Putting the “Fun” Back in Functional

Workspace design is, without a doubt, a consumer-driven industry. With any good designer, the first priority is spending time with the potential client in order to understand their needs, desires, and goals.

More and more, workplace decision-makers are a part of Generation Y, who have been — and continue to be — heavily courted by designers and manufacturers. Their perspectives have had a profound impact on traditional roles and relations in the workplace.

As a member of Gen Y, I can verify that most of us want to feel a definitive purpose in the work we do. You may ask, “What defines a purposeful career?” There are many aspects that define a purposeful career, such as the degree of ingenuity in a career field, the aesthetic environment of an office space, and interpersonal dynamics within a team of colleagues.

Among these three factors, I believe interpersonal dynamics plays the largest role in determining and evaluating the amount of satisfaction one possesses. We want to work in a fun environment surrounded by fun people who work together on fun projects.

The building of a workplace community is reported to be one of the highest priorities of employees because people have a common hunger for belonging. In Tom Rath’s book, Vital Friendships, the author notes individuals he polled showed the strongest linkage to job satisfaction was the idea of a work group that feels like a family.

A healthy family dynamic is fun and lighthearted, and allows people to be themselves. In short, it’s more fun.

Moreover, studies indicate Gen Y employees typically respond better to a flexible management style than one of a traditional authoritarian nature. Given all this, it is safe to assume people are attempting to find a new level of comfort in the workplace as they evolve to keep “fun” a common characteristic of their everyday lives.

If Gen Y employees are seeking a little playfulness to spice up their workplace routine, workspace designers must work to put the “fun” back in functional! We should endeavor to bring people together by creating conversation pieces in our design, and nurture the spirit by giving individuals the liberty to nest in their personal workspace and make creative decisions.

Examples of such design were abundant at Milan Design Week, which I excitedly attended last April. The experience remains in my mind as a kaleidoscope of all things aesthetically delicious. Even more spectacular – the designs were also practical! Testing products proved to be a case of having my tirimasu and eating it, too.

A line of products that made a distinct impression on me was Established and Sons Estd. The company’s group of marketing gurus is quite an eloquent bunch, and their tag line is one I couldn’t agree with more: “Each Estd by Established & Sons product is full of spirit and charm. They are a point of difference, an unexpected source of pleasure in the everyday.”

Established and Sons has fulfilled the most basic needs of office space design, such as a place to sit and a solution to desk clutter, in fresh, originals ways. A great example is the Estd Blob desk organizer, which is anything but conventional.

Inspired by bulbous globules of waste material leftover from the glass blowing process, it’s an organic product with curvatures that create storage for pens and a ruler. The practicality coupled with an artful appearance makes for a smart product that enhances one’s workspace.

Meanwhile, Butt is a goofy, but impressive ergonomic stool shaped like a generic tractor seat. With its fresh, comfortable design, it was by far my favorite product featured at Design Week. Constructed of hard plastic suitable for indoor or outdoor spaces, Butt features three holes in the center of the stool, not unlike a bowling ball. The holes enable individuals to lift the piece, making it a simple, yet savvy solution to seating in various spaces.

Incorporating products like these into your workspace design will liven up collaborative environments and undoubtedly put the “fun” into functional. An enjoyable and relatively relaxed atmosphere can do wonders for productivity and morale, so commercial designers especially should be mindful of new products and innovative in their utilization of materials. The notion of community and strong interpersonal dynamics can be encouraged by sophisticated product selection. Today, more than ever, it’s important to get a little chuckle in your workspace, and bring individuals together to create a productive workplace community.

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