In the dynamic world of interior design, where creativity knows no bounds, and innovation reigns supreme, there exists a creative force whose work exemplifies a unique blend of artistic flair and scientific precision. Pallavi Dean, the visionary founder of ROAR, a renowned multi-sector design firm, is a name synonymous with excellence, diversity, and the redefinition of spatial experiences. ROAR, thriving for a decade since its inception in 2013, is more than just another design firm; it’s a testament to the indomitable spirit of creative exploration. In an exclusive interview, Pallavi Dean invites us to embark on a journey through the history, philosophy, and core values of ROAR, a firm that refuses to be bound by conventional design paradigms.
From nurturing both the artistic and scientific aspects of her design approach to implementing a 25-step process that ensures excellence, Dean’s work is a response to function, program, and the quest for award-worthy designs. Her commitment to creating experiences rather than mere interiors leads to designs that cater to people’s long-term needs and emotions. Dean doesn’t stop at human-centric design; she delves into phenomenology, understanding the depth of how individuals experience the spaces she designs. The ROAR experience is the culmination of diverse cultural influences, shaped by Dean’s upbringing in India, and Dubai, and their professional journey in London. Her unique perspective, shaped by these contrasting worlds, creates designs that resonate with a broad spectrum of individuals.
As you read on, you’ll discover the essence of ROAR encapsulated in three words, and understand how this fierce, feminine, and innovative design firm is rewriting the script of interior design.
Foyer (F): To start, could you provide an overview of ROAR, the firm you founded in 2013, leading us through its journey and focus for our audience?
Pallavi Dean (PD): Certainly. ROAR has been thriving for a decade since its establishment in 2013. We describe ourselves as a multi-sector design firm, engaging in various domains such as residential, commercial, hospitality, and education. I founded the company not because the world necessarily needed another design firm, but because I sought flexibility as a new mother and the freedom to explore creativity without commercial constraints. Another significant aspect is that we are 92% female, which I consider essential to shift the traditionally male-dominated construction industry’s dynamic and composition.
Foyer (F): Thank you for sharing that insight. Moving forward, you mentioned nurturing both the artistic and scientific aspects of your design approach. Could you delve deeper into how these facets combine within your projects?
PD: Absolutely. Our tagline encapsulates it well: we are 50% wild and 50% team. The “wild” side represents the creative, artistic aspect that every designer possesses, while the “team” aspect is grounded in evidence-based, scientific processes. Our work is a response to function and program, ensuring that our artistic creativity remains balanced by rigorous, scientific methods. We’ve implemented a proprietary 25-step process for every ROAR designer, creating checks and balances that guarantee we deliver designs that are not only visually captivating but also aligned with our client’s needs and the project’s context.
F: Could you elaborate on this 25-step process? What does it entail?
PD: This 25-step process, which we’ve developed, is known as “User Experience Design.” Originally, when the firm was smaller and I was the sole designer, it was an intuitive way of working. As we’ve grown to a team of 35, I had to distil my design methodology into a consistent process to ensure predictable outcomes. The steps involve comprehensive site surveys, collaboration with sub-consultants, and considerations for achieving award-winning designs, among many other detailed elements. It’s a structured approach that’s intuitive for us and maintains consistency in our design output.
F: You mentioned the importance of creating award-winning designs. Can you share your perspective on what makes a design worthy of awards and how you strive to achieve it?
PD: Awards are not our primary focus, but they often follow when you prioritize excellence. For us, an award-worthy design pushes boundaries and introduces elements not seen before. Take, for example, our recent project, a retail store. While many are adopting similar design approaches, we aim to do something unique and innovative. Another aspect is the volume of work, as design is an iterative process. Being efficient in our delivery allows us to test, learn, and reinvent, contributing to the development of award-worthy designs.
F: You emphasize creating experiences rather than mere interiors. Could you explain how you ensure that your designs cater to people’s long-term needs and experiences?
PD: Absolutely. We recognize that people spend a significant portion of their lives indoors, so every aspect of the environment influences their experiences and well-being. We aim to stimulate all five senses in our designs – visual appeal, scent, sound, and more. We ensure that our spaces engage with these senses to create immersive experiences. Ultimately, it’s about understanding the emotional and functional aspects that space can influence, which is essential for delivering human-centric designs.
