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Seeing Things Differently
Mozaic AV's philosophy of great technology design
By Michael Johnson
I have been in the technology integration business for some time, first as a lead system designer and then as a business owner with my own technology design firm, Mozaic AV. Before I talk about my personal views on how technology should support the design of any given space, let me back up and give you a bit of my personal history. The point I want to make is that I came into the technology space somewhat backwards. And I think that informs how I approach my job every day.
I graduated from college with an Art Degree, with a focus on Graphic Design from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. I went to work for a custom audio video company in Florida and was immediately struck by a much different architectural feel than what I was used to coming from North Alabama. In the late 1990’s that modern design was chic and the need for stealthy technology presented a challenge to create something seamless and true to the architect’s and designer’s vision.
It was also in Florida that I began to understand that certain battle lines had been drawn between the architect, interior designer and the custom AV community. While the designer’s primary focus was on delivering a certain aesthetic and feel to a home, often times the technology was driven by the systems integrator focusing on the capabilities they could offer without the thought of how they may impact the space from a design standpoint.
After spending a few years in Miami, I relocated back to my hometown area in North Alabama and spent 10 years as the lead system designer for a local audio video installation company. It was really during this time that I developed a clear understanding of the nuts and bolts involved in the custom AV world.
During this time, I also began to feel like we were still missing the boat as an industry. The focus was always on the components and the capability a system could offer. Rarely was much time and attention focused on aesthetics and how technology design might compliment the home’s décor and how to design technology to enhance the space, not detract from it.
the user experience is paramount
I’ve always believed that great technology design can be broken down into two simple categories. Great technology design should focus not only on how something looks, but also how something works. I gradually started to see things differently. What we the technology specialists weren’t delivering was a user experience that seamlessly integrated technology into the overall aesthetic. Our designs were not intuitive and simple. There was too much wall clutter and information clutter for interior designers and homeowners and so the technology never slipped into the background, unseen and unnoticed. I think our industry still struggles with these aspects at times.
And – you guessed it! – I decided to form my own company and apply my art and graphic design background into every facet of technology that comprises the modern smart home.
I spent countless hours interviewing architects, interior designers and others in the design community. I talked to homeowners I knew and builders I had forged relationships with. The feedback I got was universal. Terms like obtrusive, invasive, unsightly, disorganized and others which I’ll keep to myself were used to describe their perception of audio and video and automation and the entire installation process. Believe me, I got an earful.
I decided that I wanted to use these negatives as fuel to build a different kind of technology company. I wanted to mesh audio-video installations with my design background and change the narrative on what an integrator could deliver. I wanted to create a technology design firm. A firm that would work hand-in-glove with my peers in the design-build community. I see true integration as not just making components work together or automating processes in the home, but as tools to further accentuate the design and lifestyle expectations of the client.
the secret sauce
Every successful system integration company has a secret sauce they may talk about that makes them stand out in the marketplace. Mozaic AV’s secret sauce is our design focus. I believe it is our passion for art and design and the creative culture we have that makes us unique. I apply this principle to my hiring practices as well, often looking past candidates with just strong technical backgrounds and instead focusing on those with a creative passion. Mozaic is built from the ground up with artists, musicians and craftsmen with meticulous attention to detail. We want to look at our industry through a different lens and our creative culture gives us that.
Our clients and interior designer partners often comment on how meeting with us is different than what they have experienced before with standard system integration companies. We spend very little time talking about specific components and the techno-jargon that has become so pervasive in our industry and instead spend our time talking about the flow of the home or office space.
We spend time explaining to interior designers how we can help them eliminate eyesores or bad sight-lines around a house with seamlessly installed components and control keypads to eliminate wall clutter. Invisible speakers that accentuate wall art without competing against it with speaker grills, for example. More recently this conversation has evolved into discussions about tunable lighting and syncing the home or business with our circadian rhythms.
We don’t think about how to compete with designers and instead focus on how to complement their vision. We can have conversations with designers and builders that focus on how technology can have a positive impact on what they are doing.
These discussions and approach to technology have led to many advocates coming our way from the design community and this is something I am very proud of. I love being able to take what was once looked at as a negative and make it a positive!
Once an interior designer or architect understands that we are here to be an ally it really changes the whole process which has led to referrals based on a relationship of trust.
This approach has proven a successful one for Mozaic. Our award-winning portfolio has garnered us Project of the Year and Modern Home of the Year accolades in the industry and high-profile installations such as the world-famous Muscle Shoals Sound Music Studio testifies that the proof is in the pudding.