Creative Spaces that Work by Sarah B. Nelson

BY James Gadsby Peet ON NOVEMBER 10, 2017

Spaces shape culture – it can’t be helped, the spaces we work in are a huge factor in the way we work so they are always going to define the overall working environment, both personally and physically. In this illuminating talk from Mind the Product London 2017, Sarah B. Nelson, program architect at IBM Studios, shared how important it is for us as product leaders to care about the spaces we work in – and how those spaces have an impact on our work.

When done right, this is a symbiotic relationship as culture also shapes spaces. Once people get into an office, they naturally end up making it their own. There is nowhere that this is more prevalent than within ‘studios’.

Studios are all about making, experimentation, play, and collaboration. Creative spaces tend to have lots of things people have collected on the walls. They should have a way of bringing news ideas into the community (like libraries) and ideally an easy way to create spaces that expand and contract as the work requires.

Creative Spaces that Work by Sarah B Nelson

Habits are easier to adopt than big changes or plans. A few to try and take when it comes to designing spaces:

  1. Say Yes! Get people to participate in the design process and design to their needs, just as you do with the rest of your products.
  2. Prototype. In the same way that you prototype a digital product, you can do the same with spaces. If you need to test whether private study booths are worth investing in, build a couple with white boards and see how well they are used.
  3. Be opportunistic. There will often be unused spaces near where you are – take advantage of those and use to try something new.
  4. Be scrappy. Be resourceful and do things on the cheap. If you can’t get budget for the full product, build your own.
  5. Ask forgiveness. Facilities staff will often say no, because they have a specific way of working. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Design a space that you want to come in and work in every day, and you and your team will be even more inspired!

Sarah B Nelson at #mtpcon

James Gadsby Peet


James Gadsby Peet

I've been in the digital industry for over 10 years and have worked across small and large charities, as well as my own freelance projects. I am now Director of Digital at the sector leading creative agency William Joseph. Having been at Cancer Research UK for the last four years, I have been able to work on high volume, high profile campaigns such as Race for Life, Dryathlon and the much-quoted #nomakeupselfie. In that time I helped drive forward the charity’s digital product and marketing capabilities to be some of the most respected and successful in the sector. I'm always excited to work with other organisations, share expertise and swap cat gifs. Give me a shout!