In four years, the Northwest Portland design firm Industry has worked on product design, branding, and user experience for Autodesk, Nike, Starbucks, HTC, TDK, and Intel. The firm’s quintet of equal co-owners and bosses—David Thorpe, Kaitlin Paul, Tom Lakovic, Meral Middleton, and Oved Valadez—argue and, ultimately, collaborate on every project. Valadez reveals how Industry weaves success from apparent chaos.

On...why? A pyramid organization is no longer relevant to creativity and innovation. The industrial model is very linear.  By the time you’re done, someone else has already created it. We asked, who are five individuals who have unique talents, but who can collaborate?

On managing projects Conflict is part of the creative process. You need friction. The way we do it, everything is up on the walls for everyone to see. It’s about the idea, and not who comes up with the idea. If you’re attached to an idea—like, this my idea—then you’re back to the pyramid structure. We give each other shit all the time so that we don’t go back to that. 

On what has changed People no longer work 9 to 5. Work and life—it’s one life now. You have to make people feel invested in work; you have to make them feel part of it. You start worrying about presenting to the bosses, as opposed to the result. If we’re hiring people that are their own experts, they’re invested in their work. Our hiring process takes up to six months, but we haven’t had anyone quit, or any firings, in four years.

On staying small We won’t ever be more than 30 people. We want to truly know everyone in the group. Thirty seems like the magic number. From our previous experience, we know that as soon as it gets more than 30 people, it becomes about management. When you find yourself getting managers to manage other people, that’s not good. We have an apprentice model. We empower people as experts. Our intern can have as much of an idea as anyone. We embrace that.

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