18 November, 2018

Who’s on your list?

How’s the holiday shopping list coming? We know, we can’t believe it’s November, either. If you’re trying to figure out what to get for your friends and colleagues, who (we hope) deserve the very best, we’ve got your back. In this month’s "On Our Minds", we dish out some of our favorite gift ideas for the most discerning of gift-givers!

On our minds

In this season of giving, companies often want to show their appreciation for a year of hard work. Folks expecting fat bonuses probably won’t be pleased with a membership to the Jelly of the Month club (as delicious as that sounds), but a carefully-chosen gift can help an employee to answer the question they might never ask out loud: "Does my employer care about me?"

A desire for mutual care lies at the foundation of engagement, which is why it’s one of the questions on Gallup’s Q12 survey. As coworking drives consumerization of the workplace experience, employees expect to be treated more like valued customers. A gift is not just an object of exchange. It’s evidence of care.

Figuring out what people want without having to ask can be difficult, as one of our favorite stories about data science shows. Yet, investing the time to think of what someone might value is the point of the whole exercise. More than a list of the latest fad do-dads (we’re looking at YOU, Bitcoin watch), we’d like to ‘present’ a few thoughts to guide you on your quest to give the gift of a better workplace. It’s the gift that keeps giving all year long.

Gifts of the (Multisensory) Magi

Cookies in the oven. Cuddly sweaters. Bells and choirs floating on blustery breezes. The winter season is a feast for the senses! As fans of multisensory design, we love gifts that provide an experience—preferably one that lasts.

Earlier this year, our team took a tour of a candle factory in Brooklyn. Why? Smell is a big part of how people perceive their environment. It’s capable of evoking entire landscapes, seasons, or states of mind. We came away from the tour with a deeper connection to a part of the work experience that often goes underappreciated. A candle, soap, or some other custom scent is a great gift, and local suppliers can often be found at the holiday markets that pop up this time of year. They’re also easy to buy in bulk for larger teams.

Tasty treats are a holiday classic. Locally made? Even better. WeWork, in the process of advertising Dock 72, has been passing out small portions of whiskey made by nearby Kings County Distillery. An indulgent collection of teas from a local purveyor like Harney & Sons can offer momentary escapes through the chilly months ahead. Locally-made honey never spoils, and may also offer unique health benefits.

Sound matters a lot. Our friends over at GSA have done quite a bit of research on how these little waves effect workplace focus and satisfaction. Noise generators like the Dohm can help with focus or relaxation, and now there’s a free app that does the same: Noisli. It’s perfect when you’re trying to finish a project and your colleagues are playing ping pong six feet away!

Colors! Aside from regulating our circadian rhythms, what we see can also add delight to our day. From retro tromp l’oeil wallpaper to biophilic images, there are myriad ways to add a bit of visual variety to those drab walls. Seeing "pieces" of nature, like tree branches and other fractal patterns, can lift our mood, ease our stress. Plants can make you happier and more productive and improve your memory. While studies suggest that being around living greenery is optimal, having fake plants around is still better than nothing.

Games & Toys

You don't have to make a wish to Zoltar to add some fun to your work day. Games and toys can bust up those impending winter doldrums. It’s not just for giggles, though that would be reason enough! Tangrams, puzzles, or creative toys can stimulate the mind—MIT’s Media Lab has partnered with Lego since 1985. These beautiful toys from MIT teach coding and other STEM basics. Don’t forget old-school games like CandyLand, Dominos, or Pick-up Sticks. Engage coworkers in a friendly match of a multiplayer game. If some of your colleagues are remote or you have multiple locations, this is a valuable opportunity to build essential trust and community that bridges the geographic divide. Our friends at Unity could recommend a few titles.


We love using measurement to improve performance, so personal trackers are always on our wishlist. Familiar brands like FitBit now have lots of competition. A next generation of producs is emerging; check out Withings, which offers a range of wearables and devices for the home, including a nifty sleep monitor. Even with a great night’s sleep, we all need a nap from time to time. To enable more workplace zzz’s, consider an Ostrich pillow or a travel pillow for your favorite roadwarrior.

