On a family holiday in Florence, London-based art director and graphic designer Peter Chadwick was struck by the difference between the brutalist architecture in Italy and that of the UK. “Because of the different climate, it looked cleaner, the concrete,” he says.
Brutalismo, Chadwick’s new poster series of Italian brutalist architecture, is also influenced by Chermayeff and Geismar’s classic Pan Am posters of the 70s, which Chadwick has loved since his boyhood in Middlesbrough. “My dad was a travel agent and I remember seeing those posters in the agency where he worked,” he says.
The series is part of a larger project, This Brutal House, which Chadwick launched on Twitter in 2014, celebrating a style he admires but acknowledges is out of favour among today’s “faceless” glass and steel towers. But he feels there is still a place for brutalism’s “personality and grand gestures”. He adds: “I just hope that we keep some of them. I don’t know how many will be left in 50 years’ time.”
And Nevertheless She Persisted by Peter O Zierlein
This paper-cut artwork by Zierlein, a German illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts, was inspired by the 2017 US Senate vote to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren’s objections to confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as US attorney general. Following the vote, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”
Less than a third of Americans are engaged at work. That means more than two-thirds of the people participating in the U.S. workforce would label themselves as disengaged or actively disengaged. With studies showing that engagement and productivity are closely linked, this lack of engagement is bad for business.
It’s unfortunately all too easy to brush off this lack of enthusiasm with excuses: “Oh, they’re just jealous of all those startups with ping-pong tables and kegs.” “Everyone wants promotions, and I can’t just give them to everyone!” “No one likes work … that’s why it’s called work!”
Your employees, however, may have very valid reasons for not wanting to come to the office, and they may all be well within your control. Do any of these sound familiar?
1. They hate their work setup.
It’s estimated that back pain costs employers nearly $35,000 per year for every 100 workers they employ. If you’re asking your teammates to put in at least eight hours of work every day while sitting in stiff chairs at badly designed desks, they’re probably not excited about putting in any extra time in those workspaces. And if they’re spending time and money with a doctor or chiropractor to manage the pain, they’re really not feeling the love. Possible solution: Look at developing an active workspace with height-adjustable standing desks, treadmill desks, and similar flexible setups that allow employees to move in the ways that are most natural and conducive to getting work done. Not only will employees often physically feel better compared to sitting at a traditional workstation, they’ll also be more engaged, ensuring more work gets done.
2. They hate the noise level.
According to an Oxford Economics study, 63 percent of employers think they’ve given their employees the tools to block noise, while only 41 percent of employees agree. Whether it’s crunchy potato chips, not-so-mellow music, or endlessly gossiping co-workers, employees can get frustrated with daily noise interruptions. These loud distractions can not only make it hard to concentrate, but they can also make phone calls and meetings difficult if attendees can’t hear each other.
Possible solution: Supply your team members with headphones or noise-canceling devices This space is highly competitive, so there are lots of options available, from high-end Beats headphones and AirPods to $10 sets found at your local discount store. It also makes sense to create some isolated workspaces within your office — particularly if you have an open plan. This allows meetings to flow without interruption from weekend updates at the water cooler.
3. They hate the outdated technology.
A TECHnalysis Research survey found that 75 percent of interactions between colleagues occur via “old-school” technologies like phone calls and emails. And businesses are so married to their longtime software packages that only 8 percent of companies are using cloud-based collaboration tools internally. Employees who use more efficient technologies in their personal lives bristle at taking extra steps to do something that could be done a lot faster. Possible solution: Conduct an audit of your existing processes — you may be surprised by what you find. Are you still paying for licenses your employees aren’t even using? Do they bypass steps because their importance isn’t apparent? Are your processes incredibly outdated compared to your closest competitors’? An audit can help you streamline processes while also making sure your co-workers are remaining compliant with company policies and keeping data secure, so it’s a win-win.
