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May 12, 2020

3 Things I Look Forward to After the Great Lockdown

By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab

It is halfway through the second quarter of 2020, and for some, time has never moved so slowly when you are staying indoors every day, trying to stave off a massive Covid-19 outbreak.

As more countries look for a way out of this pandemic, I’m grateful that Australia is one of the few lucky countries that flattened the curve considerably and are looking to define a new normal, relaxing restrictions stage by stage until we get to a Covid-19 safe economy. 

I hope you are well in spirit, body, and mind. Most of my friends and network seemed to have accepted the situation and are dealing with it well. Some are, of course, finding it harder.

In times like these, I think of the 5 stages of grief model by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which explains the emotional cycle we go through as we experience a deep loss. It is apt for our situation today because it is highly likely that our normal is gone, at least not for another year until we find a vaccine. 

The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance

The cycle looks something like this:

Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle

Depending on where you are in the broader economy and your personal situation, you will be able to associate ourselves to one of these stages. When you are in the Denial and Anger phase, what you need the most is information and communication. During the Depression stage, you need emotional support the most. And as soon as you step into the Bargaining and Acceptance phase, what works is guidance and direction.

As the principal of Relab, a digital design agency, I have a responsibility to check in on my team regularly. Fortunately, we have been relatively unscathed, but everyone is adjusting to a new way of doing business and working. If anything, our team is in the Acceptance phase, recognising the new reality around us and trying not to be naïve about it while staying grounded.

With more people slowly coming out of their houses as the government eases lockdown restrictions, there are 3 things I’m looking forward to sharing and witnessing in our industry and the world in general.  

1. The Past: Our lessons

After watching the Lion King over and over again with my toddler during this lockdown, I think it would be wise not to dwell, rather, to look forward and learn from the past. I love this piece of wisdom from Rafiki in the movie, “Oh yes, the past can hurt… But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."

Rafiki and Simba discussing life lessons

For our team, I think the biggest lesson we learnt is the importance of accountability in our work and our words. Although this is one of our company values called "Service", this pandemic really brought the meaning home for us and the absolute importance of it, both from a teamwork perspective and a client services perspective. 

One of the main survival ethos that I hold strongly is that we will go through this and together we shall. Keeping our teams together is as important as being able to support our customers to get to the other side. The critical phase in all this is to get to the point where you accept and embrace the reality. There are things you can’t control, but you can work and navigate around it instead.

This Covid-19 pandemic will go down in history books, just like the two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Financial Crisis. And just like all the previous bleak and depressing events, you will learn from it and, hopefully, emerge better.

2. The Present: A new normal

We are already seeing a new normal. More and more people are relying on food delivery services, exercising at home, joining online classes, working from home, shopping online, and decorating their homes. With the uncertain economic environment and rising unemployment rates, people are also more reluctant to spend money. 

New perspectives will arise, and old habits will slowly fade away. Many are now willing to accept, adapt or even prefer what they used to scoff at such as virtual offices, co-working hubs, cloud services and online shopping. 

In the retail industry, where a bulk of our clients are in, I expect many businesses will fast track digitisation and automate processes to accommodate the shifting consumer behaviours. Companies will double down on digital projects, making them more efficient to support this new environment. Bricks and mortar stores will focus on brand experience rather than a shopping outlet. 

3. The future: New opportunities

Some businesses will collapse, some will survive, others will thrive, and new ones will be created. Ultimately, the market will tell us what it needs. Some of the leading companies we know today were born out of the last global financial crisis such as WhatsApp, Airbnb and Slack.

I think the playing field will be more level. Big companies or conglomerates may be laden under enormous debt and bureaucracy, giving a window of opportunity for small or new businesses to compete on a more balanced footing. It is like a massive ‘restart’ button, one that allows you to rethink, reinvent or pivot to a completely new idea.

For us, I am raring to look at opportunities beyond our borders. We’ve had clients in other states before, but now that we’ve seen how efficiently we can do work online, I don’t think there is an excuse for us to limit our reach to a small client pool. Distance is no longer an issue, and we can easily expand our portfolio and services without opening a new office or hiring a new team. 

In addition, I want to expand our knowledge sharing, creating more content on what we are good at, for others keen to learn the digital design craft and methodology. Whether it is an online class, webinars, or one-on-one coaching sessions, I feel this is a good way to hone my craft, meet new people and give back to the industry. 

What about you? Tell me what you’ve learnt and what you’re looking forward to...

April 15, 2020

How Our Digital Design Agency is Surviving the Covid-19 Pandemic

By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab

It’s a strange time to be in business now. Like everyone else, our digital design agency has had to change the way we work to ride out this Covid-19 pandemic.

