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Play a Little: Office Space
by Sande Chen on 11/19/12 03:34:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month under the category of Gaming the Game Developers.]

In the book, InGenius: A Crash Course On Creativity, by Tina Seelig, the author points out that as toddlers, we are surrounded by bright colors and stimuli to encourage discovery. Through playing, we learn. But as we go through the school system, this creativity can be stifled.

Do you remember your old high school or elementary school? Were the desks lined up in rows? Schools were patterned after military barracks. There’s this picture of the teacher as the “fount of knowledge” and the student as the “vessel.” Then, as we graduate, we may find ourselves in similar spaces: cubicles or tables lined up in a row. The message is that the workplace isn’t a place for play, but for serious effort.

I’ve been at companies with the cubicles and even one where all personal surfing or e-mail had to be done during lunch breaks on a computer set aside for that purpose. But I’ve also been at companies where it’s alright to take a walk or play a couple rounds of pinball. I’ve seen some companies set aside a “fun” location, where there’s the consoles and a stack of games. That’s supposed to be the appeal of working at a game company – that it’s different, it’s fun, and not your regular corporate work-slave place. We’re in the business of play, right?

What does your office space say about your company? In the Stanford design school where Seelig teaches creativity enhancement, the classroom is set up more as a performance stage than a lecture hall. The chairs and tables aren’t bolted down, but are props for exercises. In her book, she interviews several firms that value creativity. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of workplaces with scooters and slides. One of the most interesting case studies was a design firm who encouraged a culture of constant re-invention. If a colleague went on vacation to Paris, she might come back find her workplace transformed into a mock sidewalk café.

I know that when I see the prototyping supplies at NYU, I do get flashbacks of pre-school from all the bright colors of the fun “toys”, like the rubber bands, blocks, Legos, Post-Its, and dice. If you want to capture that spirit of playfulness, then think about promoting an environment of playfulness. It’s too easy to get mired down in sameness. Creative solutions and creative products don’t come from sameness.

Play a little.

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Alex Gochenour
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I work at a game developer in mainland China and have seen a lot of these ideas put into practice. We have several offices, two of which were custom-designed to be genuinely fun places. One campus is definitely greener and more natural-feeling than any garden park anywhere in China. Our other office in the factory district has an indoor mountain, mosaics, boardwalks and bright orange desks. Quirky decorations everywhere, and each wall is a different color. People actually look forward to meetings in the boardroom, which is ridiculously comfortable.

I'd say all of this results a genuinely harmonious and easy-going atmosphere. When I visit offices at other companies, (which in China means smoky, dim, and occasionally no windows), the change in my mood is almost physically tangible, like something getting sucked out of me. I can't imagine what that does to creativity in a culture that does not value deviating from the norm to begin with.

Pieterjan Spoelders
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What does your office space about your company? -> You forgot 'say' =)

Anyway yes, this is VERY important.

People should be able to gather as they wish or seclude themselves when they need to focus on hard technical tasks. A bright colour here, some fake walls there and more colourful stuff from employees already work wonders.

At my previous job most of these things were however not allowed.
I heard from my fellow colleagues that they had to take down their 'murphy's law' poster and other wall decorations because clients who toured the offices might not like them..)

I'm sure all of these minor things lead to a substantial decrease in productivity and an increase of frustration in employees.

"Peopleware" also goes over this quite extensively, it's a great read for ambitious managers who aren't afraid to try out something more "daring".

Sande Chen
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Thanks for stopping by! I think that managers need to remember that inspiration and creativity needs to be nurtured and that even as adults, we may need stimulation to inspire new ideas and solutions.