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Building a Culture of Creation

Eric Groves

By Eric Groves

People like our work — a lot.

Now, I’m not usually one to toot our own horn too much. But, it’s true.

People often ask us how we create and maintain our internal process to facilitate creative work at a high level for so long. And, honestly, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Many agencies and studios are successful on certain projects. Maybe their portfolio looks great and showcases their best work; but, to consistently create top-notch design and modern development is no easy task.

Not only are styles and frameworks constantly changing, but as a company we have a huge responsibility to facilitate and motivate our employees to keep doing great work.

Without revealing all of our secrets, there are some key components that I think have made us successful and I’d like to share these ideas.

1. Freedom within boundaries

There’s a misconception about creativity that says we tend to come up with the best ideas when we have infinite space to let our mind wander.

But, we disagree with this. We see creativity as a capacity to be creative in every way, which means that in order to focus that energy, there needs to be certain boundaries and parameters set up.

Imagine, for instance, if I were to tell you right now, “Be creative!”

Your first reaction would probably be to ask me questions. What do I mean by creative? Creative in what? Should you draw something or make a silly face?

You can understand my point. If I were instead to tell you that we need to design a homepage that has X, Y, and Z features with the rest of the design left to your creativity, then you have a much better understanding of how to be creative.

Our goal is to always strike the right balance between creative freedom and providing boundaries to help facilitate the process and also meet the project goals.

2. Knowledge is creativity

One of the biggest issues that a shop like ours runs into, is that they often have one person doing design and another person doing development.

While this may fit the skill set and the internal process, it can often impact the quality of work in a very real way. Not that separating work is problematic in and of itself, but if you isolate designers and they have no base knowledge of development capabilities and limitations, then it puts serious limits on what and how they design.

This lack of understanding and cross functionality can severely limit creativity. Designers will never push forward innovative design concepts if they don’t think it’s possible to make it happen in the browser.

So, for us, it’s all about co-learning. The more cross-functional our team, the better they understand what’s possible and how far they can push their creative ideas. We encourage everyone on staff to learn about other roles and have a larger view of the work we’re doing.

3. Avoiding the least common denominator

Creativity extends beyond design. And, sometimes that’s a lacking component on web projects — especially in the age of responsive sites. People often get bogged down in the technical hurdles that make creative web experiences more difficult to scale for different devices.
In these cases, they generally fall back to a least-common-denominator style approach — creating a simpler design that’s easier to scale.

But, we instead push for the opposite. Rather doing what we know will work simply, we ask our team to be creative in their solutions, to discover new ways to deal with existing and future technology, and not to make sacrifices for the sake of simplicity.

4. Building for collaboration

When it comes to an agency, design is everything. That applies for our work, but also for our work space.

At Flying Hippo, we have an open and collaborative environment. Few offices, few doors, more open space and work areas. The idea is simple: Working in an open space facilitates collaboration and collaboration almost always leads to better and smarter ideas.

There’s an open-door policy for the few offices we have. We would rather have processes and work come together in some sort of organic way than force it into closed spaces.

5. Live it and breathe it

If you couldn’t tell by now, we are big on the importance of brand.

We believe that everything starts with a strong brand, and (almost) everything happens because of that focus on the brand. That applies to our internal team as well. Our brand persona is the kind of witty and creative voice that we think appeals not just to clients who appreciate those traits, but also to potential employees who are witty and creative, too.

So, through our brand, we attract the kind of employees who work well in this environment and continue to push for creative and collaborative efforts. This allows us to keep the culture we want in a very organic way.

6. You can never have enough coffee

Okay, this one isn’t really a key to our success. But, be warned: If there is ever a worldwide coffee shortage and we can’t keep the pots flowing, we may be in trouble.

Our folks really love their java.

Top image via Flickr user suttonhoo22.



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