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“Find time to do the things that you love to do.”, with Alejandra Albarran

Design has the power to impact our emotions. I like to think of design as a holistic experience that touches every one of our senses. I design for the multi-sensory encounters that people have while inhabiting a space and how those experiences will make them feel. It’s not just about aesthetics, but also about the […]

Design has the power to impact our emotions. I like to think of design as a holistic experience that touches every one of our senses. I design for the multi-sensory encounters that people have while inhabiting a space and how those experiences will make them feel. It’s not just about aesthetics, but also about the dynamics that will naturally evolve and the emotions and behaviors that each space will awaken. For example, if I am designing a wellness room, I’ll choose light colors to calm the mind, use natural materials and fibres that are soft to the touch, comfortable seating, beautiful indoor plants and if possible, lots of natural light.


Aninterior designer by trade, Alejandra is a creative tech entrepreneur and the design force behind the ROOM phone booth, recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2018 and Fast Company’s 2019 Innovation by Design awards. At ROOM, she blends her entrepreneurial experience with her design background to build smart modular solutions that create better work experiences.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born and raised in Mexico City. I am the mother of four beautiful kids and a very happy wife to the love of my life. Early on, as a little girl, I discovered my passion for art and design. I attribute my creative side to my grandmother. Growing up, she spent hours making art with me and encouraging me to use my hands. We used anything and everything that we could find at her house, and when I look back, those are some of the moments that I cherish the most.

I went on to study fashion design at CENTRO in Mexico City. During that time, I had the opportunity to enroll in courses at Central Saint Martins in London. It was a pivotal moment for me. I was immersed in design every day, but I also learned about the importance of the creative process. I learned that before jumping into a design you need a foundation: concept development. Without this step in the creative process, the design can only go so far. I learned that regardless of what I was designing, the creative process is a constant.

When I started my career, fashion was an obvious path because of my love for design and clothing. I launched my own ready-to-wear label with a friend, called Alessa Casati. It was my first attempt at starting and running my own business, and to my surprise, the brand was very well received. We were invited to participate in different fashion shows, including Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, and we sold our lines to many boutiques and department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue.

Fashion is a very competitive industry. We ran the company for five years. I still look back at those years as some of the most adventurous and exciting times of my life. I was out in the world, giving it my best shot.

While working at Alessa Casati, I designed my first apartment and I quickly realized that I loved working in interiors just as much, if not more than fashion. I was hired by a handful of friends to help them design their spaces, and after closing down my fashion label, I jumped straight into this new world.

In 2009, my partner Mariana Rivera and I started an interior design firm specializing in residential and commercial spaces, called Estudio 228. Our projects were diverse, spanning from penthouses to restaurants and bars. I learned to design for large scales and visualize the possibilities of a physical space before starting to design. The spark that comes with walking into a space and imagining all of the possibilities and ways it can be transformed, and then turning that into a reality, is something that I’m still passionate about today.

I worked at Estudio 228 until 2015 when I moved to San Francisco to start a new chapter of my life. There, I ventured into a completely different world — the world of startups and VCs. For two years, I was a tech entrepreneur and developed an app that aggregated various social media channels with the address book in your phone. The concept: a simple way to stay in the know and in contact with the people that you love. Roughly two years in, the technology landscape in Silicon Valley started to shift. We learned that social media platforms, like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. were closing their APIs to applications like mine. And, very quickly, that was the end. But it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

In 2017 love made me move to New York City. As I was figuring out my next steps, an opportunity to design a phone booth for office spaces came my way. Designing physical products and structures was something that I had never done before, but as a creative, I was intrigued by the challenge. I worked on the phone booth from its earliest stage, and, together with Morten Meisner-Jensen and Brian Chen, ROOM’s co-founders, we developed an entirely new brand identity and eventually arrived at our current name, ROOM. We began developing flexible, cost-effective booths that any company could integrate into their office space. I started out freelancing for ROOM, which quickly turned into a full time role. It’s extremely rewarding to get to work on products that can improve people’s lives. As the Director of Design and Innovation for ROOM, I get to combine product design and workplace design, and those two areas are directly shaping the future of work. Changing the physical work environment tends to have a ripple effect on the other aspects of an employee’s life. I feel lucky to be a part of that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

As I mentioned, I had an idea for an app that aggregated various social media channels with the address book in your phone. As a designer, conceptualizing how I wanted the application to look and feel came naturally to me. From there, I started looking for people to help me develop the app. That search began in Mexico City, but it was challenging to find people with the right skillset, so I began reaching out to companies in San Francisco.

Like getting any business off the ground, many companies didn’t answer my emails. Eventually, a couple did and asked me to come to San Francisco to meet them and present my concept. Coming from fashion and interior design, I felt out of place and didn’t know what would resonate with the tech crowd, so I just focused on my concept. I was lucky that the second firm that I met with really latched onto my idea, and they asked me to come back the following day. I met the founder, who actually had similar app idea, and we partnered to build the product.

During my two years building the app, I learned a lot about the tech world, from user experience to fundraising. We eventually went on to launch the beta version in Australia, Canada and London. It was successful and we were gaining a lot of organic traffic. But shortly thereafter, we heard that LinkedIn was closing their API boundaries, preventing companies like mine from aggregating social media data that we needed to run the app. Facebook followed, taking a similar approach, and it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to continue to make our app work.

