Why creatives need time to play

Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor and the former long-serving editor of Design Week. Follow Lynda on Twitter.

Is a so-called work/life balance achievable, or even desirable? Probably not if you’re in the creative business. The chances are that what little downtime you have from the day job is spent creatively, be it whittling wood, painting nudes, baking cakes or knitting Christmas jumpers for friends and family.

Pearlfisher's Jump In! exhibition with Right to Play

More pertinent perhaps is the notion of injecting play into all you do. That way there’s little chance of getting bored and you are more likely to be inspired by creative opportunities.

Play is in danger of becoming the latest management buzzword, bandied about by forecasters and mentors alike. But it has long had validity in design. Digital pioneer Simon Waterfall, for example, swears by it. He told a design audience a few years ago that playing underpins everything he does – and he is a serial entrepreneur and top-flight creative with Royal Designer status and a string of good businesses in his wake.

The ill-fated Deepend Waterfall co-founded in 1994 was sadly scuppered by the 2001 downturn in digital, but Poke, Intel and now Verizon adjunct OnCue, where he is vice-president and creative director, all bear his imprint. Yet in spirit he is still that teenager who set up a games company in his bedroom, going on to set up playful but successful tailoring brand Social Suicide as a sideline. Social Suicide continues, despite his move to San Francisco some three years ago.

Substitute the word ‘experimentation’ for ‘play’ and you find the basis of alternative businesses like Sugru, Plumen – founded by Waterfall’s former Poke playmate Nicolas Roope – and Technology Will Save Us. All take a playful approach to making and all are successful, bordering now on the mainstream. Experimentation also underpinned the Anti-Design Festival set up by Neville Brody in London some four years ago and informs the work of thinking designers like Daniel Charny who defy categorisation. In these ventures, it’s as much about the process as the outcome – and the unpredicted outcomes are invariably interesting.

It’s good therefore to see branding group Pearlfisher teaming up with charity Right to Play to create an immersive art installation in its west London studio for its seasonal splash. Though the charity focuses on children, the Pearlfisher initiative is open for all this month and next and for everyone who visits the consultancy will donate £1. What better way to remind all of us of the power of play for people of all ages.

So next time the client calls and finds you out, tell them you were playing. Or better still, invite them to join in the game. Playing together surely beats briefing meetings for building relationships and prompting the best work.

Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor. You can follow her on Twitter @RelphKnight

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