Cover Story: Editor’s Choice: National Homes
Blueprint Workshop revolutionizes new home consumer research
As its slogan “You are the Blueprint” attests, National Homes takes homebuyer feedback seriously when planning its homes and communities.
Always an industry innovator, the company has now revolutionized the concept of traditional focus groups and consumer research with the National Homes Blueprint Workshop, a ground-breaking event that explored how homeowners feel about their homes, how they live in them, and what type of design, features and technology they believe will improve their lives.
The January Blueprint Workshop brought together creative design thinkers with dozens of past and potential future National Homes buyers of varied ages and demographics. They gathered in the IBM Innovation Space at Venture Labs in Markham, along with National Homes staff, designers, architects, engineers and partner leaders for a THINKTANK dedicated to new homes. Students from York University’s Schulich School of Business real estate master’s program also participated.
They broke into four small groups with partner leaders to engage in discussions, presentations and interviews. IBM helped to design and facilitate the workshop.
When IBM’s expertise in human-centred design indicates that the conversation is less about features and functions, and more about users and outcomes, businesses are more successful. It’s about understanding what matters to clients, how they see the world and getting to know them.
“With a typical focus group, people are sitting behind a screen or mirror with a facilitator and it’s structured,” says Deena Pantalone, director of marketing innovation and managing partner for National Homes. “This was more relaxed and comfortable. Rather than asking things such as, ‘Which interior finish do you like,’ we discussed generally how it feels to live in a house.”
The workshop’s purpose was to provide in-depth insight into homebuyers’ needs and desires, to further research and development efforts to position National Homes as a builder that values innovation and is responsive to its customers.
The day delved into the homeowner experience beyond bricks and mortar, explored new technology and time-saving solutions, as well as how to make the homebuying experience unique. It explored the idea of community, looking not just solely at homeowners’ needs, but what their parents and children might need as well.
Participants were selected based on responses to a survey sent to registrants from National Homes’ communities, along with current homeowners.
Partner leaders included Karl Vredenburg, Director IBM Design Worldwide Client Programs and head of IBM Studios Canada; Professor James McKellar, Associate Dean External Relations and Director of the Brookfield Centre in Real Estate and Infrastructure at the Schulich School of Business; Raphael Wong and Matt Lennan of ThoughtWire, a leading Canadian digital intelligence company; Jenna Zaza of The Interactive Abode, a technology company that allows purchasers to virtually decorate their new homes and make finishing selections online; Jason Disher, Logan Stewart, Tyler Balding and Yonnas Tecle of Panasonic, a company that makes state-of-theart home products; and Bob Storey, Andreas C. Leuth and Greg Jefferies of Sto Canada Ltd., a leader in high-performance building cladding options.
“Innovation has always been a staple of our corporate foundation,” says Pantalone. “I’ve travelled to leading international cities where this type of research is being carried out. We want to anticipate homeowner problems and provide solutions by thinking ahead. We want to provide futuristic homes that are affordable.”
Workshop participants got a glimpse into some of the future possibilities. For example, ThoughtWire has changed the way people act with their built environment with its software. It has played a transformative role in digitizing healthcare facilities, speeding up workflow and improving patient experience with automation and real-time interactions between medical staff, systems and devices. For instance, patients can control the temperature in their rooms, medical personnel get real-time patient information on their devices and elevators can be programmed so food carts delivering patient meals won’t be delayed. Some of this technology can be adapted for residential use.
Panasonic might be best known for home entertainment products in Canada, but the company has a comprehensive lineup of home-related products and builds entire new home communities in Japan. Participants learned about the Shimau Principle – the art of space and harmony where everything is in its rightful place. Panasonic offers comprehensive storage and organization solutions. Developed in Japan, where people live in smaller spaces, the solutions are a great fit for condos — or any home — as many homeowners do not utilize space to its best advantage.
Attendees got to see, touch and feel EcoShapes from Sto Canada, a product that has been used in Europe for more than 30 years but is new to Canada. It reduces energy costs, provides a higher R-value and reduces the home’s carbon footprint. Sto’s forward-thinking products contribute to creating a superior energy-efficient home.
Zaza, founder of The Interactive Abode, explained how pop culture, online sites and TV shows inspired development of her interactive software that allows purchasers the time to research and make decisions about their new home selections from the comfort of their own homes. It uses photo-realistic renderings to take the guesswork out of decisions between standard or upgrade options and allows buyers to visualize how colour selections and finishes will look in their new residence. Zaza says in the last five years, sales centres have incorporated software that helps with homebuying, but the process was lacking in the design studio. Zaza brought four laptops for workshop participants to try the online design studio for themselves.
Pantalone is excited about the possibilities the Blueprint Workshop offered and sees this as the springboard for more collaborative sessions with homeowners and other partners to transform the builder-buyer relationship.
“Our slogan, ‘You Are the Blueprint,’ means something to us as a company,” she said. “This will allow us to take our relationship with our purchasers to a whole new level and create a more meaningful buying and living experience for them.”
National Homes looks forward to offering some of their latest “bright ideas” at upcoming new home communities in 2018 and 2019 including Markham, Bradford, Brampton, Courtice and Burlington.
Visit National Homes online for more information and to register for previews before the public openings in communities in Markham, Bradford, Brampton, Courtice and Burlington.