Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Sep-Oct 2020

Form to Function

The impact of spaces on creativity.

A few weeks ago, Fernando Machado, the CMO behind some of the most iconic work for Burger King – one of which, (‘The Moldy Whopper’) just won the Black Pencil at D&AD – said “I think all agencies (advertising, design, PR, etc.,) should have a room with a punching bag. I don’t know how you guys do it. I don’t know how you guys handle us (the clients). We are sooooo annoying.”

Mind you, this is the client himself. But he gets it.

On face value, his is not that bad an idea. Although it has been done. By no other than one of the most creative agencies in the world: Chiat/Day.

In their previous office space in Venice Beach, California, the quirky building Chiat/Day were housed in (designed by no less than Frank Gehry) sported a basement with a row of punching bags featuring not clients, but the faces of the senior executives at the agency. Complete with lockers where you could keep your stuff while you released your pent up frustration.

The rest of the building itself was an engine designed to generate creative energy. Called the ‘Binoculars Building’ the entrance displayed a four-storey pair of dark binoculars as an arch underneath which you entered the building. Ahead of its time, the office space was designed to be virtual rather than anchored, far before most places did this, with several hot desks – a creative could pick any space to work out of. Even the main boardroom, as a homage both to Lee Clow’s love for surfing and to most face-palming pun admirers in the world, showcased a main table made out of – you guessed it – surfboards.

Of course, we know the kind of work that Chiat/Day produced.

Creative in, creative out.

English professor at Princeton, Diana Fuss in her book The Sense of an Interior speaks about the kind of influence a writer’s workspace had on their work. From the view of Emily Dickinson’s window to Freud’s leather ottoman and smoky den, she travels through environments that not only fed but shaped the kind of work that results out of these places.

As reported by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Fuss noted that Marcel Proust, who suffered from asthma, lived in a cork-lined room with heavy drapes to keep out natural light and air. The author of Remembrance of Things Past, a work suffused in sensory experience, “found it necessary to suspend the senses in order to write about them.”

There is no doubt that the space around a creative sculpts the work they produce.

Thus, understanding the need for a creative workspace is vital for a creative agency. The creative output is an agency’s only product and it is essential that the production space is conducive to that development process.

This does not necessarily have to be artsy fartsy stuff. It could be empathetic. If you have several working parents in your team, for instance, build a nursery for children within your office space (we have one at BBDO). Build spaces that not only inspire imaginative thinking, but regulate moods: play areas, spaces to vent, regions to isolate in if somebody wishes.

The effect this has on the employee is astounding. A California Energy Commission 2003 study about the ramifications of office space design in production stated that “better access to views consistently predicted better performance. Daylight levels and ventilation rates were found significant in a few of the statistical models tested. The studies have shown that indoor environmental conditions can have a measurable relationship to changes in office worker performance.” Emily Dickinson would agree.

At some level, it is elementary: keep your employees happy and they will be more productive. But for creatives, it is even more imperative. If it is quality you are seeking.

This has become even more important in a new normal post-Covid-19 world which will see a large number of workers continue to WFH. The big question looms: why should they want to come back to the office space if it doesn’t inspire them any more than their home does where they can shape it to their liking?

“Form and function should be joined into one – they should be a spiritual union,” said Frank Lloyd Wright. For a creative agency, how they function is critically dependent on the forms that surround them.

Ditch the drab. Bring in some colour. Inspire people. Install some punching bags if you need to. It will be worth it.

Ali Rez is Regional ECD for Middle East and Pakistan, BBDO Worldwide. He is an 11-time Cannes Lions winner. a.rez@impactbbdo.ae