Skip to Content

Grant Johnson named by FastCompany as one of the 30 Most Creative People in Business

We’re super proud to announce that Conduit Interior’s Founder Grant Johnson has been named as one of FastCompany SA Magazine’s 30 Most Creative People in Business 2017! He joins Deon Katz – Head of Investec Private Banking; Darlene Menzies – CEO of Finfind and many others in this special feature.

FastCo SA are recognised as “The most progressive business media brand in the world, Fast Company inspires a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders who are actively inventing the future of business.”

Read the full article below.

For Raising The Space Bar

After years of working within large-scale interior design agencies, where each team member is responsible for only a small part of a given project, Grant Johnson’s vision for his boutique design practice Conduit Interior was for a focused and lean company – where each designer takes ownership of a project and sees it through to handover.

The Cape Town-based firm, affiliated with the African Institute of Interior Design Professions, has spent years identifying a network of talented and established industry professionals with whom to collaborate. The result is a hands-on approach, where each interior is 100% tailored to each client, and a design practice that sets the benchmark for the South African design industry.

Conduit Interior has an exciting mix of office, retail and hospitality projects in the making as well as a dedicated user-experience (UX) research project underway. Johnson and his team are currently spending hours immersing themselves in UX and exploring its intersection with the workplace environment. If one impacts the overall workplace experience, Johnson contends, it will inevitably filter down to how customers experience the company.

“Traditionally the UX discipline has been limited to human-computer interactions, but since it is by definition ‘the process of enhancing user satisfaction and well-being by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product’, we’re treating the entire workplace as one large product,” he explains. It’s a compelling concept, and an insight into the creativity of this commercial interior designer who has 20 years’ experience in the field.

Another issue being addressed by Conduit Interior is employee retention. Given novel expectations brought to the table by millennials, Johnson’s clients are turning to him to create spaces that not only attract but retain an ambitious young generation. “Employees are no longer satisfied with run-of-the-mill workspaces,” says Johnson. “Millennials want to feel like they are part of an organisation that is going places, and will job-hop in search of their ideal environment until they find something that engages them fully for a significant part of their lives.”

Johnson’s solution is to design spaces that not only impress the customer front of house, but also the employees who provide services behind the scenes. Offering office perks is part of this ethos. While perks can be counterproductive (he advises against playground equipment in a law firm’s office), stimulation and engagement are essential in areas where people spend a long duration of their lives. “The days of just giving someone a desk, a computer and a cup of tea are long gone,” he adds.

It sounds straightforward enough in principle but, at Conduit Interior, a persistent challenge is getting to know clients beyond the basic elements of their operational aims: Employee numbers or meeting spaces required, for instance. Johnson’s team digs deeper to examine clients, enquiring as to who they are as a company and the goals to which they aspire. “It’s easy enough to give the client what they want, but to give them what they don’t yet realise that they need is where a great designer stands apart,” says Johnson. “The most successful interiors are those that are authentic to a client’s brand; the space itself becomes the 3D embodiment of who they are. By getting this right, the workspace becomes a catalyst for the business’s success – far beyond the expectations of the original operational brief.”

Working from South Africa brings its own set of problems. It’s easy for Johnson to keep up to date with cutting-edge international interior products, but also frustrating knowing that price tags will likely exclude them from institution in projects, even if they are exactly what a client is looking for.

However, he points out that these restrictions open up new opportunities for creativity – often resulting in functional and financial benefits for clients. “By remaining inspired by the best that the design world has to offer on a daily basis, but not being able to take the easy road, we’re motivated to apply clever ideas that use local products to deliver world-class interiors without blowing our clients’ budgets.”

He sees Cape Town’s christening as World Design Capital as a direct reflection of a creative and industrious effort demanded by the reality of the market: Circumstances that actively encourage local artisans to improve the quality and individuality of local products. Because of these competitive and industrious attitudes, imported alternatives are now expendable for many design practices. “Not only that, but there’s the eco-benefit of buying locally and not filling up a shipping container.”

To push his own creativity, Johnson ensures he has a clean, quiet space to focus, with all the necessary tools within easy reach so that he can move between sketches and ideas with clarity. He warns, however, that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for creatives. “It really depends on [their] particular personality and circumstances, then tailoring the home office to interface with the creative.” The principle is universal: “It’s all about removing barriers to creativity. Consider what slows down or interrupts your creative flow, then work toward setting up your office to remove these barriers”

In the Conduit Interior office, of course, these principles are given full expression. Johnson works in the same open-plan space as everyone else, maximising interaction and bilateral understanding. There’s a scrum board in easy view of the whole office, so tasks and projects are exposed to and can be tackled by the collective – or “community” as Johnson likes to refer to his team. If anyone needs to focus for a couple of hours, or take a confidential call, there are meeting rooms on hand.

Johnson also emphasises mobility for a company like Conduit that has a hands-on philosophy. “If it’s a critical time on site, any one of us can pack a bag and set up a remote desk in the middle of the action for a few weeks, without any downtime or loss of regular communication.”

Some may be born with a creative intuition, but it’s important to remember that often all it takes for a creative spark is a change of attitude or fresh perspective. Johnson himself lives by the ‘inspiration is everywhere’ axiom. By keeping his eyes open to the world around him, “it becomes second nature to break down the barriers between things in their current form and things as they could be” – a constant play of opposites between novelty and habit, which keeps Conduit Interior’s ideas crisp and innovative.

FastCompany SA; June 2017