Sometimes I forget how stimulating our office is compared to the cube farms that I’ve worked in previously. It’s no accident. Making an inspiring, appealing environment for creative work is a team effort, and often it’s the little things that really make the difference. Here are some quick and easy tricks for promoting a creative atmosphere—in our office or yours.
We’re a bunch of bibliophiles, so in addition to the stacks of books on our desks, we keep a library full of reference material. And we set aside budget to make sure that we’re constantly adding to it. (It really helps to have a former librarian on staff.) Anyone can check out a book for as long as he or she wants. It’s also just fun to go over and browse the books when you’re seeking creative inspiration.
We’re inundated with markers, sticky notes, adhesives, and paper of all kinds. On a bad day, it can look like a supply closet exploded. But there’s a kind of purposeful messiness to our office. Having supplies all around us all the time makes grabbing a piece of paper (or a 6 foot piece of paper) to start clarifying and communicating ideas that much easier.
In our workshops with clients we often bring pipe cleaners or other surprising toys to give people something to play with. It seems paradoxical, but having something to distract yourself with can often keep you more engaged in the conversation. Similarly, we leave interesting toys and games in our common areas, to stimulate ourselves. The toys are also popular when kiddies visit the office, and a family friendly office feels just a little more human.
A room is not alive unless it has a living green thing in it. Plants make our office feel organic, welcoming, and homey.
We annotate and adapt our space all the time by hanging signs, posting post it notes, even scrawling messages on whiteboards. Stuart Brand calls these “countermanding signs,” and in How Buildings Learn, he explains that “the countermanding sign is an example of a way most problems are handled in buildings once they’re occupied.” Brand is talking about architectural problems, but countermanding signs are also a way of addressing interpersonal problems or group behaviors. In our signs is the evidence of our culture—what we’re struggling with, what we value. (Incidentally, this makes countermanding signs an important research lens. Look for them the next time your doing user research in the field. They point to unsolved problems.)
It’s surprising how many companies have few or no whiteboards. Often, if there are any whiteboards, they’re reserved for the conference rooms. What a shame! Whiteboards are the perfect, risk free canvas for developing and sharing ideas with others. We have them all over the place. In our conference rooms, in open spaces, by our desks. (By the way, if you don’t have a good whiteboard in your working space, here’s a nifty idea for DIY whiteboard.)
Our own art
We’re fortunate to have an office full of talented, creative people. For instance, this is a work of art by our own Teresa Brazen. She brought it in and hung it up on the wall. It makes our workspace feel more personal and unique.
There are well-stocked Altoids boxes littered all over our office. A fresh exchange of ideas? Most essential of all.