Managing Director of A/D/O
For years, Brooklyn has been a hot spot for creativity and design. So it’s no surprise that car manufacturer, MINI, self-titled as “the emotive design company”, opened a creative space, A/D/O, in early 2017 at Greenpoint.
A 23,000 sq. ft workspace unlike any other, A/D/O gathers a community of designers and creatives to explore the future of design. Nathan Pinsely, the managing director of A/D/O, invited use for coffee at the space to better understand the what makes the creative process so unique there, and the link to MINI.
Nate, can you tell us a little bit more about the A/D/O initiative?
A/D/O stands for Amalgamated Drawing Office, which was the 1st MINI design team name back in 1959. Today, the idea behind A/D/O is to offer the company a creative space with a new approach to innovation. MINI is becoming a global lifestyle brand. So, rather than doing things secretly behind closed doors and attempt to understand future trends that way, we want to engage the creative community and designers in a mutually beneficial conversation. A/D/O is a place where people can come work on their projects, share studio spaces, experience, and events. Everyone is free to work on their own stuff, but the idea is to link people through shared curiosity about the future of design.
That’s what makes us a little bit different. We are not just a creative coworking space.
Why did MINI decide to open A/D/O in Brooklyn?
We had the option to open the space in a few different places around the globe. We did a search for creative capital and considered many factors. Ultimately, Brooklyn drew us because it has the largest community of creative professionals per capita of any city in the world. We’re interested in industries that employee thousands of creatives here. Above and beyond that, NYC offers a lot of coworking space, but very little of that is specifically dedicated to the design community, so there was a clear opportunity for us to create a common space for disciplines that don’t often interact together, ranging across disciplines like architecture, graphic, product and fashion design. Our definition of design is broad, and our community space reflects that. We tested the idea prior to launch and received positive feedback in Brooklyn. Some people have even said that being at A/D/O reminds them of grad school!
You don’t define A/D/O as a coworking space, but a creative workspace. What does that mean?
Our institution has a strong research agenda. Above and beyond the hospitality, creative fablabs, and the amenities we offer to individual designers, we house research programs and residencies at A/D/O.
The space has hosted over 200 events since we opened in January 2017. The space’s raison d’être is the Design Academy, a program intended to nurture artistic development. The DA offers events with very different flavors and formats, all of which are experimental, yet united by the idea that we are looking for the future of design through interesting intersections with science, politics, or economics.
For example, last month, we hosted NASA research scientists and doctors working on air, the way we are interacting with air, how we use it, how we treat it and how it supports us. Our aim at A/D/O is not simply to support your everyday design thinking, but to stimulate a conversation about what is going to happen in the future, 5 years or 10 years from now. These topics are front and center in all of the classes, workshops, exhibitions of exceptional work, cultural performances and events hosted in the space.
What is MINI’s goal in opening this kind of space?
MINI’s goal is to become a brand that improves urban life thanks to its products and services. That means we’re developing a range of products and services. One example is MINI Living, a co-living solution in Shanghai. Another is MINI Fashion, an initiative for exploring the future of fashion design. And yet another is Urban X, a startup incubator investing in tech companies. Those activities combined represent a serious investment into our growth as a diversified technology and design company. That’s why A/D/O’s purpose is to get out front in terms of research and insight gathering. All the new businesses and products we are developing and fostering in different industries are guided by a very clear understanding of what the future will be.
Other car manufacturers are building similar initiatives. For instance, Jaguar Land Rover has opened a coworking space in Shoreditch, East London. Aston Martin is now offering design consultancy services. How do you explain this trend, and how is MINI different?
There are a lot of forces spurring the automotive industry to innovate. The possibilities for change and growth are huge. I would say that MINI differentiates itself a number of ways. First, we are a community and we create a whole experience focusing on real business. People don’t just pass through A/D/O then leave. For many, this space is an office, a studio, and a fablab. A/D/O supports them in creating things that have being created anywhere else. We’ve also made a deliberate effort to hide the brand. We don’t want to talk about ourselves because our goal with this space is to run outside of ourselves. Once you cover the entire place with your brand’s current story, you’re working in the present. But if you want to open to what the future may hold, even if it is surprising, or different, or unexpected to what you are today, you have to quell your ego and be humble.
Got it! That said, what’s the link between the brand and A/D/O on a daily basis? And how does innovation from A/D/O fuel MINI teams?
At A/D/O we generate tons of insights, discussions, debates, new topics and trends. To be honest, we’re still thinking about how to share what happens here, whether that’s MINI teams or the world. It could be digital content, reports, or published books. What we’ve learned from the early days of A/D/O is that the best way to get people deeply engaged with new ideas is for them to participate in person. Encapsulating our long conversations and debates at A/D/O is difficult. Yes, we can sum it up in an article or a 30s video, but we don’t believe that’s the best vehicle for the ideas we discuss. In our eyes, the optimal vehicle is an event in which we invite 40 experts from the field and a number of people from our own team to participate. It will have a much more impact on their work. A/D/O is a free access space, so don’t hesitate to drop in!
You mentioned MINI’s startup incubator, Urban X, also based at A/D/O. What is its mission?
Urban X’s mission is to "engineer the city as a service." We hunt for companies working in urban tech, meaning anything ranging from sensors and mobility to new products and services for the consumer. This could be anything that improves city life. Over 20 companies have graduated from the program and half of the companies are focused on hardware. We invest about 100k USD and take equity, all while providing access to our community of experts, with the firepower of a global brand behind it. Other incubators don’t have that.
Last question. What is your background and role within A/D/O?
I started my career in consulting, helping companies think about how they can tackle future challenges. But I’ve worked with small startups and bigger companies. Here at A/D/O, I’m an internal entrepreneur. That means I create connections between the A/D/O team, organized as an independent business, and then provide structure and ideas on how to create community here. The other part of my job is to think about how to turn what we have here at A/D/O into something much larger, a global program with impact, to tackle some of the biggest challenges the world is facing today.