4. They hate how the office bleeds into their personal time.
The thing your employees might hate most about your office is the feeling that they never leave it. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey found that 23 percent of companies feel they are “excellent” at helping employees achieve work-life balance. That’s a pretty measly number in an age when technology and automation have removed the need to keep factories full of bodies every moment of the day. Possible solution: Create some rules that will help your employees feel that their well-being matters. Set a companywide curfew for sending emails so people don’t feel the need to respond when their bosses send them an email at 11 p.m. Likewise, don’t ask people to monitor their email or phones if it’s not truly an emergency situation. Feeling tethered to work 24/7 leads to exhaustion and burnout, which hurt both your employees and your company’s productivity.
It’s true that not all of your employees will have an undying passion for the field of work they find themselves in. But it’s completely achievable to have all of your employees engaged in doing that work well. Brush off the excuses and look a bit deeper to see whether you’ve created an office that’s easy to hate. With just a few small tweaks, you could make it a place your employees love.
It’s never too late to design a vision for your business. While it may be ideal to do this at inception, many companies stop at the mission statement, business model or business plan when launching. Visions are different: they are about dreaming. Due to the aspirational nature of visions, they keep you stretching and evolving. Here are six steps to design a vision for your company.
1. Give Permission to Dream
This may seem obvious, but if leadership is not explicit in asking people to engage in the envisioning process, people will not participate in wholehearted ways You can incentivize this by setting aside paid time for people to devote to this process. You may even add a little joy by adding in fun competitions for the most far out ideas. Start big and dreamy. There will always be time and ways to cut back because of constraints in time, budget, talent or policy.
2. Backcast In Order to Forecast
You need clarity on where you have been in order to identify where you might go. Take stock and map the journey – dare I say, the “hero’s journey”- you have been on as an organization. Plot the characters, environmental context, tensions, cliff-hangers, conflicts, successes and resolutions to date. Do this for your particular organization as well as for your sector. Once you have an honest sense of historical perspective, create multiple possible scenarios- not just a singular one- of where your company might go.
3. Ask Frontline Staff
Your frontline staff are the best data gatherers. The receptionists, call center operators, and point of sale folks are the ones who are regularly interacting with end consumers. Begin asking their opinions and observations on a regular basis so that when it comes time for your envisioning lab, you have considered a range of data points about are aware of what is on the pulse of consumers and their actual needs. Making frontline staff more central to this process also gives you an honest understanding of what’s motivating your organization to adapt and evolve.
4. Stop Benchmarking
That’s right- stop looking only to what competitors in your sector are doing well or poorly. Instead, investigate other sectors and industries that are totally unrelated to your industry. In design thinking we call this “lateral thinking”: cultivating the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate areas. This is where you can gather the best inspiration. For example, consider that the W Hotel was one of the first hotels to create the position of a Global Fashion Director. They realized there was a lot for hospitality to learn from the fashion industry in terms of anticipating change, aesthetics and merchandising hotel properties. Don’t keep drawing from the same well.
5. Be Prepared to Get Messy
Creating a vision can be fun and energizing. And it will also feel messy and ambiguous. Don’t shy away from the moments when it gets confusing. Factoring in diverse stakeholders or shaking up pre-established roles and legacy is hard work. This is why it may make sense to bring in an external facilitator who can lend more objectivity to the process. This will not be a linear process; there will be shades of grey.
6. Assign Actionable Tasks
Goals are dreams with deadlines. Ultimately, to make the vision a reality you must have an actionable plan in place. Break up what could seem like an insurmountable goal into baby steps: reverse engineer the process. Create deadlines and budgets. Identify people who may be emergent leaders to take on some of the tasks. Regular check-ins are essential so that you are prepared to pivot and redefine stages. With these steps in place you may also need to identify new job positions that don’t currently exist. This is a good thing!
With these steps in place you are on your way to creatively disrupting yourself and your company.