I must add that we’re relatively lucky to be in the digital space and service industries with a continuous need for our work, even during this unprecedented business climate. I know it has been devastating for businesses in other industries, and I hope most will get through unscathed.

And so far, it has been good.

I think there are a few factors that will determine whether your business can thrive in a virtual world. The tangible factors are your organisational structure, reliable cloud services and technology, as well as clear workflow and HR policies.

The intangible factors are harder to get right, and it comes in the form of good teamwork, accountability and company culture. All I can say is, if your company has a bad culture or too much office politics, you will struggle to shift to remote work, no matter the technology or process you have in place.

Clarity of role and organisational structure

As a small company, our structure is pretty much flat, and everyone has a role to play. Before we shifted to working from home, we made sure everyone fully understood their roles, what was expected of them and established communication guidelines to avoid any misunderstanding when we can’t physically see each other.

Perfecting the workflow

I believe that at the end of the day, productivity wins, no matter what the situation is in the economy. Our team agreed that no matter what happened, we would stay productive.. Basically, we spent one full week reviewing, testing and refining our remote workflow and technology stack to accommodate remote work.

Investing in the right technology combo

We are fortunate to be living in a time when there are so many choices in collaborative software and platforms that allow people to work together from different locations. Our office servers are segmented for 3 different purposes, one for “Work In Progress”, the second for “Completed Work”, and the last for “Archived or Legacy Work”.

Digital design tools like Figma, workshopping software like Mural and collaboration hubs like Slack were already heavily used by our team, as well as Atlassian products like Jira and Confluence for a streamlined project management process. It’s worthwhile to invest in a good technology stack that lets you shift the way you do work and automate your processes easily.

Excellent teamwork and comradery

We didn’t want to lose the “one team” soul we had before the lockdown, so we made sure that we all stayed connected and motivated each other to make the transition easier. We like to back each other up and are quick to offer a hand when someone needs it.

True, it is different when you don’t meet each other every day, but comradery can transcend an office space. Good teamwork is an inexplicable factor that you either have or don’t in your company. It’s the intangible good vibes you feel when you work together.

Accountability and transparency

I don’t like micromanaging anyone and I don’t think any employee loves it either. But we still needed to get a lot done while working from home. We’ve always had a transparent and honest working culture, where we choose to trust each other. That means I don’t have to check up on someone to see whether they will finish on time because I know it is their priority.

I encourage people to give updates rather than wait to be followed up on because it makes everything so much easier for everyone involved in the project. Accountability should be embedded in your working culture, and there are scheduling, project management and communication tools to help.  

However, there’s one challenge that concerns me with working from home, and that is losing the personal touch with our customers. We touch base with our customers through video conference meetings, online chats and even phone calls if needed. This was our main form of communication even before the pandemic, but now it has become an art itself and I’m mindful of how we conduct ourselves online.

This period has made me ponder many things, including the need for a big office space and how to improve our processes further. I’m sure many businesses are looking at rejigging or transforming many areas once they get to the other side of this health and economic nightmare.

Our team is even learning more about one another. We are appreciating our home office, out-of-work hours and being able to learn and enjoy new things that we usually have no time to do. Our partners and customers have also been great in adapting to the rapid changes. It was our commitment to make them feel like nothing has changed about our services, and the feedback has been encouraging.

I personally find people being a lot nicer to others. I’m always happy to see little things like that. Oh, and if you’re reading this and need to chat about anything, I’m more than happy to spare time and see if I can help you. Reach out to me through alvin@relab.com.au.

Stay well, stay positive.

May 15, 2019

How I learnt to stop worrying and love my clients

By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab

Listen to the audio version of this article via Soundcloud below:

The love-hate relationship between an agency and its clients is like a badly kept industry secret.

As an agency, you want full creative freedom, but the client may have a fixed mindset which requires revising your work 10,000 times. You’re keen to try a new idea, but the client has a permanent trauma from bombed-out campaigns in the past. You’d love a big budget to take you to the moon and back… but, keep on dreaming, friend.

Inevitably, agencies tend to swallow jobs whole without thinking whether the diet suits them. Nike’s motto, “Just do it” quickly becomes their personal mantra. Except it’s embellished with 4-letter words.

Where did we go wrong?

Creative types tend to get sensitive when it comes to our work and ideas that it becomes a double-edged sword. It’s great to defend your brilliant ideas to the death but not accepting feedback or criticism means you’re not going to produce the best work.

I understand the grievances too.

Sometimes, you may get clients who are difficult to work with, who thinks they are Van Gogh and you’re just a paint-by-number artist. Or the kind who has no idea what they want but shoots down all 100 ideas you have presented.

