Creative agency cultural artifacts from Cebu
The significance of culture in creative services organizations (agencies and such) is highly storied, almost mythical. There is a Loch Ness of a belief that an organizational culture that fosters creativity and uniqueness—however that may be accomplished—almost ensures quality output for clients’ campaigns, alignment with clients’ brands, and fresh supply of the most talented creatives and techies.
But most articles on agency culture tend to talk about Jell-O-like platitudes, with very few showing concrete manifestations.
While articulating an agency’s culture has its merits, there’s no stronger display of it than physical, observable objects in the workplace. In Cebu, Philippines, design studio RipeConcepts’ claim to agency disruption is not the takeover of a brand (what external party can take over the customer experience that comprises a brand anyway?) or ROI-immune digital witchcraft, but big-brand design execution at a fraction of US rates in a creativity-enhancing environment.
Office interiors with an indie art vibe
he workplace interior isn’t a sterile, minimalist box akin to Jony Ive’s office at the Apple Industrial Design Studio. It isn’t a Silicon Valley playground either. Instead, it feels like a creative’s loft, spruced with eclectic art.
The floor is poured concrete with painted-on swirls. The lobby combines cushioned wicker seating and a chalkboard wall displaying illustrations of the company event at hand. The ceiling’s exposed HVAC innards and sprinkler system give the production floor an unfinished, work-in-progress feeling.
Under the watchful eyes of design gods
Lining the office walls are posters—designed by RipeConcepts’ own graphic design team—quoting the most notable designers and inventors, from FedEx logo designer Lindon Leader to legendary Modernist Massimo Vignelli. Nothing like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell saying, “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline” to get you finishing that comp today.
Creativity-enhancing mood lighting
At around 5:00 PM in October, the sun begins to cast long shadows on the West-facing open layout of the studio. The blinds are drawn, and by 6:00 PM, the night lights of the Metro Cebu skyline dot the panoramic windows.
Only the muted but huge, circular light fixtures on the ceiling get switched on—never the antiseptic white fluorescent lights—so that the design floor resembles a coffee shop or a speakeasy more than a design production office. Additional lighting comes from the 21.5” iMacs atop lined-up architectural desks in the cubicle-free space. A study has shown that dim lighting enhances creativity, and in this physical environment, it doesn’t seem to be in short supply.
If you’ve just finished a major deliverable or are feeling stuck on a brief’s requirements, the easiest way to get your flow back is to walk around the studio and unobtrusively glance at what designer after designer is working on, playing with, getting inspired by, or acquiring their tastes from.
Here, you can see creeper-clad Cosmo girls producing a healthcare logo, side-by-side with someone browsing an online art magazine, next to a black-shirted illustrator sporting a metal do, drawing what appears to be one of the Disney princesses.
Eclectic daily soundtrack
On my first week, I got a taste of this creative studio’s diverse range of sonic influences and tolerance for whatever-works-for-you.
The whole day on my first Friday, I worked to jam of hard rock (from Deep Purple classics to Wolfmother’s neo-psychedelia), 1980’s new romantics, 90’s grunge, and eventually The Beatles—all emanating from the production floor.
Later on, I discovered it wasn’t piped-in—just one of the designers “broadcasting” his own playlist.
No (long) pants, no problem
The dress code is easy to remember: no flip-flops. Apart from that, pretty much anything goes: tats, piercings, purple hair, tribal earrings, cutoff shorts, or—for the more conservative—vintage T-shirts and ripped jeans.
Midweek beach trip
As an office location, Cebu offers the unique advantage of being a metropolitan city surrounded by beaches—many of them still untainted by commercialism and never more than four hours away from the business district. Most of the staff enjoy hitting the sands on weekends, but I bet that, if necessary, a creative could sneak-in a midweek beach trip to get out of a major design rut.
Culture, by design
RipeConcepts cofounder and Design Director Ryan Navarro is said to be the architect of the creative outsourcing firm’s organizational culture. The first time I asked Ryan about their culture, he said, “We don’t care much about titles or hierarchy” or walls.
I think that’s why, in a manner uncharacteristic of Filipino workers, people at RipeConcepts call each other just by their first names, including the President/COO (Miles) and CEO (Paul).
It seems that the open floor-plan layout is more than just an aesthetic exercise. It’s a telling cultural artifact. Just like the dim lighting, the indie vibe, the casual dress, the watchful walls, the inspiring halls.