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Providing a connection with society

A consultant group with the technology to give form to ideas

[Continuum] Boston, USA

Continuum is an innovative consulting firm that literally is changing society. Apart from its headquarters outside Boston, the company has offices in California, Venice, Milan, Shanghai and Seoul, serving a client list that stretches around the globe.

“Our work starts by understanding the consumers that our clients are focused on,” says Chairman, President and Chief Design Officer Gianfranco Zaccai. To provide customer satisfaction, it’s essential that there be insight into the consumer who exists before there is a customer, and of society itself. “Our clients want to know if the things they provide are really what consumers want, and in what way they should make the connection with consumers,” says Michael Arney, Principal in the Boston office.

To create a deeper level of commitment to the company and to understand any issues present, Continuum has created a system of consistent support for all levels of the firm. For example, for the development of a medical-use chair, a person assigned to the job might create a hospital room environment in the company workshop and build the prototype there. There is a crucial difference between a company that has the technology to give shape to an idea, and one where simply creating concepts for them means consulting.

To demonstrate this strength to the highest degree possible, the office environment is defined by the use of strong colors. The Boston office was created by renovating a warehouse built 150 years ago. In this spacious building, the company created an area for displaying its achievements which also functions as a showroom. Employees take it in turn to curate the contents of the exhibition, something that is enjoyed by visiting clients.

What began as a warehouse was transformed into a comfortable, pleasant, spacious facility.
Established: 1983
Sales: Not released publically
Profits: Not released publically
Employees: 150 (2013)
https://www.continuuminnovation.com

A patient chair developed by the company, in an in-house hospital room. The company often uses specialized equipment, so it created the room for simulations as they create prototypes.

  • The photos of people who have been interviewed or taken part in surveys are mounted on the office walls. This also helps reinforce the connections with society.

  • Engineers working at their desks are here, as are strategists who might bring their desks together into an island for discussion. There is a high degree of freedom in the way people work, which is seen as the key to high intellectual productivity.

  • The workshop is overflowing with machines and parts. A wide range of materials are available, so employees can immediately begin work on prototypes.

  • Post-its are used to arrange ideas. The company is full of digital experts, but the use of this analog method also shows their wisdom, and the innovation happening here.

  • The library stimulates and inspires through the products lined up here.

To ensure the diverse viewpoints required by consulting, specialists from varying fields, such as design, engineering and business, are brought together in teams. First of all, they immerse themselves in an investigation of the issues or users being targeted. For example, they will use interviews with general consumers to get a first-hand understanding of the market, or purchase products in the field of interest to research the market.

“We want to quickly become a mini-expert in that business area,” says designer Alex Broerman. Afterwards, the information is analyzed and the theme refined, with feedback given to the client or interviewee. With the concept solidified, development can begin. The engineer will work to improve the design and functions will also pursuing low cost. “We’re quite proud of the engineering department,” Mr. Broerman says. “They have a passion for development, and a wealth of experience.”

For the employees, being involved in an attractive project is what creates motivation. It is not hierarchy but the power of decision-making and implementation that is important, and the process becomes a form of training to increase the level of one’s own individual functions and project management skills. And it is also important that the headquarters are located in the highly stimulating city of Boston.

Throughout the office, there are things that build a strong feeling of the connections to the rest of the world. Especially noteworthy are the photos of people, including those who have been interviewed, which are displayed on the walls, reinforcing the depth of contact with the outside world.

The work areas are highly transparent, open spaces, ideal places for collaboration between designers, engineers and clients. In a semi-basement area is a space ideal for when people want somewhere to concentrate; the collected ideas or ideas generated by brainstorming are posted as notes on the walls—an interesting, analog space that people find inspiring. “By combining lots of different spaces, we create energy,” Mr. Arney says. Using the space that responds to the conditions of the project helps individuals to show their own individuality and action.

A current research project focuses on the way of working, and involves cameras being set in the rooms to photograph the movement of members, to create a prototype employee. Precisely because they see themselves as part of the world of human curiosity, they can wisely catch insights from the outside world and provide customers with superior new ideas.

As a global consulting firm, and one that bridges corporations and society, Continuum has gained widespread recognition. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project with MIT is aimed at developing a $100 laptop computer for children in the developing world. “I want to make providing people with good things our core value for the future,” Mr. Zaccai says.

From WORKSIGHT 05(2013.12)

A variety of spaces for concentration have been created which can respond to project conditions or individual functions.

Engineers and designers discuss their way through the development.

A large-scale CNC machine in the shop, able to create high-quality prototypes.

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