MEREDITH Strategy + Design

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The power of place – how shared physical place trumps virtual networks

http://twitter.com/#!/archizoo/status/3056586054438913 We've always been interested in how physical place contributes to the development of organizations. We have a portfolio full of examples from our own work, and it is always delightful to find affirmations in other places.

This article in today's New York Times is a great primer in the power of place. Twitter's choice of a location for its operations has generated a feeding frenzy among other tech companies who what to be in the suite – or on the elevator – next to them to capture real measurable benefits in the proximity. Among those benefits are these –

  • Contact learning – "by hanging around with executives at one of the hottest tech companies today, some of the magic could rub off"
  • Network expansion – "There, he has been stalking executives on — where else? — Twitter, to see who is to visit Twitter’s offices. When he finds out, he pounces and “hijacks the meeting,” he said, by asking them to swing by his company"
  • Influence sharing – "Through elevator and lobby run-ins, he has also forged a close enough relationship with Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, that Mr. Costolo is helping Klout raise venture capital."
  • Serendipitous resonance – "they are hoping that proximity to Twitter will lead to chance encounters in the elevator, partnerships or an acquisition — or simply that some of Twitter’s fairy dust will land on them."
  • Opportunity amplification – "physical proximity — as close as working in the same building — leads to increased knowledge, productivity, income and employment."
  • Technical support – "he frequently hops in the elevator to visit Twitter to ask technical questions about the company’s changes to its tools for software developers"
  • The power of pull – “It’s certainly something that adds to the credibility of the address when you have people coming to see you, and you can say it’s the Twitter building.”
  • Motivation and energy – “It’s a very energetic spot. It makes you feel charged up when you walk in.”
  • Property value – "the vacancy rate for big buildings in the area has decreased to 21 percent from 26 percent, and average rent has increased to $32 from $29 a square foot"

There is, of course, a delightful poetry in all of this. As the article reflects, "Mr. Fernandez and other Twitter admirers see the irony in their desire for personal interactions with Twitter executives when their business is focused on building virtual relationships. 'Even though it’s all about tech and the Internet, the real magic of Silicon Valley comes from people being in the same space,' said Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify."

“For certain early-stage insights and design matters in a very fast-moving, hot industry, the proximity, even at the room level and the elevator level, is important,” he said.

There is also another great lesson in the story –

  • Link design strategy to business strategy design – “We spent more money than we probably should have as a start-up to make everything feel as cool and pretty as we could, so people wake up in the morning and want to come to work,” Mr. Stone said. “I’m not surprised other companies want to take advantage of all the mojo we put into the place. I would do the same thing.”

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How to deliver a "tweet" that will last a lifetime

massimo-2 I've been caught by this wonderful story on the always delightful Design Observer.

Referencing "the kindness of strangers," Jessica Helfand recalls the power and influence of simple, unexpected, generous communications.

What really caught me is the power--that is, the influential generosity--in this image. I can almost feel the crispness of the page, and can certainly see the texture and quality of the paper. I can imagine the day it arrived in the mail, distinguishable among the ordinariness of the other pieces in the pile. I can feel the anticipation, the expectation, before even opening it simple from the nature of the envelope and the line advising who it was from--that very simple formula guiding brand communication so elegantly executed--"tell them who you are and what you do."

I can image the feel of the letter opener and the sound of the envelop tearing, the texture of the stationery, the sound of its unfolding. Look at the composition of the page, the absence of logo, the abundance of white space. Look at the length of the line and the number of words between margins. Look at the color and gestural character of the signature. Note even the marks of the  typewriter and that bit of ribbon fuzz to the edges of the font. Note that convention of capitalized author initials and lower cap typists initials, and its implications of the time taken in draft and final edit, of collaborative composition, of process and engagement.

I can imagine holding that letter and reading and rereading it. I can imagine its place on the desk and the number of times it was picked up and read again. And here it is, more than a quarter of a century later, physically re-presented as an observation of the power of professional consideration, a reflection on manners, a parable about generosity, a remembrance that makes a history.

I believe that the power of this note to Jessica, and its relevance to others beyond her, is not only in the message itself, but is embodied in the sensual generosity of the page and the implications of its production.

Vignelli's letter is about a dozen lines, maybe 75 words. It's not much more than a "tweet," but the character of its generosity, embodied in its physicality, still resonates almost 30 years later.

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