Referenced from: https://clientsfromhell.net/post/274780444/yaili-dilbert-comic-strip-for-12072009-from

Although it’s easy for designers, copywriters, coders and marketers to hate a project with every fibre of their being, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Once you start feeling this way, you’ll descend into a downward spiral until it becomes a toxic relationship.

Over time, I’ve learnt how to stop my blood pressure from going up and learnt to love working with clients with these 5 principles.

1. Shift your mindset

The keyword here is empathy — putting yourself in your client’s shoes. Try shifting your mindset to focus on the value that you’re bringing to your clients. Most clients only care about what’s in it for them, and you’d be off to a good start if you start thinking this way.

Personally, I tend to refer my clients as customers instead. A small difference but with a big impact for my agency. I like how customer service is run in retail and hospitality industries, where the customers are (almost) always right, and I try to emulate that with my team.

2. Decide who you want to work with

Take a good hard look at your existing clients. Do they appreciate the hard work, commitment and skills you bring to the table? Or do they make your working life a living hell? I promise you good clients do exist. But first, you must know what your niche in the market is, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. There’s a market for everyone, if you know who you are and what value you can offer.

3. Have the heart for people

This is a black and white thing. Either you love dealing with people or you don’t. If you don’t, there’s no shame in it. I suggest hiring or partnering with a person who has the heart for it because people can smell insincerity a mile away.

Then, you need to build a team that embraces this value. It’s so important to have the right front-of-house team for the business. In a fine dining restaurant, the host, waiters and sommelier work together to ensure your dining experience is worthy of the price you paid. This is what you should aspire to be. Imagine if the agency owner is the host and personally greets you at the door, wouldn’t you feel good?

4. Step away from the artist mindset

There is a fine line between art and commercial and I truly believe there is a point of intersection. The best agencies understand this very well. They are experts at treading the grey area between idealism and pragmatism.

Being practical does not mean that it’s the end of your creative freedom. It means you are willing to listen, empathise, and guide your clients towards a solution that leaves everyone satisfied.

5. Practice eating the humble pie

Being humble gets easier as you grow older. Humility is just another branch of wisdom and like fine wine, it gets better with age. In a healthy relationship, each party knows that they are not perfect, and can comfortably provide each other with constructive feedback.

It helps to remember that you’re providing an experience for your client the moment they contact you or step through the door. They are at the centre of the experience, not you.

Be open to scrutiny. And for the love of God, try to genuinely care about the feedback you get because they’re good for you. I’ve seen several account managers who couldn’t give a hoot about what people say, which never helps their businesses.

I’m a big believer in customer service. As a matter of fact, it’s my biggest challenge as Relab grows its client base because there are many contributing factors to a client’s experience.

Customer service will always remain my number one priority in the agency’s to-do list. I sometimes think we are customer obsessed, because it’s what has worked for us since the day we started business.


Illustrations by: Irenne Tj
https://www.instagram.com/irennetj/
https://www.facebook.com/inspirationneverends/

May 15, 2019

How to Find Success as an Introvert Running a Design Business

By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab

Listen to the audio version of this article via Soundcloud below:

As more and more Silicon Valley powerhouses take to the limelight, I don’t think there’s a better time to be an introvert in business. Right now, it’s cool to be a geek because, hey, don’t they run the world?

Of course, that wasn’t always the case.

There was a time when you wouldn’t wear your introvert-ness on your sleeve, in case you get mocked or beaten up. It used to be considered close to a plague, rather than a badge of honour.

As a child, I was always uncomfortable under the spotlight and preferred to play by myself. I was an only child for 12 years before my little sister was born, which meant I had plenty of time to hone my imagination with action figures and crazy storylines.

I don’t know if it was just how Asian kids were brought up, to shy away and keep quiet, but I always avoided and hated making mistakes.

And being the centre of attention will put you up for some serious scrutiny and judgement. In my mind, I was better off being an unknown than someone who did something wrong or stupid.

Creating my dual personality

When I was about 10, I figured out a trick to make myself stand up and speak up. If I had no choice but to speak in public or in a crowd, I might as well volunteer to go first so I can get it over and done with quickly.

If we had to share a story, recite a poem or solve a maths problem in class, I’d be the first to raise my hand and volunteer. Then I can sit back and relax after I’m done, instead of anxiously avoiding eye contact with the teacher or feeling nervous the whole time waiting for my turn.

After some time, it did wonders for my personality. I had created an “on” and “off” switch that controlled my persona in public. I could be the Alvin who was social and outspoken or the real Alvin who preferred time off from people.

Until today, I’m still uncomfortable when I don’t know anyone in social situations. I don’t think that characteristic ever goes away for an introvert. But I could easily push myself out of my comfort zone with a flick of my internal switch.

