Highly Evolved Approaches to Design

Twenty-five years ago, Dallas’ top design firms led the world in electronics, architecture, and software by using cutting-edge design methodologies. Today, due to Dallas’ leadership, those design methodologies are used around the world.

Some design firms in Dallas-Fort Worth, such as Aava Technology and Russ Berger Design Group, have taken design methodology to the next level with distinctive and formidable design philosophies. Dallas is again leading the world in innovation due to this evolutionary advance.

Take, for example, Russ Berger Design Group in Carrollton, which creates studio and performance spaces. The principal founders, Russ Berger and Richard Schrag, were already highly capable engineering and project management professionals when they started their company more than 30 years ago. They noticed that most high-end recording studio projects started with engineering or architecture, and then treated the other discipline secondarily. For example, if a new studio design was expected to be technically challenging, the engineers would solve their problems first, and then the architects would be called in to dress it up. Or, if the new studio was expected to be a showplace, the architects would get to design the space first, and then the engineers were tasked to shoe-horn the technology into the space without ruining its aesthetics and flow. Russ Berger Design Group was founded on a design philosophy different than this methodology.

One could measure their success by their design philosophy, which is that every project is about the people who use their production spaces.

Today, the Russ Berger Design Group’s success could be measured by the impressive list of current and former customers, such as NFL Films, Apple, Whitney Houston, National Public Radio, Saturday Night Live, and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Or, one could measure their success by their design philosophy, which is that every project is about the people who use their production spaces. The aesthetics, flow, and technology in those spaces must both sound good and look good because artists working in these spaces must be inspired. The resolution of today’s digital audio demands the most precise recording technology available, and the sophistication of the audience requires truly inspired artistry.

George W. Bush Center

George W. Bush Center

Thus, neither engineering nor architecture can be given the lead in any of the group’s one-of-a-kind projects. Every position on a project team is occupied by a top player from the conceptualization phase to the handing over of the keys to the new studio. RBDG’s design philosophy is all about the people—artists, engineers, architects, and audience—who are engaged simultaneously and continuously.

Another example of an innovative design philosophy in the DFW region is Aava Technology in Plano, which specializes in creating high-end, multi-disciplinary products and systems. When Kevin McCoy founded Aava with his business partner Jared Smothermon in 2004, McCoy was already known by name as the go-to expert in signal processing and electronic product design. His work had already appeared in telecommunications equipment, medical instruments, and consumer devices. Aava Technology’s founding design philosophy was challenge.

McCoy already knew that the best minds in electronic and software engineering were naturally drawn to the most challenging projects. So, by attracting the projects where clients had tried and given up, he naturally had the best mix of challenges to draw in top engineers in their fields. He also knew that great minds are like wild horses, and they must be given room to run, and that many large corporations have too many fences. Their best and brightest often seek more rewarding experiences elsewhere.

Aava Technology’s founding design philosophy was challenge.

Today, Aava’s clients come to them when they have an engineering problem, which has evaded solution using their normal in-house methodologies. McCoy says that most of their clients have bright engineers and software developers on staff, but they are often boxed in by methodology procedures. Aava’s staff, however, gets the “luxury” of looking at its clients’ problems with fresh eyes and using top-level expertise in every domain needed. Aava’s success could be measured by the complexity of the designs it delivers, ranging from an intravenous fluid warmer, an optical smart-power grid sensor, a radar that measures water flow in rivers, and a wearable biomonitor.

But, Aava’s clients would measure its success by the results of its design philosophy. Most of their projects are unique, so their challenges are unique. Not one of Aava’s expert staff members is content working on anything but a challenge.

Twenty-five years ago, the DFW region had the top design methodology firms. Today, the DFW region is becoming an epicenter of expertise-based consultancy firms that deliver innovation through unique design philosophies. Aava Technology and Russ Berger Design Group are but two examples of this movement, and the world is noticing.

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R E A D   N E X T

  • Juliana Oliveira and her sister Sara de Oliveira co-founded Athlete-Centric Design to transform pro athletes’ lifestyles—not just with luxury design, but by improving their performance on the field through health and wellness elements. Now they hope to score by having their approach adopted as a best practice in the sports industry nationwide.

  • Animation and game design is booming—and UTD is on the forefront. Here's how its School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication has become a national leader. ATEC is producing graduates who go on to work for top companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Gearbox Software, id software, Disney, and 900lbs.

  • After spending time in San Francisco, Dev Gupta (who designed the Dallas Innovates logo in 2015) moved back to Dallas to launch his own digital design studio. Armed with experience from working with clients like Google, Toyota, and Twitter on user interface design, the CEO and founder of Not Dev is bullish on his hometown—and building a company based on remote work, young local talent, and a nontraditional way of operating.

  • Arizona-based Tallwave provides customer experience (CX) solutions to strengthen ties with customers. It's a movement the design company sees accelerating post-pandemic. CX, a relatively new term, is a broader form of UX that extends beyond the product. DFW was named top spot for UX professionals in a recent 2021 Jobs on the Rise report.

  • The first TOCA Social launched last August in London, attracting cast members from "Ted Lasso" and top Premier League players. The Dallas location, slated to open in 2023, will offer a three-floor, 56K-SF experience of dining, drinks, and interactive soccer games in 34 "TOCA boxes." The top two floors and their huge decks will offer "bonkers" views of the Dallas skyline—and may be a magnet for corporate events.

Robert has secured more than 225 patents for innovators in Texas. He is pursuing a doctorate in mediation, and holds a graduate degree in psychology, sociology, and neurology of problem solving, with(...)