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April 22, 2015

In Defense of Permission to Play

April 22, 2015

For quite some time, SmallBox has abided by a singular purpose, which is to do great things. It is a powerful purpose that holds deep value for us as professionals and as people, but also deep value for our clients in the way we always strive to do great things for them. Doing great things, however, does not just happen on its own. Fulfilling that purpose means constantly learning and growing, and learning and growing, and no matter how passionate you are about your job, that's a lot of work. It is personally satisfying work, but it is still work. There is great value to gain through this work, without a doubt, but it can sometimes be hard to achieve balance. We are all likely familiar with the idiom that begins “all work and no play…” which begs the question:

When you think about how children learn and grow in the early stages of life, it is often through play. Testing their boundaries and trying new things isn’t just a way to burn off excess energy – it is an important way that they learn. The designers at SmallBox recently set out on a mission to find out how we can grow and learn through play.

For years, a small but important institution at SmallBox has been the Musée de Bobby Pin. However, it hadn’t seen some design love in a while, and was due for an updated brand among other things. We saw a great opportunity to have some fun, play and experiment as we worked through creating a new brand direction for what we affectionately refer to as the Musée. It was the perfect opportunity to test our boundaries and try new things without fear of failure or making our clients the guinea pigs as we navigate uncharted waters.

To move the project forward, we used some existing structures, including a sprint during our winter Factory Week, and ongoing check-ins through our design triad, a group focused on pushing our design process forward. The layers of value that we uncovered as we worked as a team to produce a new brand for the Musée were many. We relied on some of our tried-and-true methods of discovery but either tweaked them to see if we could find new and better ways to perform those tasks, or tried new ideation/creation methods altogether.

Not every new process we tried necessarily worked well in the moment, but we learned how we could mine value from those processes down the road. We also gained value through more intangible things like deepening our connection as a team, learning how to collaborate better and learning how to rely on each others strengths. The end result of all of this “play” was a new brand for Musée - one that we are proud of - a renewed energy within the design production team, and new arsenal of processes and techniques to take into our client work.

As cliche as it may sound, there is definitely some truth to the all work, no play idiom. You risk burning out. You risk getting bored. Most of all, you risk becoming stagnant personally and professionally. We were able to give ourselves a renewed sense of energy, and to grow and learn simply by playing around with something as absurdly silly super serious and revolutionary as a museum for bobby pins. We found play to be just as important as work, so do yourself a favor, and give yourself permission to play. You might learn something new!

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