Things move quickly in the digital realm, and frankly, it can be difficult to keep up with the pace. To succeed in the problem-solving role, product designers should be prepared for new challenges around the corner.
To help equip designers of all levels, I asked my colleague Ryan Wynia, a Chicago-based design leader and the Chief Practice Officer of my company MSTQ–a design consultancy that works with Fortune 500 companies and startups–to identify the biggest, most impactful trends for 2018.
Here are his top five:
1. Ethics: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
The role of ethics will continue to gain prominence among designers. Designers are and will continue to be a big part of growing corporate awareness around the ethical use of technology.
“One of the reasons for this groundswell stems from popular culture. The growing amount of television programming continues to explore the evolution of technology in futuristic sci-fi plots has put the implications for the way societies leverage technology at the forefront of our minds.”
More designers–and in turn, more companies–will contemplate the notion that “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”
2. Positive Design: You Can Design for More Than Usefulness and Usability
For Wynia, this is an area that is particularly interesting in 2018 and beyond. He’s worked in design leadership positions for a handful in-house teams and agencies, but jumped ship to complete his thesis on the intersection of positive psychology, design, and technology.
In order to design technology to improve lives, we need to move beyond measuring technology’s success as adoption, usability, and efficiency.
“While the harmful effects of technology will hold the spotlight, I think we’ll see more calls for responsible and ethical use of technology like we did from the Facebook investors and more research on the topic coming out of from academia. I think this will garner renewed calls for technology design that cultivates well-being and human flourishing.”
Wynia adds that, most of our approach today to make “good products” is really aimed at making it suck less–or what he calls a deficit-based model. The tools and ability for designers to produce that’s more than “not bad,” away from the deficit-based, will begin to emerge in 2018.
3. Psychology: A Better Understanding of How People Behave and Relate to Technology and Each Other Means Better Design
There’s been a lot of buzz in the field of product design around behavior change, behavioral economics, cognitive content, action design, and design for slow-change.
Wynia agrees. “I think designers in 2018 will consider how their work affects habits beyond the experience they’re designing for.”
Wynia believes that design methods and frameworks we use need to be more robust and more sensitive to the contexts in which people use the products we design for. According to Wynia, more awareness around “slow-change interactions,” those supporting behavioral and attitudinal changes that are initiated and sustained over time, will continue to grow.
“The diversification of interfaces and experiences will grow in 2018. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and voice user interfaces (VUIs) will edge farther into the purview of designers. As a result of virtual and augmented reality’s dimensionality, constructs like motion, light, and depth will become more frequently used interface affordances.
So are we done with screens? Wynia was quick to respond.
“The screen’s reign as the top interface will wane just a little bit. I don’t think it will be a lot. There’s still a lot of experience augmentation that’s happening with things like VUI. But in the long run, my sense is that we’ll be able to look back and see 2018 was the start of the screen’s decline.”
5. Unclear Titles and Labels: You’re a What? What Do You Do, Exactly?
“I think design titles, vernacular, and nomenclature will get even muddier in 2018. With the onslaught of new interfaces, omni-channel-everything, and even more demand for design, I think it’ll be even harder to understand who does what, how designer’s represent what they do, and what exactly someone’s title ought to be. As someone who’s run the hiring process in a number of different organizations, it’s frustrating and it hasn’t gotten any easier. Sure, you learn what to listen for, watch for, and recognize, but with the dynamics constantly evolving the finer design disciplines as they are, there’s always a new challenge in the mix.”
I’m from Philly and have marveled at the happiness effect that the Eagles’ Super Bowl win has spawned in our city. While there have been a lot of headlines about what the success says about grit and resilience, there is an ancillary and equally important lesson: that of happiness and contentment. The International Day of Happiness is coming up on March 20, so it’s timely to start thinking and acting more deliberately about happiness.
