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Designing Spaces to Drive Creativity

By Michael Awonowo, Founder/Director Micdee Designs.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash 

Designing work spaces to foster creativity

It is common knowledge that one’s environment at work plays a major role in how effective one is. This information is not lost on designers and their need to be creative, and has led to a spur in modern workspaces across the world. This is especially true in organisations that employ designers and other creative professionals and require them to perform at peak performance.

Creativity, in itself, has been described as a process and also an outcome (a creative solution) and as such, has steps to achieving it. These steps can be broken down into four phases; the Investigation/Research phase, the Unconscious processing phase, the Eureka moment phase and lastly, the Validation phase.

It is important to note that not all designers would admit to relying on a laid down set of rules to creating solutions (this might be because some have a more ‘unscientific’ approach to how they solve problems or express their ideas and are thus unaware of their ‘methods’) but more often than not, the above list sums up their process. 

Why is it important to know this process? So, as designers, we can control the process and as business owners, you can foster the process. The latter is given credence by the saying, “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage”. How does one determine how much their work environment either bolsters or hinders productivity in general, and in relation to the creative process?

Needless to say, companies have in recent times grown to prioritise the role of the designer, employers have ‘stepped up’ their workspaces to amplify creativity. Get this wrong and you amplify the chances of receiving meagre returns from your designers, alienating them or worse, you run the risk of watching them move to your competition.

How then can an employer engineer the creative process?

Simple. By structuring the workspace to mirror each step in the creative process. Creativity is the bedrock of innovation and business owners must give room to their designers to do their best work by providing the best incentives and avenues to do so.

The average person performs one of four types of work at every stage during the day; focus work, collaborative work, reflective work and/or socialising [read: play]. These form the basis of a typical workday.

Focus areas

These areas are dedicated to intense focus work designed to leave very little room for distraction. An average person spends at least 50% of their workday in these areas because it facilitates research and brainstorming. It is your typical workstation setup surrounded by people with similar work setups. Some organisations prioritise this and have their people spend more than 60-80% of their workday in these spaces as they give an impression of diligence and focus (albeit sometimes exaggerated) while some offices gravitate towards another extreme providing only focus areas in their workspaces to the detriment of the designer.

Designing spaces to drive creativity
Engineering Office – Softcom Head Office designed by Micdee Designs. Photograph: cdigitals

Collaboration areas

These areas foster communication between employees and teams which is a key proponent for good design and creativity. The avenue to share ideas and bounce them off colleagues cannot be overstated and this directly inspires the unconscious processing phase as our minds piece and pair information together as our colleagues dispense them. They are usually defined as meeting rooms, huddle spaces or the unorthodox lounge in more contemporary organisations. Care must be taken to ensure they are evocative and are in no way similar to the focus areas because that can easily negate the essence of such areas.

Huddle Room – Enyata Office designed by Micdee Designs. Photograph: Rubys Polaroid

Reflection areas

Easily the most underrated aspect of the modern workspace. Spaces designated for reflection afford the designer privacy from the world. Akin to Archimedes and his popular eureka moment in his bath, reflection areas provide designers with room and avenues to ‘stumble’ on eureka moments that are a sum of all the research and conversations had on a topic. These spaces usually appear as private pods, phone booths and restrooms (no kidding). Underestimate these spaces at your peril.

Honeycomb Nook for  PwC Innovation Center designed by Micdee Designs.
Designing spaces to drive creativity
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Socialisation areas (Play)

Areas designated for socialisation between workers in an establishment. It is very likely that a company has more specialists beyond the designers in its ranks and these areas give the designers the opportunity to interact with them in the form of play and healthy conversations. More often than not, conversations had in these areas provide respite to the creative mind of a designer and can unconsciously become a catalyst for alternative solutions to problems the designer is currently tackling.

Alternative Stepped Seating – Enyata Office designed by Micdee Designs. Photograph: Rubys Polaroid

A summation of these different spaces forms a holistic environment that nurtures and drives creativity. Engineering your workspace to control the creative process is the closest method to building a formula that works. 

However, a key factor observed here is ‘Choice’. Studies have shown that creative people are more expressive and spontaneous so affording them the ability to choose what works for them and trusting them to deliver based on that is very important. 