The most important lesson that I learned coming out of this was, “never build in somebody else’s garden,” meaning never let your business become dependent on others.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There isn’t a specific mistake that I can recall when I first started out in my career (I’m sure there were many), but something that was difficult for me to learn was assuming that things will work out the way that you want them to. As a dreamer, I like to believe that things will go my way, but I have learned throughout my career that people will disappoint you. Not out of maliciousness, but simply because everyone is busy and trying to figure out their own paths. So instead of waiting for help from others, you need to be prepared and willing to figure it out yourself, and always have a ‘plan B’ in the event that it doesn’t work out.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people who have helped me at different points in my career. I would say my grandmother for helping me develop my creative side, for lighting that initial spark. My parents for always supporting me in my crazy adventures. My sister Maria for making my life more fun. I am also very grateful to my friends and business partners, Sofia and Mariana. Both are extremely talented and hardworking. I look up to them as power women. To my husband for believing in me and pushing me to try new things and trust myself. And my children who give me all the reasons that I need to move forward.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

As humans, we are deeply influenced by our spatial environment. Our surroundings significantly impact our sense of self and how we connect with others. We absorb the qualities of our surroundings and they extend directly into our experiences.

We spend approximately one third of our lives at work. When I think about the environments that I design, I want to make sure they have a profound impact on our health, happiness and productivity. I want to build spaces that accommodate all types of people because we all thrive in different kinds of environments. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.

I start to design by anticipating the needs and preferences that a person will have throughout their day. I believe it’s crucial to offer choice because we need different spaces for different activities, whether it be focus rooms, areas for community or quiet spaces to just get away.

Design has the power to impact our emotions. I like to think of design as a holistic experience that touches every one of our senses. I design for the multi-sensory encounters that people have while inhabiting a space and how those experiences will make them feel. It’s not just about aesthetics, but also about the dynamics that will naturally evolve and the emotions and behaviors that each space will awaken. For example, if I am designing a wellness room, I’ll choose light colors to calm the mind, use natural materials and fibres that are soft to the touch, comfortable seating, beautiful indoor plants and if possible, lots of natural light.

Wellness in the workplace is something that we believe in as a company. This fall, ROOM designed a mediation booth in collaboration with Calm, the #1 app worldwide for sleep and meditation, to inspire relaxation as soon as you step in. The walls are covered in large images of a mystic forest. Just looking at images of nature is proven to reduce stress, and just a few minutes of meditation a day can improve our mental health and focus significantly.

Can you share your top five“lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. No matter how busy or how successful you are, never forget who you are.
  2. Find time to do the things that you love to do.
  3. Pause and do it often.
  4. Remember to give yourself the gift of presence.
  5. Find time to be mindful about your body, mind and soul.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Since we spend more than one third of our lives at work, I would probably design a movement that supports wellness in the workplace. As an advocate for flexibility, my movement would be ensuring that people have the ability to choose different work spaces that suit what they need in the moment. It isn’t realistic that we expect people to be happy, productive and motivated in the same surroundings every day. I’d like to create more awareness about how much space and our environments actually influence our wellness.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  • Don’t take everything too seriously and this too shall pass. When we are young and trying to find our place in the world and be successful, we take on each challenge with a ton of passion. When those moments don’t go according to plan, it can have profound effects on our emotional state and psyche. At times, it can feel like the end of the world. Looking back, I would tell my younger self to take those moments with a grain of salt. You will come out on the other side, and more likely than not, will learn a lesson that will help you in the future.
  • Stay naive. This piece of advice is especially dear to me as an artist and designer because if we stop believing that we can achieve anything, then we stop growing and trying. We need to find ways to stay curious and imaginative, despite our age or what stage we’re at in our careers or personal lives.
  • Try something new. Even if you are doing something that you absolutely love, the simple act of doing it every day can become routine or mundane. In hindsight, we need to find ways to challenge ourselves to keep our creative juices flowing. I learned that new ideas and new perspectives don’t always come from the world that we work or live in. You need to expand and find creative outlets outside of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t overthink big decisions. We’ve all been there, paralyzed by what the ‘right’ decision is or the best next step to take when we’re at a crossroads. But looking back, it’s better to choose a path instead of not move at all. Regardless of which path you choose, when you put your energy and focus into a single direction, more often than not, opportunities surface. Those might take you down an unexpected and different path, but it in the end, it is all part of your journey.
  • Allocate time for yourself everyday. It’s easy to get caught up in life, especially our work. Now that I’m older and hopefully a little bit wiser, I remind myself that the work will be there tomorrow and it will get done. Listen to your mind and body, but to do that you need to carve out time for you.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Lately what has been in my mind the most is mental health. I believe that it is just as important as physical health. In recent years, there has been more awareness about it, and little by little we are lifting the stigma associated with it.

Mental illness affects nearly 20% of adults in North America and it can seriously impact our physical health. Things like stress, anxiety and depression are just a few common forms of mental illness. More than ever before, it’s important to create a safe space for people with mental illness where they can openly talk about what they’re going through and feel supported. As a designer, I like to create welcoming environments where people can find refuge when they need to take a break, as well as spaces designed for mindfulness.

I strongly suggest that companies work to create these types of environments in their workspaces and openly speak about mental health. Culture is another powerful tool that can help address mental illness by encouraging healthy, respectful habits in the workplace.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram

  • @_alejandra_albarran
  • @madebyroom

LinkedIn

  • Alejandra Albarran

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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