Corporate Kindergarten?

William Hanley at Architectural Record recently wrote a worthwhile critique of playful office designs.

In it, he basically postulates that the designs themselves are so overdone now, that they are hardly meaningful and often cliché. Companies like Facebook and Google seem to be the worst, most visible offenders. Going further, he believes that these designs encourage an unsustainable work/life balance that is only suited to young males. And as such, once the perks fall away, the only thing left will be overworked employees.

Since the publication of the article, a couple responses have emerged.

One, written by Rachel Sperry of agrees with Hanley’s assessment:

“I have to admit I side with Hanley.  The supposedly free exchange of longer working hours for a more playful work environment just doesn’t seem right, for all the reasons he provides: infantilizing, not family friendly, belittling… It’s less a merger of work and play than a subtle but hostile takeover.”

Another, by Reena Jana of Smart Planet mainly disagrees:

“Yes, it is somewhat funny that kooky, playroom-like offices are just plain unoriginal these days. But I’m not sure that the lifestyle (or is it workstyle?) they inspire, characterized by days that are somehow both all-work and all-play, is such a dangerous concept. Sure, the lack of imagination is bothersome. But having a goal of integrating comfort and humor into the workplace, whether by using bright, eye-catching colors or installing recreational equipment is certainly a wise one. If you’re expected to be productive all the time, as we are expected to be in our ultra-competitive, always-on era, wouldn’t you rather feel like you’re having fun, too, even if all you’re doing is clocking in more time at the office?”

Personally, I sit more in the camp of Reena Jana. Are some of the elements like slides and ballpits a bit overplayed? Probably. Do companies need to be more creative in their office design? Undoubtedly.

But I find it hard to criticize Google for their take office design when they have actually found a formula that works their their company – their incredibly successful company. Employees seem to enjoy themselves and do great work. Because of that success, other companies have naturally tried to emulate the Google formula, and have probably done so in a way that doesn’t actually work with their company culture which comes off as being cliché.

I don’t think that matters though. Proper office design takes time and is a process. Companies will figure out that certain ideas and elements don’t work for their particular company culture and move on.

Should companies think a little more about their designs before they just straight up copy Google? Yes. Is the rise of playful and fun office design a sign of the corporate apocalypse? No.