PTG Linen Service
Co-Designing a Human-Centered Laundry Business
Organizational SYSTEMS Design | Design Strategy
User Research | Facilitation | visual BrandinG
As part of our capstone project, we worked with PTG Linen Service to co-design their organization’s strategy and branding to become more people-focused and purpose-driven. To achieve this, we:
Designed a new visual identity and brand values
Convened PTG’s first strategic stakeholder workshop
Developed a decision-making process for employee-driven innovation
Business Development Lead, Design Strategist, Interviewer/Translator
Aaron McKenzie, Irene Ti
Peter Coughlan, Kristian Simsarian, Sarah Harrison, Marc O’Brien, Sharon Green, Laura Weiss
In 2016, a group of socially minded individuals with a background in nonprofit housing development bought PTG Linen Service, a mid-sized commercial laundry in San Leandro, to reimagine the service sector as a source of economic empowerment for historically marginalized service employees. PTG partnered with our team of designers to help them transition towards their vision.
Low-income employees in traditional service and hospitality industries experience fewer opportunities to innovate, lead, and grow. As a result, many workers see minimal wage growth and little upward mobility over the length of their career.
Understanding the System
1) Systems mapping
We began our design process by researching the competitive landscape of commercial laundry, mapping out PTG’s current organizational structure, and proposing opportunities for employee growth and development.
PTG sits in the middle of being a mid-sized, profit-driven business with the desire to become more sustainable and purpose-driven.
PTG’s current organizational structure is hierarchical; strategy and vision are reserved for top senior leadership while execution is delegated to washers, ironers, and folders at the bottom.
Before PTG, the previous owner mistreated its workers, resulting in a history of trauma among employees and required a more sensitive approach.
Understanding the People
In our efforts to understand PTG Linen Service’s current structure, we interviewed 16 people, ranging from equity partners/owners, to operations managers, and service employees who handle all the driving, washing, folding, and packing services.
An existing cultural divide: The PTG team is majority women, Spanish-speaking, and multi-generational, whereas leadership is majority male and non-Latino.
There’s a disconnect in goals among senior leadership, management, and employees and lack of a feedback system to communicate these discrepancies effectively.
Identifying the differing voices within PTG
PTG’s current top-down hierarchy is stable, but rigid. Within this model, each level plays a specific role:
Leadership owns all strategy and wants to transform PTG into a hub for innovation
Management wants to “keep the lights on” while increasing revenue
Employees are implementers who desire stability and consistency.
In the ideal system, strategy, management, and implementation roles would move more fluidly throughout the organization. This would enable more communication and collaboration across teams, driving business innovation and employee growth.
Key Pivot Point
Realizing that there was a misalignment in goals throughout the organization, we had to shift our thinking from designing quick fixes for employee empowerment to designing broader systems change.
We framed our stakeholders’ goals around a central question:
How might we co-design a system with PTG that empowers employees while driving business growth?
Facilitating a Strategic Workshop to Build Consensus
In order to design a system that empowers its people, we first needed to create a space for open discussion. Our team designed and facilitated a strategic workshop with PTG stakeholders. The goal of this meeting was to:
Develop a set of shared values
Co-create a decision-making process so all employees can participate
Develop an action plan to implement ideas to optimize/grow the business
Re-Energizing PTG’s Brand and People
the strategic workshop resulted in:
New visual branding: Based on the shared values developed at the workshop, we designed a new logo, visual identity, and website mockup reflecting a more approachable brand.
Action Plan for collaboration: We transformed the exercises from the workshop to an “Idea to Action” decision-making framework for PTG to inspire future collaboration and innovation.
Impact on Employee Empowerment
Employees testing their own ideas: Using the “Idea to Action” framework, we guided PTG’s office manager Joanna to prototype her own idea to optimize the business: a new communications system to track inventory, communicate with other teams, and surface customer issues.
Impact on Business Growth
New clients who align with PTG’s values: In addition to empowering employees, we introduced PTG to a new hospitality client Sonder who specifically wanted to partner with “an organization that cares” about people, quality, and service.
At the end of our work with PTG, Sonder signed on as a full-time client.
Biggest Lesson: Systems Change Takes Time
We entered this project with the assumption that we could design for a quick solution to empower employees.
Instead, our biggest learning came with the realization that we needed to design with the whole system in mind in order to have the greatest impact. The PTG system had its own set of institutional history and business constraints; it took time for us to build trust within PTG so we could co-design an effective solution together.