Even if you are not a football fan, you have been touched by the lighter mood on the streets of Philadelphia: a knowing smile as you pick up your coffee from Wawa, and a bit more patience in traffic on the streets of Center City (our downtown). Positivity and happiness are infectious. What sociologists call “stickiness” has taken hold: people pause more frequently to have conversations and connect. The turnout alone for the Super Bowl parade demonstrated what a catalyst the win was in bringing together an amazing diversity of citizens who typically would have never connected.
This got me to wondering: How might you design more opportunities for happiness and contentment into your daily life and work environment? How could you be more deliberate about the intersection of design and emotion? Here are three ways to approach this journey to contentment in work and life.
1. Connect on Purpose
The 2017 World Happiness Report lists these six variables for driving happiness: 1)income, 2)healthy life expectancy, 3)having someone to count on in times of trouble, 4)generosity, 5)freedom and 6)trust. It emphasizes that employment and productivity go far in producing happy people. But it is not enough just to have a job; one must be in a high quality work environment.
Designing a high quality work environment happens in two ways: through aesthetics and through deliberate altruism.
Aesthetics matter because beauty, order and harmony in our physical environment affect our sense of well being and how we interact with one another. When The Design & Emotion Society (a diverse group of designers, psychologists, engineers, anthropologists and marketing professionals) convenes biennially, they consistently discuss research on the role of beauty and sensorial design (design that touches on all 5 senses) to trigger positive human behavior and interpersonal connection. So no matter how humble or bombastic your office environment is, be intentional about creating cleanliness, order and beauty. Pay attention to access to natural light and the type of lighting used; minimizing clutter; use harmonious colors, and demarcate clearly designed spaces for hunkering down in private versus those spaces for free flowing conversation.
Deliberate altruism creates a feedback loop that increases generosity and freedom. You can do this by regularly and frequently acknowledging team mates’ contributions at daily and weekly huddles. You do not have to wait for expensive and infrequent events such as retreats. Companies which design a working climate where people feel seen, heard and validated, produce employees experiencing higher levels of satisfaction. No one wants to feel invisible. Incentivize your team to acknowledging each other- validation does not have to only be the job of the boss.
2. Document Gratitude
The Science of Happiness podcast and Gretchen Rubin‘s The Happiness Project advocate for and show evidence of the transformative effects of being grateful. The expression that “gratitude is an attitude” goes beyond cliche when put into practice. Reflecting on every unexpected gesture of benevolence (someone lets you make a left turn at a busy intersection) and contact with others (you had a good laugh with office mates during lunch) makes you more aware of all that you have. As a former boss of mine liked to say, “Keep your eye on the doughnut- not the hole.”
But being aware of all that you have to be grateful for is not enough. It is also important to document the people, experiences and things that make your life easier and bring a smile to your face. Commit to the discipline of writing down those things that you may otherwise take for granted. As shared in the “Science of Happiness” podcast, writing down “3 Good Things” every day, over a month’s time will have a transformative effect on your outlook, mood and interactions with others.
A key principle in design is that of producing a minimal viable product, or MVP. That is to say, the most stripped down, elegant and functioning version of a product, service or experience that you want to create. The MVP is about identifying what is essential. That notion- “What really matters?” – is transferable to designing happiness into your life. The books Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath both focus on the benefits of identifying what you need versus what you want, and on appreciating the tremendous effects of singular moments.
This requires reverse engineering your life and acknowledging that while there are a lot of things you could do, you cannot possibly do them all well and in an meaningful way. Begin practicing this on a daily basis by making a list of all the things you would like to accomplish, and then choose two or three things that you can realistically get done- and do them! This results in an amazing sense of satisfaction and contentment. Then, if there is time, move on to the next item. This practice can be scaled to being more mindful about what you would like to accomplish over the next year, and over your life time. It’s what I call the “Baby Food Method”- breaking down overwhelming tasks into bite-size chunks is a more feasible and viable way to design life.
These three action items ultimately translate into greater feelings of self-worth. Happiness and contentment are inside-out design ventures.
