Articulating the Magic

Creating Quicksand’s Employee Handbook

Quicksand has experienced a lot of growth over the past several years and it continues today. We are continuing to add talented, inspired, and engaged colleagues to our ranks to join us on our journey and to challenge us to remain curious, avoid complacency, and champion a design-led approach into newer and more challenging contexts. (Pay a visit to our Recruiterbox page to check out current openings if you’re inclined to join the team!)

Growth for growth’s sake is never a good, or successful, idea. For us, it must be tempered by the shared mission and vision that Quicksand has been on and aligned to since inception. It’s what keeps us excited yet anxious, confident yet humble; we want to engage with the world around us in a meaningful way and make a positive difference in the lives of friends, both currently known and those yet to be met.

One aspect of the Quicksand practice that drew me in early on and has kept me engaged ever since is the collective willingness, and even desire, to constantly question ourselves and challenge each other to do more and better, to seek out opportunities to learn and improve despite any difficulties experienced therein, and to do so as a collective and not as an individual. If you’re complacent, then you’re not learning; or as the 1990s American one-hit-wonder Harvey Danger sang, “If you’re bored, then you’re boring.

Illustrations by Shiraz Iqbal

Being in a state of perpetual growth and evolution, it’s imperative to articulate and share the Quicksand ethos for newly indoctrinated colleagues. Our manifesto is a great start to this, but we felt it critical to expand upon that in order to lay a common foundation for everyone new to the Quicksand family, as well as the old guard who’ve been around since day one. As such, we set about creating an “employee handbook” of sorts. It’s less an instruction manual and more a repository of our thoughts on how best to integrate into our collective in a manner that is mutually beneficial whilst still preserving the individuality that is so vital to our continued growth.

Our handbook has been a labor of love for several years, truth be told. We have spent a great deal of time trying to decide on an appropriate format (e.g., print publication? digital platform? both?), tone of voice, content, and more. A challenge that we face, which is also a real positive when reflecting on the type of space Quicksand is, is that our approach to work and the sectors that we choose to engage with is always evolving. As we grow as individuals so does Quicksand as an organisation; the practice itself is very much a living organism that adapts to ever-shifting tides of time, energy, and interest. A handbook from day one of Quicksand would look very different from what would be reflective of Quicksand on day 5,000.

So, what to do? As with any project we undertake for clients, we started by cataloging all the various aspects of the practice that we felt made us unique and were critical in maintaining and articulating for those we welcome into the fold as the years progress. There are practical things, such as what we expect from people day-in and day-out to help grow the practice, as well as the strategic, almost philosophical things like how and why we structure our teams and the importance of keeping people at the center of all of our endeavors.

From here, we identified the components that are a bit timeless, immune to the shifting tides of our practice; that which we want to remain a guiding principle or at least a significant aspect of Quicksand until we’re all old and gray. Once this was accomplished, a quick affinity mapping helped to kick out what ultimately became the 10 chapters of our handbook:

  1. the rough guide to quicksand
  2. get to know the tribe
  3. the secret ingredient
  4. the growth arc
  5. mix it up
  6. a day in the life of the studio
  7. we’re humans, we play too…
  8. how to fit into an unbox
  9. house rules
  10. FAnQ you very much

To start with, we opted for a print publication. The general consensus was that this manifestation was the proverbial low-hanging fruit: we could produce this much quicker than we could any other format. Considering we’ll be adding more to our ranks in the coming weeks and months, we simply needed to get this thing done so that the new members to the Quicksand family could benefit from it, and help continue its evolution.

Quote by James Spradley that we considered including in the handbook

We then set out looking for inspiration to guide our efforts in making this publication a reality. We scoured the Internet looking for examples of visually-rich, quirky, idiosyncratic, and even a bit irreverent publications that we felt aligned with our own collective personality. This, in turn, lead to all kinds of explorations and discussions on how the physical artefact could be created: choose-your-own-adventure books, comics & graphic novels, IKEA manuals, newspapers, and more were all considered and mulled over.

In the end, though, there was one example that everyone kept returning to that we ultimately aspired to emulate: Valve’s New Employee Handbook. We really have to hand it to the folks at Valve. Whether this was intended to be shared publicly when it was initially produced, we’re thankful it ultimately did find its way outside their offices. It inspired us to speak our truth in our voice to people we are welcoming to our family.

We’re in the process of creating a publication page for the Quicksand website. This will house some of the print collaterals we created for clients, as well as those for our UnBox platform, independent projects, and simply for fun. The plan is to eventually share our employee handbook there as well, to follow in the footsteps of Valve in being transparent with how we articulate our magic to ourselves and those who join us on this journey. Who knows, maybe it will even inspire another organisation to follow our lead as we followed Valve’s! In the meantime, though, keep an eye out for future posts as we share some of additional content from our handbook.

Image by Neha Singh