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Running my own design practice wasn’t something I aspired to when I first started my career. I had always imagined myself working in a big established practice. I wasn’t a business person, I was a designer – so starting Maike Design Studio wasn’t a well planned or particularly well executed undertaking.
First of all, I’ll step a little further back for a minute… After working in a huge team to deliver a multi billion dollar project I had just landed a job at my favourite Architecture firm. My dream job. I had been wanting to work for this practice since first started studying design - their work is amazing and I was a little star struck just being in their offices. At the same time, I started my Architecture Masters so was working part time and studying full time. A couple of months in, as a result of the exhausting long hours on the previous project my body just packed in. My immune system stopped regulating itself, my face swelled up like I’d been stung by a bee and I could barely make it through the day without needing to have a sleep. It wasn’t great.
I was trying to work out how I was going to balance my health, work and study (and who knows, maybe even have a little bit of time for some life) when the opportunity to do my own project came up. It seemed to be the answer I was looking for. I could balance various deadlines without being tied to normal office hours.
And that is how I started.
I was only trying to replace a part time wage while I was studying which eased the financial transition but didn’t provide much scope to employ outside help. Like many lean start up practices, I have been doing everything myself while also trying to do the actual project work. I built a passable template website, designed my own logo, set up all my own documents and have an embarrassingly clumsy excel spreadsheet where I keep track of my profit and loss.
As well as starting financially lean, I started lean on time. Until now, this has been a part time venture. Since starting Maike Design Studio I have also finished my Architecture Masters, built and run a shared workspace, renovated (sometimes actually on the tools) two houses for my partner and our family, had two babies and started an Illustration practice. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to stop and examine my business to see what it can do when given some full time attention.
While I still have projects running at various stages I have been attempting to pull back from new projects since late last year to give myself time to spend with my new little family. Right now as I’m writing this our second baby is 4 months old and she’s asleep on a pillow on my lap.
I have decided to use this period as an opportunity to completely renovate my business, examine every part of my process and overhaul my systems and templates. I’ve always been a very organised person but lately I’ve gone from being not-a-business-person, to an obsessive business podcast consumer, an enthusiastic systems junkie and a hesitant but optimistic planner of future success.
I’ve found that while there is an overwhelming amount of general business information available, there is very little discussion around this aspect of architectural practice beyond the traditionally taught processes. I don't think these should be automatically assumed to be the best way of doing things. For Maike Design Studio I particularly want to create a project process that puts an emphasis on making time for creative exploration, client involvement and communicating the value that thoughtful design decisions can bring to any built outcome.
I’m hoping that by documenting my journey here it might be helpful to someone in a similar stage of their business. I’d love to start an open and frank discussion with anyone interested about alternative methods of delivering architectural projects and what it takes to set up and maintain a successful design practice.