In-house Issues: Virtual Creative Space

Cubes suck – especially the old beige circa 1970 ones, and no corporate employee is more sensitive to this fact than designers who place great value on well-designed spaces. In-house creatives have been known to go into a catatonic state after repeated exposure to eye numbing fluorescent glare, fits of manic-depression upon encountering faux-wood laminate and downright dementia when confronted with cheap plastic desk accessories and vinyl leafed topiary.

Facilities is usually not the most enlightened nor open-minded department when it comes to grievances regarding the physical environment in-house designers are forced to inhabit for at least 8 hours a day. Any battle with them for some semblance of cool will likely be bloody and unproductive.

Where to find solace? Considering we work in the virtual world much, if not most, of the day, why not dress that landscape up? I regularly pan the creative waters of the web for fun visual nuggets of funky folder icons and desktop art. My cache of audio bodily function alerts never ceases to amuse my inner 12 year-old, and who can resist chilling with the Marine Aquarium screensaver after getting off the phone with a particularly obnoxious client?

Being able to assert some kind of individualism in the midst of mandated corporate conformity can really scratch the creative itch to be different, even if it’s only built out of pixels. It’s a sort of avatar alter ego of self-expression. Of course, addressing the need for some kind of conformity so that co-workers can easily search or work on each others’ workstations is critical, but that need can be answered with the way in which files and folders are named and stored rather than in the visual landscape in which they reside.

As satisfying a diversion as this can be, the real power and value of the digital universe is in creative collaboration. Few in-house departments have areas where members can freely congregate and share inspiring ideas and artifacts. There are too few bulletin boards dedicated to postings of creative “finds”, a dearth of shelves for design books and pubs and a paucity of available DVDs of interest to designers.

Enter the world of Ning, a free site dedicated to the creation of instant online communities. Unlike Facebook, it’s designed to promote group sites where members can post ideas, links to sites they believe to be of interest to other members, photos, videos, podcasts etc., etc., etc… In addition to spurring the exponential growth of stimulating reference materials that become available to the team, these communities encourage in-house designers to let down their guard and more freely share their personal stories of creativity and inspirational experiences.

In my experience, I’ve never seen or heard of these privileges being abused. Actually the opposite has occurred. These opportunities for self-expression and creative collaboration seem to provide a safety valve for pent up creative frustrations that fosters less animosity towards and cynicism about the corporate culture in which we designers work.

So redecorate and build a virtual world where you and your fellow in-house designers can express yourselves and collaborate in powerful and creative ways.

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5 thoughts on “In-house Issues: Virtual Creative Space

  1. Tobias Wright

    Of course our company bans most social sites including Ning.

    What we’ve tried to do instead is schedule a creative only meeting every week where we try to do some blue sky brainstorming, think about skunk project, or other wise express ourselves creativily when the corporate environment doesn’t especially encourage it.

  2. Jeni Herberger

    Andy – You are so right. I look at it this way – visual expression is ergonomics for the creative professional. My experience that the department that looks creative, acts creative and is PERCEIVED as creative by others in the company. Understandably, there are restrictions but WE ARE CREATIVE, a functional solution is always within reach! Thank you for speaking on this!

  3. Adam Feldpausch

    I reached my breaking point with the gray cube walls, so I found hi-res photos of old book spines, printed them, and stuck them to my walls. Now it looks like I work in a library. Viva la Trompe l’oeil!