Global design strategy consultant ThoughtFull opens new flexible studio space in East Hills

It’s only been a little over two weeks since global design strategy and innovation consultants at ThoughtFull opened the doors to its new Grand Rapids offices, but ThoughtFull Partner Tom DeVries says having a physical location in town has already made an “amazing impact” on how the firm is able to engage with clients on a local level. 

“It’s resulted in an explosion of new business for us locally,” says DeVries, who started Thoughtfull abroad alongside partners Geoff Suvalko and Hudson Smales before opening its second location in the 1,200-square-foot space at 975 Cherry St. SE.

“We wanted a neighborhood that was turning around or had begun the process of turning around and we wanted a neighborhood where businesses were catering to empowering trend behaviors and attitudes,” he says. “Something more progressive; all things we represent to our clients.”

Though the firm first found its footing in the global market working with clients that include Air New Zealand, Amway, Auckland Public Transportation System and World Vision, the partners want to move ThoughtFull forward by working backwards -- that is, by taking their global experience to local clients as part of a larger mission of community revitalization.

With enough workspace to accommodate a roster of research, design and strategy team members that ranges from anywhere between 8-14 strong, DeVries says ThoughtFull's new East Hills office isn't intended to be as much of an office space as it is a studio space, the minimal interior design deliberately chosen to afford total flexibility with how the space is used. 

“The way we think about it is as a blank canvas…We can transition the entire space into something that it’s not right now at a moment’s notice,” he says. 

“For example we might be working on a project where we discover that there’s a challenge between how a retail customer engages on a cell phone and in physical retail store, so what we would do in that circumstance — after having researched human behavior activity and what approaches other businesses are taking — we would create a retail environment where we build prototypes of solutions where we could engage the customer and make the whole thing real in less than a day,” he says. 

By simulating the actual environments in which customers will engage with organizations, ThoughtFull’s approach to building client’s design strategies represents both a practical and philosophical commitment to making things tangible. 

“The knock on design and designers working in business environments is that designers don’t finish things and they don’t make things, they just work in concepts,” DeVries says. “We have a lot of designers on our team, so I wanted to be very explicit with our team and say, ‘We make things, we make ideas reality.’” 

He says ideally, ThoughtFull will find more nearby real estate to expand operations into, allowing the current space to be dedicated exclusively to staging. He also hopes they'll be able to equip the space with tools for building the kind of pseudo retail environments that ultimately arm ThoughtFull with the unique perspectives and insight it has made its name by. 

DeVries says he and his partners see a lot of room for growth in the local market and as a Grand Rapids native, he feels inherently invested in the success of the city’s larger downtown redevelopment and the growth of the region in general.

“There are politics everywhere, but it’s still a small enough community that if you’re doing the right things, people will respond and you can build momentum from there,” he says. “There’s already a momentum building here and it’s an exciting thing to wake up and say, ‘How can we help?’” 

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By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of ThoughtFull 
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