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Creative Activities to Help Your Design Team Thrive

Here’s how to host your office’s favorite weekly meeting.

Shirley Xiao
November 2019

Every Thursday at lunch in Indeed’s San Francisco office, I bring my design teammates together to let our imaginations run wild. We use this time to teach one another arts and crafts, watch design videos, or partake in some other creative endeavor. I call it Design Lunch Hour. Attendance is optional, but it’s become a quintessential part of our design team’s culture. And it’s played a big part in fostering our creative community.

Design Lunch Hour is an opportunity for us to get inspired, share our love of creating, and take a break from the daily grind. Read on to learn how it started and get some ideas for launching one in your office.

There’s so much to love about Design Lunch Hour. For one, it’s a chance for each of us to share our passions and skills with a community of likeminded people. As a self-taught designer who never went to art school, I haven’t always had that. Before joining a team of designers at Indeed, I seldom found people who shared my excitement over a design article, the arrival of SF Design Week, or a talk by one of my design heroes.

But that didn’t stop me from looking for creative things to do. When I worked at startups as a solo designer, I found every opportunity to letter on the job. I would also spend hours after working decorating the office, doodling on everything in my path.

So boy was I excited when I joined a whole team of designers at Indeed.

My first step was starting a Slack channel called #designreads. Immediately the reactions and comments started pouring in. Seeing people geek out about design articles with me I knew I’d finally found a community that loved the things I did.

Soon after, I discovered that our Austin office hosted a weekly event where designers watched design videos together. I determined to replicate it in San Francisco, and on October 25, 2017, Design Lunch Hour was born. We kicked off with the famous Netflix series, Abstract: the Art of Design, which I’d never found time to watch. We were floored by the talent of the great illustrator Christoph Niemann.

Christoph Niemann sits at a drawing desk in a Berlin park with a film crew setting up behind him.
Christoph Niemann shares his creative process in Abstract: the Art of Design. Courtesy of Kase Film, Netflix.

We slowly progressed from design-specific videos to all forms of art. We touched on cooking (Chef’s Table), snowboarding (Yearning for Turning), and even tidying (Marie Kondo, anyone?) Over time, Design Lunch Hour took on the feel of an art party. Organically, people started to take turns suggesting and leading each week’s activity. We tried therapeutic watercoloring, still-life drawing sessions, knot-tying, stamp carving. Thanks to my fellow creatives, my view of the world of art and design continues to expand.

Over the past two years, Indeed teams from Austin, Seattle, and Tokyo have all asked about our activities. So I’d like to share my ten favorites and hopefully spark some ideas.

1. Monster drawings aka the exquisite corpse

A surrealist favorite, this fun drawing game lets a group collaborate on a drawing without seeing the whole picture until it’s finished. Grab a stack of printer paper and fold each sheet into thirds. Get into teams of three and have each collaborator draw one part of a body — the head, torso, or legs — one after the other. See instructions.

2. Field observations

This exercise adapted from the IDEO book Thoughtless Acts? asks participants to go out onto the street. In small groups you sit and watch people for 30 minutes. Sketch, photograph, or note interesting behaviors you see people doing. Then regroup and share. You’ll be fascinated by what you find.

3. Still life drawing

Selection of still-life sketches taped next to each other on an office whiteboard.

Grab any objects available, set them in the middle of the table, and have at it! Who knew we had so many talented artists?

4. Watercolors

A perennial favorite, watercoloring is by far the most meditative, relaxing exercise we do. That’s why we keep returning to it. All you need is some paint, brushes, foil, and paper. Remember not to rinse your brushes in your drinking water!

5. Hand-lettering

Gif of coworkers in a conference room practicing hand-lettering by following along with an instructional video.

There are so many hand-lettering tutorials out there that it’s easy to get started. To get started, print worksheets and bring in calligraphy brushes.

6. Self-affirmation lettering

For some advanced lettering, take a look at the weekly creative prompts artist Lauren Hom sends out. We chose week 47, make a card expressing love for yourself, and indulged in some wonderful self-affirmations.

7. Legos!

Need I say more?

8. Temporary bad decisions

Collage of people in a conference room applying and showing off temporary tattoos

For those that have always been tempted to get a tattoo, Inkbox is the perfect way to try out different designs. Like a black henna, it lasts on your skin for up to two weeks. I brought two boxes to work and tried my hand at becoming a tattoo artist. This was by far our most popular event.

9. Modeling clay

When you’re always designing on the screen, it’s refreshing to just make things with your hands. Grab some Play-Doh, or in our case EZ Shape Modeling Clay, and let your imagination run wild.

10. Father’s day cards

Closeup photo of a hand-lettered father’s day card

It’s easy to get caught up in work and forget the little things. It had been ages since I’d designed a personal card for my dad. When a fellow designer brought in postcards, stamps, and markers, I was grateful to have time at work to show some love and appreciation for family.

How to get started

If you’re feeling inspired, I leave you with three tips I learned along the way for starting your own Design Lunch Hour:

Try everything

Why not? Here’s where to test new skills, subjects, mediums, ideas, and even conference rooms.

Include everyone

We often invite visitors from other offices to join us, and we’ve started to see engineers and others from teams outside of design want to join in. Use polls to gauge interest for different activities and empower anyone with an idea to run their own session.

Show off a little

Hang drawings. Post photos. Share what you’ve created, learned, and watched on social media. Let the world see how amazing, talented, and multidimensional everyone on your team is.

Marker sketch of a llama-like creature with a long horn

I think all creatives find activities of their own to stay inspired. It’s how we maintain a fresh eye and keep our problem-solving skills sharp so we can do our best work. Tools and technology are wonderful things but they can’t give you the creative energy a band of open-minded souls will. So give it a try.

More resources

  • List of creative exercises for creative teams from the Foursquare design team
  • 28 to Make, 28 daily creative project ideas to get you in the habit of making
  • Draft and Draw, a monthly meeting for drinkers with a drawing problem, featuring a “creative professional who shares the story of coping with their habit.”

Shoutout to the SF design team: Thanks for being the best community a designer can ask for. ❤️

Illustrated headshot of Shirley Xiao
Shirley XiaoUX Designer at Indeed
Headshot of Annie De Leon
Annie De LeonCreative Lead at DeLeon Creative

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