Spotify's Amy Vale on defining career success.
What was it like designing offices for Google?
Google’s offices are pretty world-renowned and it’s not explicit, but there’s a list of things you have to include. So you need a fish tank, the sleeping pods, a meditation room, the library or quiet space. They kept saying, “It has to be ‘Googly’, but it was hard to define exactly what that was and get our heads around where they were coming from. They told us they were geeky, but they were not Apple, they’re not cool. They said, “We’re geeky and nerdy and we’re proud of that.”
We won Google through a competitive tendering process against another nine top design firms in Sydney. It was a fairly intensive, rigorous process. I think we won it in the end because we were able to talk at their level and did manage to appeal to their “Googliness”, which is what got us over the line. It was a real breakthrough client for us because it gave us a bit of recognition. People sat up in the industry and took notice of us.
How do you achieve that level of excellence in your work to be able to work with the best?
A lot of our clients are global corporations, so there’s got to be a high standard. We have pretty high standards ourselves and we are pretty confident in our abilities and our talents. One of the secrets of our design team is that they are all technically very good. So it’s not just about how things look or the latest fashion trend, it’s very much about us providing an intelligent response to the specific brief for the client.
It’s also really the relationships that make the projects successful. My favourite projects are the ones where we have a great relationship with the client and the whole external consultant team.
How does good design influence people’s working lives? Why is it important?
Studies have proven time and again that a well-designed workplace has huge benefits for the physical and mental wellbeing of its occupants. Relationships at work matter and the built environment needs to encourage, facilitate and support this.
Research has shown that people who have three or more good friends at work are 96% more likely to be happy and productive in their jobs. Fifty per cent of employees with a best friend at work state they have a strong connection with their company.
In addition, we are now seeing another fundamental shift starting to occur in the way we work. We live in a world that is 24/7 and the boundaries between work and home are more blurred than ever. This is again having an impact on our physical environments and fundamental shifts in how we design homes and offices are starting to occur.
What is futurespace like, what is its philosophy?
We are really about adding value to people’s lives through design of intelligent environments. It’s not just about fashion, it’s about how we improve someone’s life.
When we work for the client it’s about providing a response to their brief and what’s going to match what they want as an organisation. So it’s about adding value to not only our clients’ lives, but to their teams as well.
Why did you want to work in interior design?
I grew up in country Victoria and remember playing on building sites with my brothers and sister. We would walk through the studwork and figure out what room goes where and whether we’d design it this way or that way.
But I didn’t go straight to university from school. I did an art and design foundation course for two years and then I worked in advertising for a couple of years. By that point I was in my early twenties and I was searching for meaning and authenticity in my life.
I remember walking home one night from my day-job thinking, “What is it that really matters to me? What’s important in my life?”
I realised I had always been passionate about space – the environment around me. Not on an architectural scale, but on a more intimate interior scale. It’s always been about security, safety and having a connection to the outdoors. My values in life were really aligned with what interior design was all about.
How did you become CEO of futurespace?
I started my own business in 2004 and I was always a sub-tenant of futurespace. Over the six-and-a-half years that I was a sub-tenant, our businesses grew more and more aligned.
We pitched together on Google in 2007 and we won that based on our combined efforts. It was such a good relationship we merged the companies in 2009.
I came to be CEO just as an evolution of the business, but took a bit of adjustment for some people. Some men are very traditional and can’t cope with a woman being in charge or being a leader.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
One thing I have found challenging is juggling family and career. I was lucky because I was running my own business when my baby was born. I was able to ramp up my working hours as he got older, but I don’t think a lot of employers would support that.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned in your career and how did you learn it?
Rating myself has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned. When I was at uni I felt like an imposter the whole time. I’ve always gone along thinking everyone else knows what they are doing better than me. I think this is because my industry is so male-dominated. But in the last couple of years, I’ve changed that mindset. I’ve got a great business coach and she doesn’t let me get away with any “I’m not good enough” talk.
What do you define as success?
It’s as simple as being happy and healthy. Part of being happy is doing what I love. I’m ambitious and sometimes I think if I didn’t have my son, I would work all the time because I just love it. He’s the only thing that stops me from working 24/7.
What advice do you have for others wanting to create a successful career?
Do what you love. It should absolutely be about following your heart and doing what you love, because all you need will follow from that. If you are authentic and do something that means something to you, being able to make a living out of that will just evolve.
What are the values that drive your work?
The values that drive my work are authenticity, sustainability and beauty. I believe 100% in the transformative impact that intelligent design can have on every aspect of the world around us. I had a fairly modest upbringing and I think that has translated into a desire for less waste, better quality and ‘lean’ over ‘excess’. Aesthetics and creativity are at the core of who I am – they feed my soul.
Angela Ferguson studied a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design, graduating from RMIT in 1996.