Electronic Ink recently welcomed James Moustafellos to the team as our new design practice lead. In this role, James will be responsible for leading the application of design at an organizational level, including oversight of design methodologies and tools, to achieve successful outcomes for our clients. We sat down with him to discuss his design background, influences and perspective.
Tell us about your background. What were some of your early influences?
James Moustafellos: I was trained as an architect and have always been interested in the design of buildings, both from an aesthetic and problem-solving perspective. The results had to be beautiful, but they also had to have an underlying logic and reason. My training at Princeton was quite conceptual in that every decision had to be defended and explained, so the work that I did was heavily grounded in research.
You eventually transitioned from architecture to a role in academia. Tell us about that.
JM: I really enjoyed the work as an architect, but I missed the depth of exploration that academia afforded. In my graduate studies, the research, history and context were always considered as part of the equation. I was really influenced by the Modernist period and the Bauhaus, which was all about designing for production and the collaboration between the design side and the production side. I rarely got to explore these relationships in detail when working at architecture firms.
How has this design exploration led to your focus on design for business?
JM: A pivotal moment came when my wife and I entered and won a business plan competition at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Our idea was for a luxury jewelry retailer and manufacturer with integrated design and production capabilities. Here we were, two architects with no business training and no prior experience writing business plans, beating out an impressive field of proposals. It really got me thinking about design not only as a discipline, but also as a unique skillset and perspective that could be applied to business.
This helps explain your transition from Temple’s Tyler School of Art to the Fox School of Business.
JM: Yes. Soon after the business plan competition, I paired up with a colleague from the Fox School of Business to co-teach a class that focused on group projects involving both design and MBA students. The class was a hit and helped migrate my thought process away from design as art and increasingly towards design as it relates to business operations. My colleague eventually wore me down and convinced me to switch over to teaching at the Fox School of Business. Together we founded the Center for Design and Innovation at Fox to bring design methods into management culture and practice. I joined the Management Information Systems department, which challenged me to integrate technology and data into my thinking about business systems and processes.
What brought you to Electronic Ink?
JM: I saw Electronic Ink CEO Harold Hambrose speak at a panel discussion and his comments really resonated with me about thinking about design not in terms of aesthetics but rather in terms of the problems we solve and people we impact. Coming from academia, I also valued Electronic Ink’s strong commitment to design research and emphasis on evidence-based solutions. I’m looking forward to the applied reality of in-depth engagements with our Fortune 500 clients from discovery through implementation.
How has design changed in recent years with respect to business?
JM: It is great that design has become more mainstream and accepted within industry. At the same time, however, I think there is a danger of design losing its potency and becoming a buzzword. Business leaders feel the increasing need to talk about design but don’t necessarily know what it means. Design can also be an alienating word that takes a problem out of the business world and puts it into a seemingly unknown context for many professionals.
I’m hopeful that the day will soon come when design is accepted as a fundamental way of working and thinking, without being called out as such. We use numbers all the time, for example, but no one specifically calls out math as a special aspect of a given project. It’s just fundamental and understood. The process is important, to be sure, but if you overemphasize the process you take away from the end result — the solution itself.