If the recipient of your holiday goodwill is anything like us, they’ll love something like Vieyra Software’s Physics Toolbox Suite. It turns a mobile device into a research tool. It turns your mobile device into a research tool by putting a light meter, sound meter, and an oscilloscope in the palm of your hand! Share the data with colleagues to do DIY anthropology of your work-life experience. Tools like these give workers everywhere more power to measure the environment around them—and then, in turn, improve it.


Uberland, recently released by Data & Society researcher Alex Rosenblat, takes a look at the growing role of algorithms in the workplace. Using Uber as an example, it explores the ramifications of a future in which an algorithm may be your boss.

We still love Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, for its look at how the human brain actually makes decisions. Diving into the shortcomings and benefits of both reasoned and gut-level thinking, it’s a fascinating exploration of human nature.


Ditch ho-hum desk accessories for some that are more inspiring, like those from Poppin. In one of our favorite podcasts, NPR’s Hidden Brain explored a study in which researchers described "the IKEA Effect"—people value an object they’ve built themselves more than an identical object built by someone else. For next-level DIY, check out the Cricut Maker, which can cut intricate patterns into most common materials. Use it to make custom greeting cards, decorations, pop-up books, you name it!

Pay it Forward

Do a little good for the world this season by donating to an organization that provides information or cultural resources you care about. Wikipedia, The Guardian, and National Public Radio are evergreen. NYC locals might like to support The Municipal Art Society, Project for Public Spaces (highlighted in this event by AIA NY’s Social Science and Architecture Committee), or the Storefront for Art and Architecture. You can also find local projects to support (or start your own) using ioby. If you find a great organization to support, we’d love to hear about it.

From the archives

Last year, our piece in Work Design Magazine discussed the evolving role of design in business strategy. From the pre-smartphone era to today, much has changed in the way we build and interact with space.

For another blast from the past, check out this event from November, 2013. The annual Dean’s Roundtable at the Center for Architecture featured a who’s-who of architecture academia, discussing the current state of architecture education.

Well, we’re probably pushing the limits of how long it takes to run to the store for a can of cranberries. Time to get back! We wish you the best in this season of goodwill. Happy giving!

In Case You Missed It

Before you dive head-first into a bowl of mashed potatoes, revisit some of our recent happenings. We’re thankful for so many opportunities to make workplaces better!

Data for Good Exchange

Back in September, Bloomberg’s fifth annual conference focused on the use of public data to address social issues.

Learning from Hospitality, Retail, and Education

Our piece in Work Design Magazine teases out best practices and lessons to be learned from three very different sectors.

Discounts on WELL Exam

Interested in becoming an advocate for workplace wellness? Until Nov 26, WELL is offering special pricing on their certification exam and prep courses

Eliza McLellan Joins the Team

We’re thankful to have great colleagues who are care deeply about the workplace experience. Welcome PLASTARC’s newest design strategist, Eliza.

Looking Ahead

Autumn reminds us that change is the only constant—so we’re always looking to build connections and stay on top of the latest on work and place. Here’s where you might see us in the next few weeks:

Architects as Activists Primer

This panel will focus on the intersection between activism and architecture, emphasizing the role of architects in the development of places worth living and working. Hosted by AIA NY, TOMORROW, Nov. 19


As co-organizers of their 50th conference in Brooklyn, we’re happy to share that EDRA submissions are open until Nov. 26.

Neurotech 2018

Pioneers in neurotechnology share cutting edge developments in research. Presented by MIT’s McGovern Institute in Cambridge, MA, Nov. 27

DesignX Pitch Night

Startups compete for the opportunity to join the 2019 DesignX cohort. Hosted by MIT in Cambridge, MA on Nov. 28.

Remix Resample Remaster: Identity and Making Architecture

We’re excited for this discussion inspired by the show Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture. Join us in New York, Dec. 19.