Permission to Daydream

We work in an industry saturated with ‘get stuff done’ mantras. If we’re really unlucky these mantras are rendered as bold typographic posters and plastered across the office wall. I’ve visited spaces like that, there is no where to hide.

I understand how we got here. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bend the rules as we look to build more sustainable design cultures. Let’s talk about the long game.

It’s an easy idea to buy into. The more stuff you get done, the more you are rewarded with a feeling of progress. We happily adopt this attitude to drive our focus as we look to build products in smarter ways. An effect of running on ‘get stuff done’ is critically thinking about how we spend every minute of our day. We strive to become better at prioritizing everything down to the smallest detail in an effort to keep moving things forward.

If we take this to be the playing field of a start-up, the idea of carving some time out of your day to do something that doesn’t directly move your business forward sounds ludicrous right?

I’ve spent the last 3 years being ludicrous.

I’ve invested time in championing new practices, and worst still I’ve encouraged others too also.

We’ve recently reached a milestone of 10 healthy designers at Percolate and I wanted to reflect on how we’ve developed our design culture along the way. We’ve introduced practices that have asked us to slow down and give people permission to daydream.

Daydreaming is a short-term detachment from one’s immediate surroundings, during which a person’s contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake.

Don’t worry. We’re not going to be talking about drifting off into visionary fantasies. Today we are going to talk about the value of presenting your team regular opportunities to detach from their immediate projects.

Here are the internal and external practices we’ve used to develop our design culture.

Internal

On Stage — We encourage designers to present to the wider company. This could be walking through a future product or sharing the results of a product update. Helping designers develop a passion for storytelling is huge; from writing an initial script, building a presentation through to delivery.

Crits — We do a weekly session where a designer will share work in progress. A recap of the project objectives lead us into a table top walk through of print-outs. Multiple iterations of user flows prompt valuable debate. Crits ask everyone to be open and invested in shaping the work of others.

Show & Tell — These sessions are powered by a Communications designer and a Product designer. Both share a recent project to provide a window into each others world. It’s important everyone understands how our products are positioned in the market, and how they are architected. These sessions help different disciplines understand each others craft.

Blogging — From day one we’ve carved out time for designers to share project learnings. For most people writing is a hurdle to begin with, but with some encouragement the ability to write like you speak comes together for everyone. A thoughtful library of articles is being built by the team.

DesignTalk — A rapid fire, high energy session on a Friday afternoon to finish the week. Everyone brings a link to the table. Something that has caught their eye and inspired them during the week. Film, Fashion, Photography, Art, Illustration, Technology, Gaming. It’s all fair game.

External

Dinner & Show — Experiencing the work of others inspires us to push ourselves further. Once a month we find a show or talk in the city to catch as a group. Recently we’ve seen the work Jeff Koons, Eddie Opara and Debbie Millman before grabbing a bite together and discussing the show.

Field trips — Powered by an education stipend, designers are encouraged to find conferences they are excited about. It is a chance to get out of the office and recharge. Eyeo, Lean, Brand New and Bloomberg Design have served us well as we’ve discovered new practices and methodologies.

Speaking out loud — To take our storytelling skills a step further we encourage designers to share their experiences at events. The act of identifying an interesting story and fine tuning it to give value to an audience is no small ask. We’ve tried our luck at IDEO, Digital Dumbo, Work-Bench and Social Media Week.

Hosting friends — This year we took our internal DesignTalk session a step further to bring together friends from across the design and technology space. Powered by the energetic PechaKucha format, leading designers and entrepreneurs from companies like Squarespace, Artsy and +Pool have joined us to inspire and give practical, actionable advice.

On Tour — In the next few months we will be visiting design schools across New York to share stories. We will engage in debate with students and professors passionate about software design and branding. Our opportunity here is to distill the experience of working at a technology company to excite the next generation of designers.

I could start writing about how these practices have let people exercise different muscles and…but that just sounds weird. I’m no psychologist. I can tell you that we’ve tried a few things and the results have been good. The team unit is becoming stronger with each month that passes. We continue to grow in ambition. The longterm affect of our design culture is that we are moving the business forward; the practices give our team space to breathe and inspires them to create amazing products. It’s the best stuff I’ve been part of since I got my start as a designer in 2002.

With your demanding product roadmaps it’s easy to forget what makes designers happy. Go beyond your impending deadline and think about what would stimulate and excite your team. Once you’ve found something, build your culture around it. Be patient as it takes time to introduce practices. We have steadily grown our culture over the last 3 years and its something we look to improve each week.

There is plenty of formulas and advice out there to help you motivate your team to ‘get stuff done’, my only ask is that you create spaces for them to daydream too. That’s what I’ll be betting on.