F: Would it be accurate to say that your designs are rooted in human-centric design?
PD: While human-centric design is crucial, we consider our approach more theoretically rooted in phenomenology. We focus on understanding how spaces evoke reactions and responses. It’s not just about considering humans; it’s about delving into the depth of how people experience the spaces we design.
F: Your background is quite diverse, having been born in India, raised in Dubai, and working in London. How have these unique experiences influenced your design style, and how do they come together in your work?
PD: My background is indeed a tapestry of different cultural influences. I’ve embraced this diversity rather than viewing it as a limitation. The tension between these cultural forces has shaped my design sensibilities. I consider myself more Arab than Indian in many aspects due to my upbringing in Dubai, although my entire family is British. This mix of cultural influences has contributed to my curiosity, and my work reflects this tension and curiosity. It provides me with a holistic view of the world and enriches my design perspective.
F: Who are some contemporaries or influencers from these different worlds you look up to in the field of design?
PD: From the British design world, I deeply admire Thomas Heatherwick for his innovative and out-of-the-box work. In the Arab world, Zaha Hadid’s deconstructive architectural style has always been inspiring, and I appreciate contemporary designers like Khaled Shafar and Nadine Kanso. In India, fashion designers such as Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta, and Amit Agarwal inspire me with their ability to capture and portray Indian culture innovatively. Bollywood, with its unique set designs, also plays a role in influencing my work.
F: Let’s shift our focus to your collaboration with Artemide and the concept of interactive lighting design. Can you share more about this partnership and your inspiration behind interactive lighting design?
PD: The collaboration with Artemide was an incredible opportunity for me. Being the first Indian designer to be on their design list was a source of great pride. Dubai has traditionally been seen as an importer of design, but this collaboration allowed me to export design that was influenced by India and based in Dubai to a global stage. Interactive lighting design was my response to the fact that designers often try to control how people experience a space. To give users more agency, our light fixtures allow customization. Users can assemble their lighting components according to their preferences, becoming part of the design process. This concept empowers users to shape their own experiences within a space.
F: Can you share a particularly challenging project that ROAR has taken on and how your team successfully addressed those challenges?
PD: Every project presents its unique set of challenges, and there’s no specific one that stands out as exceptionally challenging. Our challenges vary from communication with sub-consultants, ensuring a thorough understanding of the client’s brief, to collaborating with the client to reach the desired outcome. The key is to own any mistakes and work towards improvements. It’s an ongoing learning process for us, and we embrace it.
F: You mentioned that your projects are known for their speedy delivery. Can you elaborate on the timeline of a typical project and whether it varies depending on the project type?
PD: Project timelines indeed vary based on the project type. A large-scale project like a mega hotel may take three years, whereas smaller projects like residential design could be completed in months. When I speak of speedy delivery, it’s not about rushing through projects; it’s about the efficiency achieved through our well-defined design processes.
F: What would be your dream collaboration, if any?
PD: I’m not someone who dwells on future ambitions or collaborations. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had, and I embrace the present. I’ve already had some dream collaborations, like the one with Artemide, which have been immensely fulfilling.
F: If you had to describe ROAR in three words, excluding “wild,” what would they be?
PD: Fierce, feminine, and innovative.
Pallavi Dean’s journey in the world of design is a testament to the idea that diversity breeds creativity and that innovation knows no bounds. Through the lens of ROAR’s 10-year legacy, we’ve ventured into a world where artistic flair and scientific rigour coexist harmoniously, where challenges are viewed as opportunities, and where every space created is an experience to remember. Pallavi Dean’s unyielding commitment to redefining the traditional roles of design, and her belief in the power of interdisciplinary thinking, is an inspiration to aspiring designers and a beacon of excellence in the design world. Her dedication to empowering users and enhancing their spatial experiences brings a refreshing breeze of democratization to the design universe.
As we conclude this in-depth interview, we invite you to explore the work of ROAR and discover for yourself the immersive, innovative, and inspiring designs created by Pallavi Dean and her team.
Image Courtesy: Roar