Not every agency has access to mountain views or woodsy surroundings, but there are other ways to manufacture visual stimulation or, conversely, to create a relaxing environment. Dynamic architecture and artwork can help with the former: Salt Lake City's Dahlin Smith White recently designed its workspace with tilted walls, odd-sized doors, rainbow-colored carpets and colorful, flashing interior lights; creative director John Dahlin believes the funky, surreal look sends a message to insiders and outsiders that "this is not some boring agency in the middle of nowhere."
Then, of course, there's Chiat/Day, whose downtown New York office, with its technicolor-painted floors and bizarre abstract artwork, fairly screams, "We are creative!" CD Marty Cooke believes the look of Chiat's office "probably does send a subliminal message to creative people here that this is not the place to do traditional work."
When not trying to stimulate creative juices, a number of agencies use in-house "toys" for relaxation purposes; pool tables, basketball courts and other assorted indoor play areas have practically become an industry cliche, but they can still be effective in helping creatives work off excess energy, some say (though it's important that the pool table actually be used by employees, instead of serving as an "aren't we fun" showpiece to outsiders, says Dahlin).
In the bigger picture, however, such visual elements and playful accoutrements are the mere window-dressing of environment, and their effect on creative people-if it exists at all-is probably short-lived. "No matter how different your workplace looks, it becomes old after two weeks," Monahan says. "The art on the wall eventually becomes wallpaper."
Far more important is the actual layout of the workspace, which can determine how creatives interact with each other and with the rest of the agency. And this is where some profound changes seem to be taking place. The traditional agency physical structure, wherein creative people worked in their own separate department, and each had their own offices within that department, is under siege these days, and not just from Chiat. In the new world of agency design, traditional boundaries are fast disappearing.
C/D's design seems to be setting the agenda. As perhaps the entire English-speaking world now knows, at the agen
cy's New York and Venice outposts no one has offices or desks, and there are no departments. Creatives and everyone else at the agency roam the wacky floors with portable phones and notebook computers, storing their possessions in lockers; actual work is done at library-style carrels or in small group-rooms, a number of which are dedicated to specific accounts. The space seems to have gotten mixed reviews among insiders; Montague, who has free lanced there, says he found that staffers were "evenly divided between those who liked it and didn't like it." Some at the agency have missed their desks, but Bruce Goldstein, an art director who left Chiat recently for Avrett Free & Ginsberg, says he found the virtual office to be "a great way to work, very similar to the freelance lifestyle. A lot of concepting and brainstorming was done out of the office, at home or restaurants. I felt that I was very productive in that environment."
Still, critics of the virtual office feel that it goes too far, and disenfranchises people working at the agency. "This is an insecure business, and if you take away people's desk and have them wandering about, I think it adds to that insecurity," Nick Cohen says. Architect Will Bruder, who designed Riddell's agency, shares that view: "The problem with Chiat/Day is that it's too much of a homeless structure," he says. "In business today, and particularly in advertising, there's already a sense that companies are cutting back on their responsibility to employees, relying more on free lancers. The virtual office only adds to those tensions."
With that in mind, some agencies seem to be taking a halfway approach to virtuality-opting for what might be called a virtual virtual office, designed to be open and freewheeling but not quite as impersonal. Mad Dogs is doing this with its rolling desks, while Fallon McElligott is experimenting with portable lockers. At the
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