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Monday 05 Jan 2009

As the credit crunch bites and pitching for client work becomes
more competitive, every creative studio needs to keep staff
motivated, happy and rooting for success.

When faced with a tough economic climate, it’s understandable for

companies to reach for the ‘crisis mode’ button, batten down the hatches
and seek to weather the storm.

Yet for creative studios, a culture of uncertainty, suspicion and survival

can plunge staff into developing a studio-closing unmotivated streak.
Unmotivated creative staff spell bad news for business.

Design flair can begin to fray, and relations with clients can become
strained and the studio atmosphere can become tense. Talented staff –
catching the whiff of despair in a studio – may begin to look elsewhere.

The fact is that the best designers are always valuable, no matter how
the economy is performing. Not only are sharp creative minds vital to
successful campaigns and helping in retaining lucrative accounts, but any
studio needs creative stars for the longer term.

The best staff aren’t just there to help battle through a difficult patch –
they should be there to help propel your studio upwards when you begin
to hit the upturn.

But what can a cash-strapped creative studio, faced with financial

uncertainty and tightening client purse strings, do to not only halt the
slide in morale, but actively reverse it?

Follow our selected motivational tips to help ensure your studio is

brighter, happier, and more creative – whatever the economic weather.

CUT BUDGETS, NOT REWARDS Rewards for successful work, or simply

continuing to perform well, don’t have to be purely of the financial kind.
There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost alternatives that show your
appreciation for work well done – which is the biggest morale-booster of

At a basic level, a ‘thank you’ approach to work shows staff you value
them, rather than communicating a ‘you’re lucky to have a job’ culture.

Low-cost rewards are many – and often fun. Tickets to an art exhibition
or museum, Krispy Kreme doughnuts on a Friday, an iTunes music
voucher, or time off to help with community activies that staff are
passionate about but otherwise wouldn’t have the time for.
You can even bring in a outside help, such as a yoga instructor twice a
week, as an inexpensive way to reward staff, relax them and lower stress
levels. See ‘low-cost rewards’ boxout for more ideas.


particular can benefit from encouraging staff to be involved in all aspects
of a project – and a good way in is to start at the beginning.

Don’t limit creative brainstorming sessions to your most senior talent –

invite your accountant, office manager, coder and anyone else you
normally wouldn’t, to join brainstorming sessions.

This does more than simply foster a sense of community and open
communication within a studio: often ‘non-creatives’ are brimming with
left-field ideas that can lead to better execution of a project.

Ensure that all ideas are owned by everyone, no matter how junior, and
acknowledge creative input from usually reticent staff.


a talented pool of creative staff – even if you are a small studio – so put
them to work solving the immediate problems that the company faces.

If you’re faced with financial difficulties, such as a large client walking

away or work drying up, then make your staff stakeholders in the
solution. One way of doing this is to present the problem as a creative
challenge: a client has bailed, and you need to win new work in a short

By involving staff, everyone feels motivated in tackling the problem,

buoyed by a successful conclusion, and you may even identify new ideas
that you hadn’t considered.

TRAIN FOR MOTIVATION Lack of training or access to training is often

cited as one of the key reasons behind staff motivation dropping off,
regardless of studio size. Investing in the careers of your designers shows
a healthy interest in their growth, and it needn’t cost much.

There are plenty of free seminars, networking lunches, screenings,

discussions, and exhibitions for designers that are geared at developing
skills. Trade show exhibitions often feature free training seminars on
software such as Photoshop, while cultural workshops in art skills are a
great outlet.

Alternatively, allow staff an afternoon a week to devote purely to learning

software skills by following tutorials online. You can also ensure that staff
subscribe to creative magazines (such as this one) and have the time to
study tutorials, projects and case studies.

OPEN THE DOORThe worst thing a studio can do in a challenging

environment is operate with a closed-door policy, with whispered
conversations and short-notice meeting cancellations.
This only gives the impression that something bad is happening, and
employees are likely to add suspicions up and come to their own
conclusion. Instead, you need to control the message and update staff
clearly, quickly and honestly.