The characteristics that help introverts shine in business

In the last 5 years, I’ve used the “on” switch more than my entire life since I started Relab, a digital design agency in Melbourne, Australia.

In this business, it’s all about who you know.

I had to force myself to meet people, build a network and pitch for projects. Every time I attended meetings, presentations and networking sessions, I’d deplete my energy with all the talking. Afterwards, I would be semi-lifeless because I was trying to be the best version of myself in those meetings.

Now that I’ve fully embraced my introvert qualities, I know exactly what makes an introverted entrepreneur successful.

1. We’re great listeners

I guess the upside of not having the gift of gab, is that we can listen better than extroverts. Personally, I also hate unclear and messy information, so I make it a point to pay attention in meetings.

I recall one successful project where my listening skills came in handy. It was a government based project with multiple stakeholders.

A typical meeting would consist of a hundred ideas and opinions being thrown to the table by different individuals. Everyone wanted something different. Filtering and navigating through it would give anyone a massive headache.

I don’t think I would have survived each meeting if I wasn’t able to sit back, listen and take in everyone’s input. My team weighed all the pros and cons of each idea and opinion and managed to design a solution that was a happy medium for all.

Introverts have this amazing ability to listen and observe, which makes problem solving easier because we understand the problem or premise thoroughly.

2. We highly value personal relationships

I guess it is to do with the fact that we don’t usually have a lot of friends. We rely on a handful of solid and reliable relationships in our lives, most of them nurtured from an early age. It’s why I highly value 1-on-1 conversations and individual opinions.

In my line of work, I’ve met many personalities, from alpha males to quiet and sensitive intellects. Usually, I’ll fine tune my communication to complement their personality.

When I’m with a soft-spoken person, I’ll balance it out by being enthusiastic without going over the top. The idea is to build a natural synergy, so the other person is comfortable talking, sharing and disagreeing with me.

3. We tend to be genuinely empathetic

One of the downside of being an introvert is that we’re sensitive and tend to overthink. We may stress over insignificant details, encounters and conversations. A slight nod or a smirk may send us questioning the motive or meaning behind it.

The upside is that empathy comes easy for us.

I’ve done many big-scale projects involving multiple service providers and contractors, with different responsibilities and goals. My best approach is to always think about other parties, which helps me plan the big picture, foresee risk and minimise trouble for the whole team.

I’ll always ask: “How do we make the other party’s life easier and more efficient, so we can all be successful in this project?”

4. We’re our own best critic

Introverts are often insecure and critical of themselves. However, being critical also means you are fully aware of what you’re good at and what you lack in. If you can channel the quality positively, you can be a master at personal growth, which is a hallmark trait of successful people.

Like most creative types, I used to romanticise or idealise all my work to the point that I would push back deadlines, just so I can make it perfect. I know now that the best outcome comes from having different points of view. Nowadays, I love collaborating with our clients because this also eliminates all the time I used to spend wrestling with my mind trying to perfect my work.

So, don’t hold back.

I know how scary it is to start a business, what more for an introvert in a business that requires a lot of networking, selling and collaborating. It’s easy to feel discouraged when you look at or are facing someone who speaks louder or quicker to reply and respond than you. People may brush you aside or overlook you because you’re quiet.

But that’s okay.

You can use that energy as motivation to prove others wrong. I suspect introverts make up more than half of the world, and some have been doing mighty fine with the unique qualities they possess. Why not take a chance?


Illustrations by: Irenne Tj
https://www.instagram.com/irennetj/
https://www.facebook.com/inspirationneverends/

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A customer obsessed digital design consultancy

A customer obsessed digital design consultancy

A customer obsessed digital design consultancy

A customer obsessed digital design consultancy

A customer obsessed digital design consultancy

Suite 1, Level 1
8-10 Shelley Street
Richmond VIC 3121

+613 9421 5069
hello@relab.com.au


Suite 1, Level 1
8-10 Shelley Street
Richmond VIC 3121

+613 9421 5069
hello@relab.com.au


Suite 1, Level 1
8-10 Shelley Street
Richmond VIC 3121

+613 9421 5069
hello@relab.com.au


Suite 1, Level 1
8-10 Shelley Street
Richmond VIC 3121

+61 3 9421 5069
hello@relab.com.au

Suite 1, Level 1
8-10 Shelley Street
Richmond VIC 3121

+61 3 9421 5069
hello@relab.com.au

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Schedule a video/audio call to discuss about how we can help you

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Copyright © 2020 Relab Studios Pty Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020 Relab Studios Pty Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020 Relab Studios Pty Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020 Relab Studios Pty Ltd.  All rights reserved.