First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Phnam Bagley: Doing fine, surprisingly. We moved to a nice office in San Francisco. COVID has given us the time to turn it into a wonderful creative space.
I’m grateful to be living and working with a great partner who supports me when things look gloomy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Nonfiction
Phnam Bagley: I’m a creative director, designer and futurist from Paris, based in San Francisco. Throughout my career, I have designed a multitude of physical products, systems and architectures. My specialities include wearables, healthcare, audio, education, fashion, safety and aerospace.
With my husband Mardis Bagley, we co-founded a design firm called Nonfiction 4 years ago. Our aim is to provide the world with transformational technology and forward-thinking tangible solutions that help humans, cities and companies thrive.
Our company motto is “Turning science fiction into reality for a better future”. I have the best job in the world.
How does Nonfiction innovate?
Phnam Bagley: We exclusively work on things that have never existed before. Covering existing products in different skins is mind-numbing and quite wasteful.
We like difficult challenges, like the ones outlined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
We use unconventional methodologies, like putting the research on hold and driving innovation with intuition, experience and logic. This helps us go far beyond expectation, prototype often and implement ideas quickly.
My style of creative leadership is focused on excitement: if an idea bores me, it is automatically eliminated. If it thrills me, we’ll find a way to turn it into reality.
I’m tired of seeing black and boring designs invading people’s lives: I want to see meaning, stories, textures, colors, nature, provocation, elimination of the status quo.
Design innovation without a thorough understanding of the science and technology that make it possible is pointless. Every time I hear someone professing “design thinking”, my question is: “What about design doing?”
All of us at Nonfiction are collaborators. We ask many questions, questions just about everything and push ideas through all the way.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Phnam Bagley: Some projects have been put on hold, but they’ll start back again once things get back to “normal”. Many startups have been contacting us since people have more time to dedicate to innovation and self-realization.
We’re also having interesting conversations about international projects focused on education or social impact. The future is bright, and we’ve been keeping busy producing our Future Future video series, where we talk about design and the future of everything.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Phnam Bagley: Reducing our employees’ hours and not moving at the fast pace we are used to was hard for the first couple of months.
Conducting brainstorming sessions online is impossible, even after trying many tools. It has gotten better since then. We love our team and still meet with everyone regularly.
1. Saving money during good times saved our company.
2. Spending time and effort on marketing when the competition is mostly silent is brilliant.
3. It’s important to check in with everyone individually and as a group. An open culture of care and respect is the backbone of any healthy organization.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Nonfiction in the future?
Phnam Bagley: Yoga, a good night’s sleep, meeting people online, spending time with your social pod, cooking for them, dancing wholeheartedly among trees to beautiful music.
We’re in the process of starting on bigger, bolder projects. We are aligning our company’s motto with our client goals, and it has been thrilling to see the natural transition.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Phnam Bagley: I don’t care about competition. I believe everybody is entitled to do the best they can. Staying in the game is exhausting, and the surest way to plague yourself with anxiety. Leading your own game is the only place to be.
Your final thoughts
Phnam Bagley: Let’s take advantage of this crisis to eliminate all the bad habits this world has created.
This is the time for education, sustainability, emotional wellbeing, technology, exploration, risk-taking, absurdity and the arts to shine. It’s time shake things up, bring up diverse visions and true talent, and eliminate top-heavy money wasters.
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