Yesterday I walked into my home office and examined the space from a fresh perspective. It hasn’t had a facelift in about ten years and I’ve hardly noticed its dingy appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I love my office but it’s simply out of date and no longer reflects my personality. It’s time for a change.
Approaching the challenge like any diligent, problem-solving coach, I did my research. What does science say about an office space that boosts energy, creativity, and productivity, all while projecting a safe, calm feeling for clients? Yes, it’s possible, and you can do it all on your own. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Use color, but not just any color.
Color psychology studies (and there are many) reveal changes in the body and brain when people view certain colors. These changes influence productivity, creativity, health, stress levels, focus, communication, and emotions. That’s some powerful influence!
Color psychologist Angela Wright explains the phenomenon this way: “Color travels to us on wavelengths of photons from the sun. Those are converted into electrical impulses that pass to the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which governs our endocrine system and hormones, andmuch of our activity.”
First decide what’s most important about how color affects you, your employees, and your visitors. In an interview with Chris Bailey, Wright offered this simple breakdown of the effects of color on the mind: “The four psychological primaries are: red, blue, yellow, and green. And they affect the body (red), the mind (blue), the emotions, the ego, and self-confidence (yellow), and the essential balance between the mind, the body, and the emotions (green).” But it’s not that simple. Bailey nicely breaks down the process of choosing just the right color in this article.
2. Trendy furniture is nice, but ergonomic is essential.
Trendy furnishings are nice but be careful not to go too trendy or you’ll be furnishing the space again within a few of years. While the look and feel of your furniture are certainly important–ergonomic design is of most importance.
Prevent ergonomic injury by learning more about safe chair and desk options. Studies show that changing posture during working hours reduces odds of injury, so make sure that your chair adjusts in every way possible and has breathable fabric. I spent a small fortune on my office chair and I thank myself for it every day. This ergonomics research on emerging risks and solutions breaks it down nicely.
3. Protect your back–literally.
Before you purchase new furnishings give careful thought to placement. Your natural instincts will keep you on alert if your back is facing a door or window. If your space allows, face the door so you can always see who’s coming in or passing by. Even in a home office, your instincts will keep you in a subtle state of alertness, regardless of an empty house, and even this low level of stress may make it difficult to focus. If your back must face the door, position or hang a mirror so that you can see behind you without having to turn around.
Here’s a list of the most popular, easy to care for, indoor plants:
5. Display your dream board.
While many dismiss the idea of a dream board (also referred to as a vision board) there is science behind this theory. Personally, I’m never without an updated vision board because I know what an impact it has on my life and business.
While in a previous article I told you why a little clutter can enhance creativity, major clutter creates stress. It dominates your mind because it keeps so many things on your radar. You glance over at the stack of invoices you need to pay, for instance, and you instantly feel pressured. Put your stacks away, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed, exhausted, and depressed. To further eliminate stress, organize things so they are easy to find.
If your storage and filing systems are openly visible, make sure they coordinate in color and style.
7. Proper lighting makes all the difference.
The benefits of natural light are undeniable. The southern exposure in my office keeps me happy, alert, and focused. If you don’t have the option of a sunny exposure purchase a full spectrum light. Here’s a recent review citing the top ten light therapy options.
Poor lighting can cause eye strain and headaches, so make sure you have ample light over your work area.
8. Make room for a break area, even in a small office.
Even the smallest office can contain a makeshift break area. I have a comfortable chair near the window so I can take in a bit of nature. I value the time it gives me away from the computer–even though the desk is only about four feet away. A change of environment will give your brain and body a much-needed break and can spark creative insights.
If your office space houses employees then a break room–even a full-blown lounge–is essential. Take a page from the Google book of company culture and create a casual co-working space to encourage collaboration and inspire creativity.
Now you have everything you need to create a space that inspires and energizes you. It’s well worth the time, thought, and investment.