“We’ve had many opportunities to leave Oakland, but we love Oakland. Every designer we have, with the exception of maybe one, lives in the East Bay. What we’re betting on and investing in is that Oakland is going to be the new design scene.” — Beau Oyler, Principal and Co-Founder of Enlisted Design
Enlisted Design makes a bold statement upon entry into its office from the building’s narrow marble stairwell: an entryway opens onto an open, minimalist white room that spans the entire second floor. The room is furnished with long white work tables, flat-screen monitors, a beanbag chair in the corner, and a dog bed complete with dog (Peanut, the studio’s hostess). A bank of windows overlooks the heart of Uptown Oakland. In the space where one might expect senior managers’ offices, there is instead a ping pong table.
The non-hierarchical nature of the office space is reflected in every aspect of Enlisted Design’s work. Billing itself as a design cooperative, Enlisted prides itself on its intensely collaborative relationship with its clients. (As a point of clarification, Enlisted is not worker-owned.) In speaking about their client relationship philosophy, Principal and Co-Founder Beau Oyler refers often to the “old model” of design work, in which there is a strict boundary between the client and design studio: Client sends in a scope of work, design studio sends back a proposal, client accepts, design studio creates a product or brand strategy in isolation and then presents it back to the client x amount of months later as a finished product.
“I think that’s a broken model, and that’s a model that all of the large and established design studios use — and I know that because I used to be a lead designer at one of those design studios,” Oyler said. “They do amazing work, don’t get me wrong. The problem that I see [with that model] is this: Your team is brilliant, my team is brilliant. What if we broke those walls down and we work together and we co-create a product so that, in the end, it’s not MY product that I’m giving to you and it’s not YOUR product that you’ve demanded I make; we’ve co-created it together.”
It’s a collaborative model that demands a greater level of client participation than in the traditional model, to be sure, but Oyler is proud of the successful and long-standing relationships they’ve built with their clients as a result. To date, the studio’s portfolio includes rebranding for AMES Tools and Merrick; industrial and product design for Netgear, Timbuk2, and Williams-Sonoma; and the studio’s most successful endeavor yet, a full strategy/product design/branding/packaging project that launched Urbio, the award-winning vertical indoor gardening and home organization product line.
Ultimately, Oyler says, their work is about allowing ideas to rise to the top until, together with their partners, they reach what Oyler calls “the glorious poof” — the vista and clouds at the top of the long climb, the one sketch or idea that makes one’s mouth drop and shout, “Oh my gosh, that’s it!”
Enlisted Design, in brief:
LOCATION: Uptown Oakland
OFFICE VIBE: Fun, happy, collaborative, transparent
WHAT THEY DO, IN ONE SENTENCE: “We collaborate to co-create products that change people’s lives.” —Beau Oyler
SERVICES OFFERED: Strategy and market research, branding, packaging, web design, product design and development