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Derek MacKenzie: the Business of Design

Design is a tool that helps drive business performance says the managing director of Designphase DBA.

Derek MacKenzie: the Business of Design


September 29th, 2011

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Derek MacKenzie has been living and working in Singapore since the early 1980s. Looking back, he observes that the level in which the country and companies here are willing to invest in design has increased significantly.

Under MacKenzie’s lead, Designphase DBA’s primary focus has been commercial work – both in Singapore and across the region.

Designphase DBA


“We like the discipline of business. We like the deadlines, we like the budgets, we like the pragmatic approach. We like dealing with clients who respect that we can help their business be more profitable though design.

Designphase DBA


“The office used to be considered a necessary cost. And it was a bit underappreciated in terms of its ability to be able to support a workforce where demands are made of the employees to perform exceptionally by the people who are the employers.

“But if the office isn’t providing them with the circumstances and the inspiration to continue to perform exceptionally then the office can fail in its duty.

“So as a business tool the employer wants the office to be able to support his usually quite well paid or certainly motivated employee to do better.”

Designphase DBA

Designphase DBA

Design helps drive the business of retail as well. The award-winning MBS Gift Shop reflects the glamour of the MBS development; mirrored surfaces make the small store appear twice as big.

Besides, says MacKenzie, the office “is becoming increasing part of the value proposition of the employer’s relationship with the employee”.

“So you can continue to throw higher and higher salaries at the employees to encourage them to stay with you but if your office is a dim and uninspiring dungeon of a workplace you can’t expect that your employees, no matter how much you pay them, are going to perform at their optimum.”

Designphase DBA

Hindustan Unilever HQ

Case in point, the firm’s work on the recently completed Unilever campus HQ in India was a notable and huge endeavour comprising 8 separate buildings on an 800,000 sq ft site with a built-in area of 450,000 sq ft to house some 2,000 employees.

“They closed all their other offices in India and centralised all of their facilities in Mumbai. Part of the reason for that was the unification of the brand and the people under that brand,” says MacKenzie.

Besides practical design considerations, the team was charged to develop how the space was going to look and feel for Unilever.

The team studied the organisation, its products and its recent rebranding, and came up with 2 proposed schemes, with the concept “Sensory Sensational” receiving the client’s final vote.

Designphase DBA

Shag pile carpets on the walls of Unilever’s meeting rooms address acoustic issues.

“We wanted the sense of touch to be something that everybody would be able to appreciate all the way through,” says MacKenzie.

For example, all the workstations are white but half a dozen different laminates are used on different parts of each desk for textural effect; shag pile carpets are placed on the walls of meeting rooms to address acoustic issues, and for their colour and textural impact; meeting spaces are also drawn from inside the offices and turned into brand verandas with views of the air-conditioned street, visually enhanced with product representation, some with sensory impact.

Designphase DBA

Hindustan Unilever HQ

The new campus also houses a host of amenities such as gym and sports facilities, hotel accommodation, a bar and restaurant, a food court and a crèche. The feedback so far has been “quite fantastic” says MacKenzie.

MacKenzie stresses that design considerations are truly numerous, going far beyond the décor.

“It’s the performance… So how do the things work, and are they operating properly, do the doors open the right way, are the switches in the right position… just 10,000 things that go together to make one design.”

Designphase DBA

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