Don’t leave it to the rumour mill, and keep lines of communication open
so that staff feel involved.

BE INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE Hard times often see studios getting

their heads down and following the same old safe ideas and executions. A
challenging way to boost morale is to seek to break new ground
creatively – either by taking on small, but intensely creative projects, or
by encouraging designers to pitch ideas and solutions to projects that can
be as radical as possible.

Fostering a ‘let’s try it’ attitude is healthy for creative thinking – but it’s
important to give feedback on all ideas, even if it’s a ‘no’, otherwise staff
will be unwilling to toss them around.

BE POSITIVE This sounds obvious, but if all talk and thinking in the
studio is focused on survival, then staff will lose motivation. Instead of
concentrating on the negative, show your appreciation for positive
thinking and keep praise specific, timely and genuine. For anyone working
for a living, there is no such thing as too much praise, especially when
times are tough.

FOSTER CREATIVE PLAY A great method of raising studio happiness is

to introduce an element of creative play, preferably working in groups to
build team spirit. Creative play isn’t an unfocused excuse to goof off –
rather, it involves competition, cooperation in groups and creative

One example is to get a group of employees to build a tower out of odds

and ends within a time limit, and it has to stand unaided for two minutes.
Get them to guess what height they will achieve, then get them to build.

Afterwards, explore what they learnt and creative solutions. It’s amazing
how creative people feel after this type of group exercise.

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY... …makes for dull designers. Designers are
passionate about their work, and will clock up weekends and evenings
churning through projects. By enforcing a culture that advocates personal
time, you’ll boost staff wellbeing.

You can also award extra time off when staff have been working extra
hard, and introduce a culture of not working weekends: your clients are
usually enjoying a two-day break, so should you and your staff.

STAFF TRIPS Remember school trips? Remember the thrill of a day out
visiting somewhere new, as a group and having fun? Recreate this on the
cheap with an away day.
You can arrange for all your staff to take a day out and visit a museum or
exhibition, or hire a minibus and head out to a theme park for some team
bonding. Keep it cheap with packed lunches – the emphasis is on fun and

CELEBRATE SUCCESS It’s tempting to mark the end of a project by

heading down to the pub with your team once all the work is done, then
buckling straight down to the next project the next morning.

This is fine, but can feel like something of an anticlimax after all your
hard work. Break the tired routine and celebrate project conclusions with
as much in studio fanfare as possible, no matter how small the project.

This should be as cheesy as possible, with music, nibbles and fun

elements that reward staff with the recognition of hitting and business
and creative milestone.

JOB DONE! And not just jobs – any milestone or to do action should be
collated informally and visually stored so the sheer amount of on-going
progress can be shared. You could create a ‘Done!’ wall that you stick all
to-do flipchart paper and lists as a project progresses, chalking up a
studio-wide sense of achievement.

CREATE DESK PLAYGROUNDS The economic climate is tough enough,

without draconian ‘tidy desk’ policies. Instead, actively encourage desks
to be used as creative playgrounds. Toys, gonks, tiny skateboards,
doodles on Post-It notes, photos of friends and enemies, and stickers all
create a sense of belonging and identity for designers. Even better, they
can be used to find inspiration for a creative brief, sparking ideas and

KEEP PLANS TRANSPARENT Employees aren’t simply nine-to-five

workers who are passing through. If you are open, transparent and
accessible when it comes to your business plans and goals, employees
will reward you with loyalty, input and motivation.

One idea is to keep your business plan visible at all times – on a wall or
intranet – so it can be downloaded, blended into projects and goals,
discussed and improved upon. Get staff to visually interpret your business
plan, helping them have a vested interest in the ongoing vision for the

MOOD BOARDS Mood boards are usually a means of visually capturing

the look and feel of a project – but you can turn them inwards and make
a studio mood board. This can be a gauge, chart, word board or any
public device that allows anyone to change or add to it to best reflect
their mood.

Moods can range from relaxed and productive down to stressed and
unmotivated, with stages in between. It gives a studio a means of
articulating feelings and moods, and is a useful heads-up for you so you
can respond to unmotivated feelings as they arise.

Beth Whattam