Feb 13, 2013

The Writing’s on the Walls (Part 1)

We’ve all been there: standing on the platform waiting for a train, or idling at a stoplight, or walking home with the dry cleaning, when suddenly it hits: THE GREATEST IDEA EVER.

It’s genius. World-changing. Better than the wheel. Potentially more popular than Justin Bieber. You think: “I better write this down.” But your phone’s dead. So you frisk yourself madly, searching for a pen and a scrap of paper—even a receipt! Oh god, why’d you throw away that receipt?!—and now you’re panicking because you’ve got nothing to write with and you feel the idea growing fuzzy, slipping away, being reeled back home by the mysterious creative deity that had cast it your way. And then, just as quickly as it came, the idea’s gone.

That’s the thing about ideas: they can happen anywhere, any time. And you better be prepared to record them. That’s why at Hot Studio, our New York and San Francisco offices have been designed to offer lots of space for creative doodling and idea-logging, from the walls and whiteboard tables of our conference rooms to the mirrors in our bathrooms.

“Bathrooms?” you say. Yes, bathrooms. (Come back on Friday for Part 2 of this post.)

Let's begin with New York, and recount one of the creative ways this office has used its space to capture ideas and build culture.

New York—The Cool Wall
by Róisín Cooper, HR & Office Manager

In May 2011, Hot Studio moved to the 11th floor at 520 Broadway, aka “the Penthouse.” With lots of open space, white walls and direct sunlight, we were consciously selective about what we displayed on our walls. The effect was ‘minimalist’ and clean, but also lacking in any Hot-specific identity.

Over time we’ve grown less hesitant about what we put up on our walls and the results have been great. From color palettes, to fonts, to how a wireframe will look on a mobile phone and bus shelter, we’ve increasingly used our walls as a space for sharing ideas and highlighting cool work.

We also identified the need for an ‘inspiration’ point in the office. Somewhere we could go to distract ourselves from the current design issue and lose ourselves for a few moments. Enter, the Cool Wall. Inspired by a feature on the American version of the show Top Gear, our team in New York uses the Cool Wall as rallying point for discussing and sharing cool (and uncool) things.

Here’s how it works. Every month a theme is assigned to the Wall—cars, movies, architecture, food, etc. Throughout the month, Hotties post corresponding examples to the Wall, grouping them into one of four categories: Seriously Uncool, Uncool, Cool, and the coveted “Sub Zero.” There’s periodic group discussion about why examples fall into different categories, capped off by an internal blog post at the end of the month that summarizes the submissions and conversations.

Here’s a sampling of our findings and feelings from our January theme, Architecture:

Seriously Uncool: A TV transmission tower in Prague, the Portland Public Service Building, and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (I think as designers, our gang was reluctant to criticize other designers.)

Uncool: Hearst Tower, Gehry’s Beekman Tower, Madison Square Garden, Trump Tower, the United Nations headquarters. From further afield we had a North Korean Monument, the Geometric Death Frequency at Mass MoCA, and the Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon (suggested by a CMU alum). The rationale behind the decisions ranged from “great building, wrong location,” to “awful building and awful location” to “just plain wrong!”

Cool: The IAC building on 18th Street, Riverside Church, and the original New York Penn Station. On the West Coast we had the Eames House & Studio and the Seattle Public Library. Internationally we had an unknown Soviet building, Aalto Theater in Essen, Germany and the Millennium Dome (or O2 Arena) in London. We also had Jacques Fresco’s Venus Project.

Sub Zero: The Death Star (post Rebel Attack), Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a selection of homes and churches made from natural materials, the Brooklyn Bridge and Petrossian Building on 58th & 7th Avenue, Grand Central Terminal and The Casa Mila (or Quarry) in Barcelona.

What does this say about our team? We know what we like, we find inspiration at home (NY) across the US (Portland, Seattle, LA) and internationally (London, Barcelona and Essen) and in make believe (Death Star).

Read Part 2 of The Writing’s on the Walls.

See more from "Our Thoughts."