Design Excellence at HKS: A Conversation with Chief Design Officer Anthony Montalto

At HKS, we strive to deliver designs that inspire, connect and perform. Our mission to positively impact communities through the built environment is driven by a commitment to integrate beauty and performance in all our projects. HKS Chief Design Officer, Anthony Montalto, shares his thoughts on why HKS believes in the value of design excellence, how it inspires our people and how it helps us improve project outcomes.

What does your role as Chief Design Officer entail?

Anthony Montalto: As the Chief Design Officer (CDO), I am responsible for cultivating a culture of design excellence at HKS so all our projects integrate beauty and performance. I work alongside the CEO and Executive Committee to support a rigorous data-driven process that elevates the quality of our work. I believe that we, as designers, have a huge responsibility to impact every life that our work touches in a positive way.

How do you inspire designers across a global firm with 26 offices and 1,500 employees?

AM: We have the rare opportunity to change the built environment and enhance lives through our work and services. When we are inspired — when we find that inner calling or force that pulls us forward — that’s when we do our best work and give our best effort. My goal is to help designers across the firm find that force and remind them of the huge impact we leave on the communities and the people we serve.

We have the rare opportunity to change the built environment and enhance lives through our work and services.

How do you give designers and creatives the space they need to find new answers or make new discoveries?

AM: Creating space for conversation is important. We foster an environment of exploration, where we don’t consider missteps to be mistakes. By testing hypotheses, ideating, prototyping ideas, and honestly evaluating results, we get closer to finding appropriate solutions to the variety of design problems we take on every day.

ProMedica Headquarters in Toledo, OH

HKS has aligned our vision of design excellence with the American Institute of Architect’s Framework for Design Excellence. How does this alignment help us better serve clients and communities?

AM: We strive for results that only an integrated team with diverse lenses and perspectives can develop. The AIA framework provides 10 measures that help us evaluate the subjective and objective characteristics of the places and communities where we work so we can create meaningful designs that are inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. Each measure stimulates a conversation that can lead to an idea — one that we may not have thought of without asking questions and thinking about outcomes. The measures help us advance our design excellence goals and elevate user experience and quality of life in our projects. 

How does design excellence and our approach to it lead to more meaningful careers for designers?

AM: I believe we have created a culture at HKS that fosters inspiration and that celebrates innovation. We hope to — and continuously work to — attract, retain, and support the growth of designers that thrive in their careers and are driven by the important responsibilities and opportunities we are presented with in our work.

Piedmont Hospital Marcus Tower in Atlanta

HKS has a focus on ESG in Design, which encompasses our commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance values. How does that commitment intersect with design excellence at our firm?

AM: I believe that we have a responsibility to care for people, the built environment and the resources that we use. ESG allows us to look at our work with a broader perspective and focus on those that we impact every day with our work. For us, successful and great design means we are being good partners for our communities, clients and teams and helping them fulfill their visions for the future.

What’s next for design excellence at HKS?

AM: My goal is to always improve and innovate how we work so that we can better serve our clients and communities. HKS leadership is committed to investing resources to grow our service offerings and expanding our teams’ abilities. Currently, we are focused on integrating our design process to be more efficient and intentional, with specific attention on improving how we incorporate the firm’s wide variety of talent and resources in all of our project work. We are also continuously improving and benefitting from our Top Projects program, a yearly evaluation and celebration of exemplary projects that helps us set our targets and goals for the coming year.