Studio D was founded in April 2014, on the premise that there was a more enjoyable way to run international research, design and strategy projects (our core team all previously worked for large consultancies). 

This year we've run and worked on projects in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Myanmar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UK, United Arab Emirates, and the US. We specialise in sensitive research topics requiring a very discreet presence; through to working in higher risk environments.

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Rashashi, Bangladesh.

Rashashi, Bangladesh.

Team

Studio D has no full-time employees and no plans to take any on. We build teams on a per-project basis and have a core of trusted staff that enjoys working together.

This year 150 applicants applied to work with Studio D

In 2014 we hired 38 people on projects, 6 of which came through the application process, the rest through outreach. The gender split of hires is exactly 50% male and 50% female, with slightly more females working in field, and slightly more males working in production. With the exception of a cartographer in his sixties, hires were aged between 20 and 42, demographics mapped to the people we needed to engage with on the ground. Our crew represents 18 nationalities (17 if you consider Tibetan as a being indistinguishable from China). This figure reflects our need to operate in diverse locales. While 13 of our crew are currently based out of the US, only 6 carry US passports. 

Although not formally a Studio D hire, the team in Myanmar adopted a spirit by the name of Ba Tode for the duration of the project, in keeping with the local custom of blurring the distinction between the physical and the ethereal worlds. You might laugh, but that’s how we roll. Ba is credited in the final report, Afford Two, Eat One.

Lashio, Myanmar.

Lashio, Myanmar.

Workplace

We have no formal office/studio and have no plans to rent one. We continue to pioneer the use of popup studios, which we ran this year in 19 locations, from a downtown New York loft through to a mountain retreat in Shan State, Myanmar, and pretty much everywhere in between. The duration of a single studio ranges from a few days through to six weeks. For the remainder of the projects we’re either on the road/skies/trail or in more traditional accommodation.

Approximately 85% of consultancy project time is spent in field with the rest being devoted to remote sensing and other project preparation activities at home base. Wherever possible we conduct project planning on the ground where the team can more easily acclimatise to the locale  —  something that benefits both the team and the project. 

Whilst in-field, our crew works 12 to 15 hours days, 6 to 7 days per week. Time off is decided by the team, depending on the goal that they have collaboratively set. We build decompression into most projects to help the team reacclimatise to civilian life  —  something that is easier to do on longer engagements. Decompression spaces include: days on the bike in Tokyo; in the desert in Oman, exploring the edge-of-the-grid from Myitkyina; trekking in Myanmar, to an ascent of Huayna Potosi in Bolivia.

@serota, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

@serota, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Projects & Clients

We maintain a bullshit-free approach to consulting.

100% of the projects in 2014 were from inbound requests from clients. Next year we expect the ratio of inbound to outbound to be 80/20. We turned down two high paying projects and refused requests to bid on two others that were considered a poor cultural fit, where we thought the client was going through the motions, and/or the where project would likely result in a negative social impact. The money you turn down defines you as much as what you take on.

Our projects this year spanned: service design; interaction design; product; corporate strategy; public policy strategy; and brand positioning. All of our projects include a foundational research track ranging from a few days up to eight weeks.

Approximately 80% of our projects are for commercial clients, and all have the potential for a strong positive social and or societal impact. The remaining 20% are more traditional, non-commercial social impact projects. Social impact is very difficult to measure, and any attempt to do so at this early stage would be an exercise in self-aggrandisement. 

Nearly all of our work is under NDA. For some projects it will take years for the impact to become apparent. The shortest path to impacting a corporate client’s public strategy has been two weeks.

Given the amount of travel it is fair to say that we have a negative environmental impact, something that we plan to better address in 2015. We have a policy of not flying in international staff where local talent can be trained into the same role. To do otherwise would be part of the problem.

Bogole, Myanmar.

Bogole, Myanmar.

Our estimated project costs vary by less than 5% of the actual costs. We have been offered, but haven't signed a single change-order over the course of the year. On every project we've adapted our approach based on the changing needs of the project and discussions with the client. 85% of our client stakeholders are C-suite or company founders. 90% of our client base has discussed or requested follow up projects. As of writing we have six projects cued up for 2015, and are currently assessing staffing needs. (Our crew receive competitive salaries and work at the leading-edge of their respective domains. Each project offers benefits tailored to the personalities on the team and the unique context of work).

In 2014 we suffered no broken limbs, zero fatalities, zero kidnappings, and zero STDs (the latter being a self-reported stat). Most of the international crew got the shits in field. Monsoon Myanmar will do that to you.

The percentage of Hearts Leapt Per Project (HLPP) remains at 100%.

 
Lhasa, Tibet.

Lhasa, Tibet.

 

THE FIXER LIST

The studio maintains The Fixer List, our pro-active network of unusual talent. It remains our first port of call when we're looking for local guides and fixers on international projects. Every project is only as good its ground crew. 

To apply as a fixer/guide sign-up here.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

SDR TRAVELLER

After three years of R&D and extensive field testing we launched the D3 Traveller Duffel and a number of accessories. We reached our 3 month’s sales target in the first 2 weeks, a testament to a very singular product focus. 

We have a number of products in the pipeline for 2015 that will continue to address our team’s unique travel and work needs: ultralight, strong and discreet luggage and accessories that are suitable for field work travel in more challenging environments. We have no desire to be mainstream and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

PUBLICATIONS

The Japanese print edition of Hidden in Plain Sight was published in March 2014, and will be launched in Taiwan in February 2015 (US and Korean editions were published last year). This year also saw the publication of the Today’s Office print edition in Korean. 

Preparations for The Field Study Handbook are well underway, and is due to be completed in 2017 — to receive a notification of publication sign-up here

We made a number of smaller digital books available through the Studio D Store. We also published Afford Two, Eat One report in conjunction with Proximity Designsfrog and the IMTFI.

Our work was covered in The GuardianGigaOmHarvard Business Review (Japanese Print edition), Chosun Daily and Makeshift Magazine.

Yading, China.

Yading, China.

CULTURAL

We run projects that challenge minds and flutter hearts.

Enduring popup studio rituals include: yoga; long walks; mango smoothies (when in season); Taiwanese pancakes; homemade Muesli; and of course freshly ground coffee. Prefered roasters for 2014 include Flat Track (Austin), Obscura Laboratory (Tokyo), Bluebottle and Four Barrel (San Francisco), Monmouth (London), Heart (Portland) and Sithar Coffee (Yangon).

By any metric, we fly too much. Our preferred flight is the one that isn't taken. Modes of transport this year include: airplanes, trains, cars, tuk-tuks, tri-shaws, bicycles and river delta boats. We walk cities like no other.

Studio D maintains a no-wheels approach to packing. The most popular carried items on the team include: SDR Traveller gearMission Workshop; a pico projector, poster sized post-its and the Aerobie coffee press. Mitchum the bluetooth speaker bought from an electronics shop in a China-Myanmar border town, is a peculiar mix of Scandinavian Siri x shanzhai x Her, a product truly born from Shenzhen. Macs to compute, Canons to shoot. 

This year we sponsored a chinlone team in Yangon with cash, uniforms and a laughable display of keepie-uppie. We're scouting around for a suitably niche team-sport to sponsor in 2015.

Looking Ahead

The friendships made over the course of this year set the tone for what happens next. With thanks to our clients, partners and crew for setting the standard. We look forward to working with you again in 2015.