Creative Environments Lead to Creative Teams

Designers are more likely to feel inspired when they can thrive in their environment. This concept is not breaking news but it’s a topic that I’m passionate about. Over the years I’ve noticed that designer-friendly spaces are undervalued in many corporations. As a design leader who lives and breathes within the creative industry, I see an opportunity that many organizations can leverage and it’s pretty simple:

Creative minds need creative environments.

Wide-open space

When my designer colleagues and I joined design school back in the day, we had the opportunity to build our own surroundings. Tailoring our space based on our needs gave us creative freedom and comfort which activated our inner design genius.

Not much has changed.

Some of the best design schools in the U.S. and around the world continue with these opportunities, some even offering higher standards based on today’s technology and possibilities.

School of Visual Arts / NYC — NY
School of Visual Arts / NYC — NY
Art Center College of Design / Pasadena — CA
Art Center College of Design / Pasadena — CA


When design students graduate college and join the corporate world, they face a cultural shock. For young professionals, the jolt of going from college to corporate can make them reluctant to work in large organizations. As a result, this negatively impacts the recruiting process because it detracts the best talent to their workforce. In addition, it makes it harder for these companies to compete with those who promote and support these needs.

A few good examples of global brands and companies who care about building creative environments are Adobe, AirBnB, Facebook, and Intuit. As a hiring manager, I’m well-versed in how these companies are revamping their space to accommodate a creative environment for recruiting purposes. And of course, this allows them to fill open seats much faster.

When Trends Go Wrong

I’ve seen many companies hire staging and interior design firms who are not always knowledgeable about the creative needs of designers. The DNA of an authentic design space lacks personality when it gets replicated in this way. Here’s why:

Design culture that’s activated from within creative teams allows the employees who work there every day to thrive.

AirBnB is a great example of where the technology/design/product disciplines align in a cohesive way. Brian Chesky, the founder of AirBnB, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). His deep knowledge of the design industry allows him to attune to the evolving importance of building creative environments, which allows the end product of AirBnB to make a bigger impact in the customer’s heart and mind.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of the Design Playbook Initiative at eBay Inc., sponsored directly by the CEO and directed/influenced by John Maeda. The opportunity to travel around Europe and the U.S., and visit multiple design schools and agencies was an eye-opening experience. Learning about their space, engagement model, and process revealed a profound perspective of the design industry:

Each design school and agency had a story to tell which was deeply connected to their culture, design space, and people.

Here are some examples:

Story 1: Walking Barefoot to the Campfire

North Kingdom Agency is a design studio located in Stockholm, Sweden. We were told take our shoes off at the door, which was symbolic for expressing that “we are all at the same level” with the added benefit of making us feel at home.

North Kingdom Design Agency / Stockholm — Sweden

When you walked down the steps in the center of the agency, you noticed a fire pit surrounded by chairs and rugs. This intimate setting imitated team offsites from back in the day where they told stories over a campfire in the woods. The agency wanted to continue this tradition by assimilating the campfire into their work environment.

North Kingdom Design Agency / Stockholm — Sweden
North Kingdom Design Agency / Stockholm — Sweden

Story 2: Common Spaces and Mindful Living

Coffee is fuel to help designers with their long nights and early mornings. But it’s not just about the coffee: It’s more so the culture, and cafes are the place where collaboration and conversation happen. Simply having conversation in a cafe environment can bring colleagues closer and create stronger relationships across teams.

Eden Spiekermann Agency / Berlin — Germany

Of course, a library or living room setting goes hand-in-hand with a good cup of coffee (pun intended). Designers who use creative spaces to process their thoughts often exude a more mindful way of living. Time away from the digital world allows them to reprogram their minds in an analog way so that they can bring a new level of awareness to their work.

Eden Spiekermann Agency / Berlin — Germany
Eden Spiekermann Agency / Berlin — Germany

How does the design of your space tell your story?