The Heart and Soul of S3 Design
Established in 2008, S3 Design has been leading client-focused projects in the industry with passion, heart and soul at the center.
One day, a volleyball buddy called up Bryan Dunkelberger with a proposition: his firm was looking to hire a sports project interior designer.
Dunkelberger was in the corporate interior design space at the time, but he was intrigued by the opportunity and made the jump. “I soon realized I enjoyed working on sports projects,” he recalled. “After a couple of years, the principal of the sports group and a principal of the interiors group asked if I wanted to chase health club projects.”
Quickly, Dunkelberger fell in love with the faster pace of the health club industry, as well as the fact things were completed quicker than other industries he had worked in. Over time, clients increased and great relationships were built — to the point that Dunkelberger had a client tell him they wanted him to design their new project, but they didn’t want to hire his current firm.
Enter Salvatore Canciello. Starting his architectural career with a firm focused on college and university projects, his career organically evolved to focus on sports and recreation design. He eventually landed in the same firm as Dunkelberger.
Both Dunkelberger and Canciello shared that over the years they worked together, they learned from one another, gained experience and leveraged their collective strengths. With the same design philosophy and client-centered design approach, they soon came to realize they simply enjoyed working together.
“At some point, we just looked at each other and said, ‘I think we can do this on our own,’” said Canciello.
So, with a client urging them out the door and into their own firm, giving them a project right off the bat, S3 Design was born.
S3 Design was founded in 2008 with a dedication to planning and designing sports and recreation facilities, and health and fitness facilities. Its mission is to help clients create facilities that promote active lifestyles, as well as foster the identity of its community.
In fact, the goal is to use architecture and design projects to harness the spirit of the place or brand. That is where flow comes in.
Dunkelberger explained the way people circulate through a club plays a large role in the business’ success. For example, the club’s flow is part of the sales tour. If your facility flows correctly, sales staff can easily highlight specific interest areas to a potential member while showing off the entirety of the space. Or, it can get one of your regular members to try a new program or class they may not have otherwise.
In fact, Dunkelberger said it could even impact your revenue. For instance, he shared getting the club’s flow right could increase revenue by putting personal training in an area where other members can see it happening. By demystifying the personal training experience, members might just give it a try.
“The most important part of club design is nailing the club flow,” said Dunkelberger. “The way people circulate through your club has a lot to do with how successful you can be.”
So, if the architecture isn’t right and the design isn’t correct, that club flow could be thrown off. S3 Design has to be client focused in order to understand what is right for the club. Even if the design is slick and aesthetic, if it doesn’t functionally work for a client, then the mark was missed.
Understandably, it’s a triumph when the firm is told the flow is just right. “The most fulfilling moments are when we hear back from clients who affirm how well the design works for them,” said Dunkelberger. “We won’t just design clubs that look great. As a club operator, you have a brand, a vision and goals you want to deliver to attract members. We believe and can show how architecture can strengthen those intangible qualities to what you are trying to create. Ultimately, that impacts your bottom line through increased sales, attracting your target demographic and limiting member attrition. If the club owner and S3 get the design right, members will feel like the club was built for them so they can achieve their goals.”
However, that won’t happen unless those leading the architecture and design project for a health club really understand what he or she is designing. As such, Dunkelberger shared they take the time to do so. Staff are encouraged to be well-versed in the market, and if they come across something they don’t know anything about, they work to figure it out.
Dunkelberger shared the most informative moment for S3 Design is when clients give feedback the architecture and design firm can learn from. “The best way for us to improve is to learn how our designs actually perform and evolve for the people using and running them,” said Dunkelberger. “We make a point of visiting and following up with our clients, and they typically start talking about all the things they really like about the design. At that point, we usually ask them, ‘What’s not working as well, or what is used differently than we anticipated during the design?’ This type of feedback gives us insights we can incorporate into our future work.”
Dunkelberger noted the phrase “client-focused” is used by many firms. However, he said the feedback they’ve received from those they’ve worked with has proven that characteristic of S3 Design to be true.
In fact, he noted how you’ll often find S3 Design’s staff saying, “We don’t want to be your architect; we want to be your partner” to clients.
“Hopefully, when the project is complete, they look at us as a partner and someone who will go to battle for them,” said Dunkelberger.
And going to battle is made much easier if you’re fighting for something you’re passionate about. Both Canciello and Dunkelberger agreed they chose the sports and recreation focus in architecture and design because it’s an industry that is exciting, impactful and fun. “We believe in what we design, and we want to have fun doing it,” said Dunkelberger.
With that passion driving S3 Design forward, it seems its vision — to create environments that exceed client expectations while enabling them to deliver an engaging user experience — isn’t just a vision, but a reality. Both principals of the firm simply love what they do and give all they have to every S3 Design project.
It’s an architecture and design firm with a heart.
“We design these facilities because we love them,” shared Dunkelberger. “We pour our heart and soul into understanding how they work, who will be using them and what can make them better.”