In this series we invite you to meet and learn from thinkers, doers, and believers who find success by actively living in the grey.
Lionel Ohayon is known as the guy who is transforming the hospitality and airport industry with interactive spaces that utilize design and technology. He is very passionate about how critical it is for physical spaces and the digital world to merge.
About a dozen years ago, Lionel Ohayon founded ICRAVE, a New York-based experiential design and branding studio, and has since grown his business to over 30 employees. They’re working on awesome projects for brands that are looking to take their “brand experience” to the next level, whether it’s reimagining the design of a national restaurant chain to changing the way travelers experience the departure gate at airport terminals with better seating, more charging stations, and localized food that can be delivered right to them from an iPad at their seat before a flight.
Most importantly, Lionel loves his job and the challenges associated with it. He is constantly looking at how his work can help others engage with their surrounding at a higher and more meaningful level. Read on to learn more about him!
What does ‘living in the grey’ mean to you?
I think it means striking the right balance in your life and becoming a more complete self. The important thing to recognize is that you don’t have to separate yourself or compartmentalize your life. Living in the grey means you invite the things you love into both your work life and social life.
When did you realize that you could take your passion for design and make it your career? What was your first step?
I’m one of those people who always knew what I wanted to do. When I was six years old, I told my parents I wanted to be an architect. I would spend hours in my uncle’s office looking at model real estate developments while everyone else was at the beach. After I graduated from architecture school and had moved to New York, I somehow found myself working in real estate. Then one morning I realized how miserable I was as I was putting on my tie, and looked in the mirror and asking myself ‘what are you doing Lionel, you spent your whole life working towards a dream?’. I realized I had to make my passion for design my career if I wanted to be happy in life. I quit my real estate job and started ICRAVE from my bedroom in 2002.
Do you have a boundary between work and life? If so, how do you define it?
The two worlds are very different and need to have boundaries. Your family requires time and attention. However, there is no time when I am not working, since being creative and dreaming new ideas doesn’t feel like work to me. The culture I’ve aimed to create at ICRAVE is a very integrated one and the studio is designed to allow people to feel comfortable to be here here and enjoy the environment. we don’t check work at the door when we go home or vice versa. We often come up with our most innovative and creative ideas at unexpected times and in unexpected places. You never know when a great idea will take form, and you need to allow it to happen and run with it.
How do you support the folks on your team to live grey?
The studio culture tries to strike a balance between personal interests and goals, and our professional vision. In order to do that, we need everyone to show up to the studio with new ideas and to infuse their own personal experience and passions into the ideas we set forward to our clients. Being a part of this studio is demanding and we counterbalance the time here with events and outings that are equally demanding and inspiring like our annual pilgrimage to Burning Man, an annual art event based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
Who is a mentor of yours and how do you nurture that relationship?
If I had to say what my most enduring source of inspiration is, it would be my experience at architecture school. I attended the University of Waterloo, which really challenged how I thought through problems, and ultimately had a big impact on my vision for the ICRAVE studio. I wanted the DNA of the office culture to be a university, a studio, a design and architecture school—an environment that’s totally collaborative.
Do you have a motto?
You’ll never get an A, if you’re afraid of getting an F.
Do you work differently than you did one year ago?
Yes, I certainly do. Recently, our work is very focused on how our physical and digital worlds intersect within a space. I’m also finding we spend more time finding solutions on how to communicate amongst our internal team and clients in a manner that is born from how things used to be done. For example, drawings and renderings have been created on a computer for some time now, and yet we now have new tools that completely revolutionize how we express a project, and how it is built.
What advice do you have for others beginning their grey journey?
Again my motto comes into play here, ‘you’ll never get an A, if you’re afraid of getting an F’ as I believe if judgements are driven by fear, you’ll never reach your end goal or mission. I also love the simplicity and obvious nature of the expression ‘you can’t boil the ocean’. We have all bitten off more than we could chew at one time or another, not to mention the stress that can come from such situations. I advise others to set small goals that break pieces off one-by-one, or in other words, just scoop a bowl of water out of the ocean and put it on the oven to boil, rather than getting overwhelmed by wondering how you’re going to boil the entire ocean. I’ve personally found that an annual check and balance moment is also important for me to evaluate where I’ve come thus far, and what direction I want to go the next year. The annual Burning Man event is an opportunity for me to reflect on my dreams and be brutally honest with myself on goals, while reinvigorating my courage to do something out of the norm as I work and live in such a creative industry.
I love the “you can’t boil the ocean” concept. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by big projects or goals or dreams, but boiling them one bowl at a time makes it much less intimidating.