“I’ve lived in creative spaces my entire life,” says Eric Quint, 3M’s Chief Design Officer. And when it comes to workspaces, he says, “Scientists need laboratories; administrators need offices; designers need creative spaces.” To that end, Quint has endeavored to provide the company’s designers with the very best creative space 3M’s considerable resources could provide.
The recently-completed 3M Design Center in St. Paul, Minnesota is a sprawling, 38,000-square-foot multilevel space meant to bring the company’s creatives from various disciplines—product, graphics, UX, packaging, materials—all under one roof. On the main level and upstairs, are rows of desks and workstations. The things we’re not allowed to see are down in the sublevels, like the rapid prototyping lab and the materials library. But the main part of the Design Center, which we were allowed to tour, left quite the impression.
The space, which Quint himself had a hand in designing, features a multitude of areas that reminded me of a variety of settings: The living room of a SoHo loft, a hip cocktail bar, glamping cabins, an art gallery, the VIP room of a nightclub, a dot-com millionaire’s home theater. The relaxed, warm feel of the main areas is purposeful: “One of our goals was to design a living room atmosphere,” Quint explains. “People feel at home in a living room; they feel safe, relaxed, it’s easy to open up and make space for creativity.”
The home-theater-like amphitheater area is a space Quint calls the Design Hive. “It was designed with an idea of a village, where people gather at noon to take shade under an olive tree. People can sit, relax, have conversations about cars and sports, and politics and love lives.”
Another function of the Design Hive is educational. “When I came onboard, I asked the design team, ‘When was the last time you had educational design training?’ Most people responded that the last time was in college. In terms of training, the company had developed a great corporate curriculum, but nothing in the area of creativity.” Quint thus started a program he calls Design Vitamins, where experts across a broad spectrum of creative specialties are invited to come in and deliver presentations to the designers.
“The Design Vitamins speakers cover various ‘hot’ topics—they might be experts in digital, or storytelling, or branding, or design management, et cetera,” Quint explains. “Next week, for instance, we have a speaker—the Director of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy of the city of Minneapolis, whom I’m doing a co-presentation with. We’ll discuss driving design and creativity in a business enterprise.”
Why is this important? “We stay involved in local and social initiatives,” Quint explains, “to make sure we leverage 3M’s network of knowledge in a way that can connect with the local community.” The speakers, in turn, “inspire our people in thinking about social impact.”
Then there is environmental impact. In order to have as little of it a possible, the Design Center is loaded with energy-efficient lighting and climate control systems, and the dominant material is reclaimed wood; it shows up everywhere from the walls to the chairs in Quint’s office to the enclosed cabins, which Quint calls Cocoons.
“The open-space concept of the space creates activity—and potential disturbance, so we wanted to create places where you can have your privacy and quiet. There are nine or ten of these Cocoons throughout the center,” Quint says.
There is one area of the Center where Quint encountered raw concrete during the construction process, and elected to leave it exposed. In this gallery-like space a wall of posters commemorate inventions native to Minnesota, from Scotch Tape to Twister, Post-Its to Tonka Trucks.
Further down along this concrete wall is a startling graffiti mural. “The concrete was screaming for graffiti art, a kind of rebellious way of expression,” Quint says. “We commissioned two local graffiti artists, had a short briefing session—perhaps 15 minutes—where I gave them a few keywords, but primarily told them ‘Just do something that you’ll be proud of.'” The artists were left to their own devices—and, of course, a box of 3M’s signature blue tape to do the masking with.
Other walls in the Design Center are covered with art of the framed variety. 3M has a deep art collection, much of it stored in a basement that Quint descended into with purpose, ready to curate. “I wanted to unlock these great art treasures” and spread them throughout the center, he says. “Design and creativity go very well with art.”
On one wall is a piece of art incorporating 3M’s adhesive wall hooks, arranged into a map of the world. Which is, essentially, 3M’s realm. The company employs roughly 100,000 people in 70 countries and sells their products, of which there are over 55,000, to people in over 200 countries. (The blue hooks on the map denote the location of 3M facilities.)
Moving beyond the artwork, the Design Center’s entryway, in contrast, turns to science. 3M’s translucent films cover the glass walls, purposefully arranged by the design team in a series of abstract shapes and tones; as you walk past, the colors change as if by magic. Standing at one end of the entryway or the other provides two completely different visual experiences.
Touring the Design Center reveals art and science, the communal and the private, the local and the global. These contrasts are not at odds but are instead meant to work together, bonding to one another as if by one of the company’s adhesives; nothing exists in a vacuum, least of all innovation, which in Quint’s estimation, requires multiple bonding processes.
Here’s what that means: In a sense, the Design Center and Quint himself are bonding forces, connectors. “The theme here is collaborative creativity,” Quint says. “I think if you want to drive innovation, it’s not about having the big idea. It is much more about managing and guiding the big idea through the system. You can find tons of great ideas, but not many people that speak the many required languages across the company. For instance, engineers and scientists speak different languages. As do marketing and strategy and design teams. In order to create impact, you must be able to speak the languages across those different disciplines.”
Quint can. Unlike your average industrial designer, Quint also has a background in mechanical engineering with a specialization in industrial engineering. “That background helps a lot in shaping an organization,” Quint says. “Industrial engineering is very much about designing organizations. I’m here to drive the design of the global creative platform of the company. That includes not only providing an education of design to the company and creating awareness, but more or less helping to design the company.”
Even more unusually for a designer, Quint also has a background in strategy and marketing. Prior to joining 3M, Quint spent ten years running a design consultancy and over twenty years at Philips, where he advanced to Vice President of Philips Design. On the way to gaining that position, he wholeheartedly threw himself into the business aspects of design, gaining expertise in “translating the value of design into a business context.”
What 3M has in their Design Center is a multifaceted work, play and learning space run by a polymathic Chief Design Officer. Together their mission is to “help the company to bring all of our great materials, science and technological solutions together in a way that is even more relevant to our customers,” Quint explains. “Design helps us form an emotional connection to our audiences.”
Part of Quint’s job, in a way, is to take several seemingly disparate things and discover, and then explain to others, how they can in fact be connected in a meaningful way. This comes into sharp focus in his office, which is surprisingly humble and unpretentious. On the wall behind his desk are three pieces of artwork that he discovered during the basement dig: Black-and-white photographs of Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Art Blakey.
“As I am a jazz man, I was immediately attracted to the images,” says Quint, who has been playing music since childhood. But did he just grab these three unconsciously, randomly? Perhaps, perhaps not. As the photos lived on his office wall, Quint began to see a connection between the artists to his work and the work of 3M. “As I began to think about it, I realized that Miles Davis, for me he is the innovator. He started in the ’50s as a young kid blowing bebop on his horn, and then he developed, continued to develop, over time. Just before he passed away, in his last five to ten years, he invented jazz fusion. It was as if he rebranded; he was an innovator all the way.
“Sarah Vaughn,” he continues. “Singing is all about storytelling; touching people in their hearts, and Vaughan sang from her soul. Whatever we do, we have to have connecting stories and relevant stories that connect technology and solutions with the desires, the dreams, the needs of our customers.
“Then there’s Art Blakey,” he says, indicating the drummer. “Blakey is all about timing and rhythm. And timing is so important in innovation; I’ve seen great technology, great innovations go wrong because it was just not the right time.
“So, coincidentally or not, that is what I see with these three,” Quint concludes. “The purpose in my life as an innovator and a design leader. Innovation, storytelling and timing.”