Verda Alexander and Primo Orpilla
Studio o+a, San Francisco
What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?
PO: Creating a firm that attracts both start-ups and very well-known clients. The idea that these companies will entrust us with coming up with solutions for them is, I think, a great achievement. There are many firms to choose from, so we're always happy when they choose ours.
VA: Being in business for 17 years and surviving through several recessions—including this one!
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
PO: Knowing your design will have an impact on people—and not just aesthetically. How a person feels about a space can contribute in so many ways: attitude, productivity, comfort. It can be a source of inspiration.
VA: Having such dedicated and talented staff.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing designers today?
PO: Designers have to be well-versed in all aspects of design: code, materials, technology, everything. If you specialize in one area, you make yourself obsolete. Not knowing all that is out there limits your ability to solve the problem.
VA: It's always the same: communication. Are we communicating in ways that clients, contractors, and consultants all understand?
What is the best thing you've learned in the past 10 years?
PO: That design is more and more important in our daily lives. We now have good design, not only in interiors, but in simple daily household products, appliances, etc. The appetite for design is growing, which keeps our industry relevant and even more important.
VA: It never ceases to amaze me how passionate people can be. It is a constant inspiration.
What advice would you give to design students or those just starting out in the field?
PO: Be curious. Don't be embarrassed to flip over, jump on, or stare at things for hours. You never know when it will come in handy.
VA: If you get hired, most companies assume you have design talent. What makes an individual stand out to a company is how well you keep to-do lists, follow through, and communicate. Be sure to hone those skills.
What inspired your career choices?
PO: My parents used to subscribe to Popular Mechanics and Architectural Digest. I guess reading those two together was good training for an interior designer.
VA: In high school all I could think about was starting my own business. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I'm glad I ended up in design and art.
If you could have selected another career, what might you have been?
PO: A comedy sketch writer. The timing and delivery in well-conceived comedy amazes me. I like to laugh.
VA: An artist. (It is my other career!)
What do you consider to be the worst invention of the last 100 years?
What would you like to leave as your legacy?
PO: He came, he thought, he designed.
VA: We have seen some really classic spaces that have stood the test of time or define an era. If our designs do that some day, we would be ecstatic.
How do you foresee the future of corporate design changing?
PO: The workplace is like urban sprawl—continually expanding. Converging technologies have made it possible to stay connected everywhere and all the time. This has made everywhere you go your office. We know that companies want the interaction in the office space, and it is difficult to replicate that energy unless all parties are present. So that brings us back to the office. That is where you sync up, recalibrate, and have face-to-face meetings. The corporate office is alive and well. We as designers just need to create clearer boundaries.
VA: Clients are more and more savvy. One reason for this is that design professionals cross over to the client side. Smarter clients mean the design needs to be that much smarter. Not just green, butaddressing spatial needs, corporate culture, and the bottom line all at the same time.