There is little more terrifying than having non-billable time at work. The first few weeks of my employment at IDEO were a nervous time for me. I was intermittently assisting a few project teams, but it would be an excruciating few weeks before I was staffed full time to a client project.
For the better part of my career, I had been conditioned to believe that employees are either adding value to an organization by working in immediate service of its bottom line, or they are not, and should subsequently be disciplined. I was terrified I was in the latter camp. Over time, though, I began to take more deliberate notice of how my IDEO colleagues spent their “white space” time between projects.
My friend, Dave hacked an Android tablet into the housing of a 1980s GRiD laptop to celebrate the life of IDEO cofounder Bill Moggridge. Three IDEO Chicago colleagues made an LED-powered, floating cloud installation that communicates current weather conditions by changing color. And a pair of engineers created an automated, Arduino-powered, steampunk-themed shandy machine to keep colleagues hydrated during summer parties on the Chicago studio's roof deck.
With my Pavlovian conditioning coming undone, I dove head first into the fray. During a few hours of project downtime, a teammate and I outfitted an old Mac Classic with an iPad for its screen. Was I reprimanded for using company equipment for a side project during work hours? Quite the opposite. I was told to post an image of our creation to the IDEO Instagram account.
Since then, I have experimented with pumpkin carving via laser cutter; flown toy cars from rooftop ramps into frothy mugs of beer; teamed up with a friend to explore and film fluid dynamics studies using a syringe and typewriter ink; 'printed' Nyan Cat out of yarn via a hacked, decades-old electronic knitting machine; and twice stencil-graffitied IDEO’s San Francisco headquarters—once with moss and once with superhydrophobic solution.
So, why do we create these things? Because even before we’re designers, we’re makers. And taking a few moments away from our day-to-day work for unorthodox and inspiring creations often fulfills our need to make. When we bring this energy back to our teammates, we work better together, and we do better work.
Creating stuff makes us happy. And doing it together makes us better designers. This is why we make.
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