Creativity for the Connected Age

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Designing the Ideal Office Space

To remain at the cutting edge of innovation, organizations need to create environments that embrace change, experimentation, and the possibility for failure. Steven Johnson did a great job articulating the type of environment that fuels creativity. He explains that the best way to encourage new ideas is not to fetishize the spark of genius. Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation: it requires friction and is a direct result of the sharing, exchanging, and cross entanglement of many ideas.

Cafés have historically been meccas of creativity, providing an accessible, open environment where caffeinated people can casually sit and share ideas. Recent research shows the background chatter of coffee shops actually boosts creative thinking.

Cities provide a similar function as cafés on a grander scale. The diversity of industries and individuals living in such close proximity inevitably leads to cross pollination, which leads to insights that otherwise might be lost in isolation. Research shows the average resident of a city with a population of over 5 million is almost 3 times more creative than the average resident of a town of 100,000.

The Internet has many of the same attributes of cafés and cities, but rather than being confined to physical spaces, the Internet allows us to collaboratively innovate on a global scale, all in real-time. In fact, 90% of the world’s data has been generated over the last two years thanks to the exchange of ideas across the web.

The Ideal Office Space combines the best aspects of cafés, cities, and the Internet. Borrowing from cafés, organizations should provide an inclusive, accessible environment for employees to share their ideas. Borrowing from cities, work spaces should be designed to bring together different points of view that create the friction needed to produce the best ideas. And from the Internet, organizations should provide opportunities that allow employees to collaborate across job titles and departments.


Business organizations have studied the impact of physical spaces on employees’ ability to innovate and think creatively. Companies are designing workspaces that simultaneously reflect and reinforce their brand values, all while promoting spontaneous meetings and fostering collaboration among departments.

The conference rooms at Airbnb are exact replicas of the service’s coolest listings from around the world, creating a unique link between work and home to provide inspiration for employees.


Bloomberg has no private offices; even meeting rooms are enclosed by glass. Reporters, editors, market data specialists, and executives all rub elbows at desks arranged like a trading floor. From the ground, elevators funnel every single employee to the sixth floor, where they then scatter to more than 30 other floors.


Square’s office space is reflective of the clean, crisp lines the mobile payment service is known for. Founder Jack Dorsey requires employees to clear their desks at the end of each day to reinforce the brand’s user-friendly values.


Photo courtesy of Timbuk2

The design team at Timbuk2 sits just steps from the factory floor. These diverse experts iterate rapidly, problem solve in real time, and discover efficiencies through multidisciplinary collaboration.


Urban Outfitters headquarters mirrors their brand portfolio: fashion-forward with a penchant for antiques. The renovated shipyard boasts refurbished original features, and provides a light and airy workspace. Since renovating, employee turnover has dropped 11 percent and overall sick days are down.


Photo courtesy of Zappos

Zappos is well known for promoting employee creativity. To motivate employees to move around the office and interact with staff they might not otherwise work with, the company provides a completely moveable desk solution. Power and Internet come from the ceiling to assist the freedom of movement.



Design & The Future of Creativity

Chloe Gottlieb, SVP, Executive Creative Director, R/GA, speaks with Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, MoMA, about why creative professionals should add friction to both their work and their workplaces, as well as the important role designers play in shaping the way we experience the world.


Improving our Relationship with Technology [1 of 3]
In the years since Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, people have become more passive in their conversation with technology. Instead of eliminating friction in online experiences, Paola explains why she likes to think about re-inserting friction into people’s routines.

The Evolving Nature of Workspace Dysfunction [2 of 3]
People work differently than they used to. In particular workspaces are becoming more like public spaces. However, the trend towards open floor plans is not an an end all solution to corporate creativity, as one day, long desks could go the way of the cubicle.


Advocating For The Future Of Designers [3 of 3]
Whether graphic design, object design, or interface design, designers take scientific and technological innovations and turn them into real-life things people can use. While companies are recognizing the importance of having designers working with engineers and R&D people from the get go, creative professionals need to be better about advocating for their role.