It is not improbable that the designer stumbles on a eureka moment in an area designated for focus work but the chances of that happening are slim and the option to arrive at such amazing moments should be left to the designer.

Lagos Traffic

The Psychological Effect of Commuting in Lagos on a Designer

By Pelumi Adeyemi, UX Designer

Photo by Oluwapelumi Adeyemi on Unsplash

It’s 8:45 am— I woke up after falling asleep in my Uber. “Wait a minute!!! I’m not yet at work?” I’ve been on this trip since 6:15 am.

I’m not sure what I should be worried about, my bank account or my punctuality.

I finally got to work a few minutes past 9. With an eye out for the HR look, I settle down to get a debit alert of approximately N4,000😭.. With no time to worry (and waste), my manager asks me for an update on my progress report on Lattice ( Oga calm down na!).

“Be calm”, I grumbled in my head.

Hungry and stressed from the journey, I’d still need to do what I get paid for. My brain won’t start-up for about an hour—it needs silence from all the honks and exhaust fumes on Lagos roads.

At work, I’d get all sorts of personal messages:

– “Pelumi, your brother has been posted to law school and his fees are about N500,000. so…”

– “Plumexy!!!! How you dey na, abeg my house rent no complete, I fit see like 30k from your side, I promise I’ll return it next week”

– “Plum how far now, are those videos ready, remember we have 6 more to do this week for the speakers coming to minster in church”

– “Babe, you haven’t been talking to me as much as you used to. I think we need to spend more time together and…”

– “Hi Pelumi, please provide the security levy for the month of January — N7,000, plus LAWMA levy of N1,000 making a total of N8,000. Courtesy, your Landlord”

I’m frustrated.

3:30 pm, I’m worried about how long it’ll take to get home. I check Google Maps and develop a mini-panic attack from all the red lines I see everywhere.

On my way home, I struggle not to fall asleep because I’m sitting at the edge of the bus with the door wide open—one wrong move and I’m in the ocean. 

Two hours of heat, lots of honks and exhaust fumes, and I’m an hour away from home, Lol.

My bus driver decided to pick up passengers in the middle of the road which is illegal and unethical. He pumped the brakes abruptly and the recoil velocity forced-shut the doors.

Guess what? My leg is by the door and gets caught between—screams everywhere, from only me… I look around to find some sympathy, I wasn’t going to get any. No one noticed. They were either lost in thought or looking the other way.

I cried inside.

I got home after 3 hours of commute, bought food on the way home and slept off on the couch where I had dinner. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating like a bottle of cold water. “When will NEPA bring light now?

I crawled back to bed hoping to get some sleep. 5 minutes later, my alarm went off, or so I thought. The time definitely seemed short.

My morning prayer sounded like, “Lord, if you can grant me just 2 more hours of sleep, I’ll serve you all my days

But I had to get up. I wasn’t early yesterday, I can’t be late today.. .

While having my bath, I started to think “Should I order a ride or try to take a bus? If I keep taking cabs, I’ll be over my budget this week ooo. But it’s 6:00 am already, abeg let me order a ride joor, I’ll sleep more and I should make it to work earlier this time.

it’s 8:45 am, I woke up after falling asleep in my Uber.

“Wait a minute!!!……arrrrggggghhhh”

”Here we go again!”

That’s a short version of what my everyday used to look like. This experience is one of the great many ordeals a lot of people in Lagos go through every day, and it’s not getting better.

I became a designer (by day) because I loved to solve problems and it was one of the platforms I could use professionally. My subconscious has tried, numerous times, to figure out the transportation problem in Lagos but it’s always been a dead end. 

Lagos Traffic

Feeling powerless and hopeless about solving this problem make me start to question my problem-solving skills.

I design solutions for various categories of human beings, but solving this problem seems beyond me.

As a designer, I’m well aware that “teamwork makes the dream work”, collaboration is paramount and always necessary. As I work hand in hand with engineers to build solutions, I expect the politicians I pay taxes to, to collaborate to build grand solutions that would make life easier for everyone.

I’m young, I’m energetic. I’m supposed to spend these youthful years experimenting. Finding new solutions to problems and inventing/reinventing the wheel. But I’m plagued with solving “cave-men” problems — electricity, water, food, transportation.

