivating its own version of intellectual exchange, digging deeply not only into the design concepts of the firm’s current projects, but into topics like equity, politics, and society.

This one-hour every week became a major source of creativity for the firm, shaping both the work and the collective mindset of the team.

The Art of Critique
Within this thriving culture of curiosity, Design Panel has emerged as a crucible for ideas. Every week, team members gather to scrutinize, critique, and refine each other’s work. Predictably, this process isn’t always easy—it requires thick skin and a willingness to challenge assumptions. Yet, it is through this constructive and consistent process that projects follow the path from good to extraordinary. Even the process of presenting a concept at Design Panel teaches the invaluable skill of communication, with presentation time limited, presenting teams must get to the point quickly and construct their story wisely.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson learned was the realization that embracing disruption is key; understanding that there are always alternative ways of looking at something, and any idea has the capacity to be enriched. Even a seemingly outlandish suggestion can prove crucial in unlocking new possibilities; instead of dismissing them outright, team members learned to interrogate these ideas, extracting valuable insights that strengthened their designs.

There are several types of feedback elicited during Design Panels, all valuable to the development of the design idea:

  • Darts: Input that targets and interrogates an element of the project that the team previously believed was working. Darts often hit hard and unexpectedly, but usually reveal the importance of an audience who is far enough outside the project to see the design problem and proposed solution objectively to reveal weaknesses the team can improve.
  • Ripples: The gifts that keep on giving. Ripples are suggestions that spur more suggestions, each one building off the one that came before, ultimately becoming increasingly more refined.
  • Influencers: Ideas outside the circle of what the project team had previously imagined. These are revelations from a set of fresh eyes that expand the possibility of the project moving forward.
  • Germs & Antibodies: The suggestions that don’t fit but can easily infect the design concept if there isn’t a strong enough hold on the core idea. Each project needs to have enough anti-bodies to defend against this input.
    Underscoring the dynamic interplay between feedback and design evolution, Design Panel has emphasized the necessity of embracing new ideas, while regulating certain types of input, and maintaining a firm (but not totally inflexible) grasp on the core of the design approach.

Looking Ahead
As the firm embarks on its next chapter, one thing remains clear: a culture of curiosity will continue to be its guiding light. In an industry where innovation is the currency of success, the ability to question, explore, and reimagine is not only a virtue but a prerequisite for excellence.