A relationship wrought from an intricate web of timezones, international phone calls and transatlantic flights, architect and MINI LIVING creative lead Oke Hauser and award-winning London-based architecture and interior design practice Universal Design Studio have spent the last three years collaborating on MINI LIVING.

When we work together, great things happen. The MINI LIVING buildings are giant odes to creative collaboration. Step inside and you’ll find rotating apartment walls that blur shared and private moments. Communal spaces — like the Shanghai rooftops with a panoramic vista of the city — encourage swapping small talk with big discussions. MINI LIVING is open to the public and everyone is invited in. “We embrace the strange, the unforeseen, so the less we know what is going to happen the better,” Hauser says.

For Hauser, collaboration should be experimental and unexpected. “A good collaboration works like a puzzle where no one knows in the beginning what the final result will be,” he says. For such a puzzle to succeed, participants must relinquish authorship and invite in openness and vulnerability, “Stay open and drop your ego,” Hauser advises. It’s a sentiment that MINI LIVING design partner Universal Design Studio echo. “The idea is what’s important, everything else is secondary,” says Jason Holley, Principal of Universal. 

So what can we learn from Universal Design Studio and Oke Hauser’s approach to collaboration? We asked Universal Design to define five rules for better collaboration.    

MINI Shanghai the Art of Collaboration

Universal Design Studio’s Rules of Collaboration

It’s important that true collaboration has no hierarchy and that everyone has a voice.

When you want ideas to come forward, you have to be sensitive to different styles of communication. The best ideas don’t always come from the loudest, most forthcoming people. We really try to make environments where everyone feels able to engage and share.

The best ideas can evolve from the most unexpected ideas and places.

You can find any number of reasons to discard an idea, from practical considerations to whether it’s “right”. You can kill a thought before it’s had the chance to become something. Provocation has become really important for us as a studio. Suggesting deliberately extreme things to test the parameters can free everything and open up possibilities.

Encourage the blurring of boundaries between disciplines.

The Studio is made up of architects and interior designers, but most people don’t know who the architects are and who the interior designers are. We think that the division between the two is an artificial one, created by the market more than anything else. 

Actively pursue and bring on board those with different perspectives.

Running projects like MINI LIVING in different countries means that we bring our own perspective. We can see things that locals might not see. Sometimes, when things are right in front of you, they’re too close: you might not see the value in something. 

Allow for and embrace criticism - politeness is the enemy of collaboration.

Why should collaboration be easy? We don’t think collaboration is the easiest way of designing something. But if you get it right, you’ve got something way better than what you could have done on your own.