Rapt Studio: A Design Firm Tailored to the Internet Age

May 9, 2014

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By Dan Raile, PandoDaily

These days when someone tells you they are a designer, there’s really no telling what it is they actually do. There’s fashion design, web design, software design, game design, urban design, interior design, industrial design, graphic design, landscape design and a host of more abstract disciplines appended with the word ‘design’.

Design is a slippery word. It’s a synonym for ‘plan’. It’s a problem-solving methodology. It connotes creativity. And despite its ambiguity, its mastery is widely acknowledged as a triumph for almost any business model. See also, Apple.

When I first met Rapt Studio CEO David Galullo and company president, Cory Sistrunk, and they told me that their design firm was more of an “experience” firm, I had my doubts about the forthcoming conversation converging towards anything concrete. Something inside of me groaned and I feared the walls might collapse and the ground give way.

But that and later conversations actually involved much less mental wrestling than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have to hold the walls up or enforce a semblance of structure, because walls and concrete and structure are the basis of Rapt’s services.

The company began in San Francisco in mid-80’s as Richard Pollack Architecture, building interiors for commercial clients from financial and law offices to retail spaces. Galullo joined as design principal in 1999, in time to see the bursting of the dot-com bubble wreak havoc on the architectural business climate. Pollack Architecture lost some big contracts, let go of many of its employees, and diversified its client base. Within five years the firm had return to mid-90’s levels of revenue.

But Galullo wasn’t content to stop there. In 2011 he arranged the exit of the firm’s founder and namesake, and hired Sistrunk, who at the time was a creative director at Vivint, a home automation company and a Pollack Architecture client. Galullo became CEO and made Sistrunk design principal, promoting him in December of last year to president.

Galullo and Sistrunk are remarkably different. Galullo warm and graying, irreverent and self-effacing, Sistrunk decidedly more chalant, edgy, humming with focused intensity and ambition. It’s in their faces, in the sounds of their names, in their hairstyles. But it’s clear, talking with them, that they share a vision. And that this cohesion and the tension between their personal approaches is the engine driving Rapt.

Under the leadership of the Galullo/Sistrunk partnership, Rapt has made a dramatic shift in the services it offers to its clients. While it still designs a lot of physical spaces for blue chip clients, it has increasingly taken on more varied, holistic brand-design challenges.

When I went to their Union Square offices last week, we sat in a conference room off the company’s main work area. One wall was cork, another glass, another a window overlooking the tourist-retail nexus in the streets below. The fourth wall was a white-board. On it was scrawled the name of a well-known local startup along with dry-erase schemata of a floor-plan replete in electrical details, the geometry of company’s organizational structure, and a tentacular representation of its brand identity .

“Seams are the issue,” Galullo says, “If there’s a hole in your brand, your customers are going to find it.”

Rapt is making a business out of finding those holes, and filling them in. The way that Galullo and Sistrunk describe their discovery process for vetting potential clients, it sounds like a full-scale emotional audit, more penetrative than those conducted by either the IRS or the Church of Scientology.

Cont’d at PandoDaily.