In conclusion, a large chunk of our processing capacity is being used on solving basic issues that shouldn’t be existent. In turn, that makes everyone give less than they can. On a larger scale, it decreases our level of innovation.

The end.

Please share your commute-stories with me in the comments and say hi on Twitter.

Ruined by Design Book Cover | DearDesigner

Design in Nigeria, a Case for Ethics

BySheyi Owolabi, Creative Design Associate, Anakle.

In 2018. I came across the conversation about the ethics of being a Designer for the first time. It was a series of tweets by Seyi Olusanya, about Designers being required to get licenses to practice for ethical and accountability reasons. Not too long after, I ran into him at Lagos Meet and that conversation came up again. I knew then, it was something to be taken seriously, but I was not too bothered.

Fast-forward to 2019, the conversation found me again. I read Ruined by Design, book by Mike Monteiro, about how Designers “ruined” the world, and what we can do to fix it. Whatever impact Seyi’s tweets had on my consciousness when I saw them in 2018, reading the book, reinforced the gravity of the situation. I needed to take Ethics and Accountability more seriously in my work.

Tweet from @OgbeniSeyi on Design in Nigeria, a Case for Ethics.
Tweet from @OgbeniSeyi on Design in Nigeria, a Case for Ethics.

Like a lot, if not all, of designers in Nigeria, I learned my trade on Youtube (plus some paid classes here and there), saw what my colleagues were doing on Behance/Dribbble and shared my fascination with design on Twitter with the occasional rant about clients and how they don’t take us as seriously. However, as I got deeper into understanding this thing I call my passion, realizing the potential it holds, and what it can/will become in the not too distant future, the weight of the responsibility of my job as a designer became more apparent. It’s now beyond pushing pixels, or beefing with CorelDraw users because you think Adobe Creative Cloud is the best thing to happen to design since Paul Rand.

Reading that book shifted something in my head. I began to realize that, as designers, we find ourselves at the intersection of a Venn diagram that includes our employers/clients, the products we build and the users that use them. Thus, making us ethically liable for whatever impact the products (apps, posters, etc.) we design have on users. I realized that because of our unique position as the people who build/design these things, we should be gatekeepers, looking out for the best interest of the users.

We can refuse to work on products/ideas that aim to deceive users (we have seen cases of this with Jumia/Konga Black Friday sales) or misuse their private information (e.g Facebook and Cambridge Analytica saga). We should always look out for the users. What is the point of building a product you can’t be proud of because of its negative impact on society? A product that deceives and infringes on users’ privacy.

Ruined by Design by Mike Montero
via @monteiro on Twitter

I get it. We are all hustling and trying to get this paper. The point of this opinion piece is not to relegate that fact. We all need to eat. However, is it to the detriment of society? Think about it nah. Isn’t this the argument yahoo boys make? The country is bad, and we have to eat. So, damn the ethics?

The design space in Nigeria is “fairly” young and still needs things to be put in place to be recognized as a truly professional career choice. However, while we are working to put these structures in place, where does the ethical argument fit in? Is it too early to begin this conversation?

Nowadays, it is fairly easy to see 7 out of 10 (I have no data to back this up) “Design Twitter” bios with UI/UX Designer or Product Designer. A lot of folks are entering into those kinds of roles. It surely makes sense considering how design and technology intersect. So, for example, we have designers building products for companies like Cowrywise, Piggyvest, Kudabank—products that require users to provide sensitive personal information. There are tons of data that can be collected based on users’ interactions with these products. Who is going to keep these companies accountable when the line is about to/being crossed? Will the designers working for these companies defend the users when their bosses ask them to add features they know will infringe on the privacy of the users? Will they say no when asked to use the data collected for something unethical?

I believe this conversation is way more nuanced, and I can never touch every part of the overall conversation in this piece. My point, however, is that we need to begin talking about the ethical implications of our jobs as designers if we are not doing that already. We need to take that part as seriously as we watch Chris Do’s videos on the business of design or read Michael Beirut’s books on how to make great Brand Identities.

We need to hold ourselves, as well as the people that employ us to build these products accountable. If you think it’s not that deep, just wait till people begin going to jail for unethical practices.

Ultimately, I believe we work for the people and we should care about how our work affects them.

Let’s get talking.