Creative Communication: Teams Just Gotta Have Fun
Many clients have never experienced working through a new design project. And communicating with an architect in architecture lingo can be overwhelming, intimidating, and at times even humiliating. “What is a charrette anyway? Am I supposed to know the difference between Schematic Design and Design Development? Don’t architects use blueprints anymore?” Add the excitement of an impassioned architect, swooping in with a new language, and your meeting may produce a room full of blank stares and a silent crowd following a soliloquy of design theory and concepts.
That’s why in working with public clients, we often start the design conversation with an icebreaker to remind people that every thought can help define a project and incorporate our clients’ vision. As architects, our goal is to create a building rooted in the owner’s foundational values and mission. Icebreakers can begin with an image activity where users select pictures unrelated to a building, which conjure an emotion and help define what they value. Sometimes we select musical lyrics that make them think of a successful building. Or we may use a classic board game concept, modified to relate to their project.
On one recent public works project, a large group of 25 end users included bus drivers, maintenance shop supervisors, and the public works director. We wanted everyone to feel comfortable talking together and offering ideas without feeling put on the spot. The director was adamant he not lead the conversation, and strategically empowered younger employees to determine their workplace of the future.
For this client we adapted the popular party game “Cards Against Humanity” and created our own version: “Cards FOR Humanity.” We gave each attendee a stack of 12 white cards with a word or phrase connected to their workplace environment, culture, teammates, and community.
Our design team had created a set of black cards with statements about the design of their new space and a fill-in-the-blank response. Each design team member read their black card, prompting the user group to select an answer from their white cards as a fitting or funny response. The design team read all the answers aloud, and selected the one they considered the most relevant, poignant, or entertaining. Then we briefly shared how we would respond to the real-life design scenario to solve the issue in the cards or address an unexpected opportunity. It proved to be a great team-building, educational, fun exercise for the entire group on both sides of the table.
The success of the game boils down to two rules of engagement.
- Keep the game simple. You don’t want users to belabor their role in the game. The bigger the decisions they need to make, the more they dread putting their voice out there. In this game, if they felt unsure about their response, they could offer a “funny card” to take off the heat. It is important to keep the pace of the game going so no one dwells on whether an answer is right or wrong.
- Don’t make users do something too far outside their comfort zone. We discussed a pictorial game as an option but felt that would overwhelm many users, particularly in front of designers and architects. A game that involves acting or presenting can keep quiet voices hiding in the back. Finding a game that honors all skills and personality types is key.
Finally, if the design team isn’t having fun with the game, the client won’t have fun either. We give prizes for winning answers. End users share funny cards with pride. And when someone bends the rules, it doesn’t matter. As long as the end-result leads to conversation and team building, everyone wins.