From my career experience – both working as an employee, and later as a partner in Hambly & Woolley, I noticed approaches that helped inspire while others were an utter fail.
Food works, but only until it becomes rote. Take for instance, donut days. It was a much-looked-forward-to event on Fridays. There was utter snobbery about the type of donuts you were expected to pick up. No Coffee Time for us. Sweet, gooey, and with the power of a Red Bull, a donut kept us pumped up for most of the day. Eventually, with clear evidence of our expanding waistlines, there was an employee intervention, and the practise just stopped. Fail.
We often bring in pizza lunches, cupcakes for birthdays, and have BBQs on our terrace, but around 3:00 we are all ready to nod off. Fail.
Class trips are another way to inspire. We have taken the staff go-karting, skiing, bowling, rock climbing, to the theatre, films, and trips to New York, Niagara and Chicago. Definitely, these events were appreciated, but it seems like these types of perks are table stakes now.
We buy lots of books and magazines. We also encourage “lunch and learns.” All of which are helpful, but none is a sure thing.
Truthfully, the best advice I can offer is this: keep your team on a loose rein. Creative people need space to create. They need to be able to indulge their personal interests, have the time to do good work, and have agency to work their own way.
Some designers let things roll around in their heads for a while (maybe it is called procrastination), some are planners and get things done early to allow time for revisions, and some produce a steady daily output. There is not ONE way to work.
Give your team time. Make sure there are reasonable expectations when it comes to promising clients first concepts. Front load your schedule to allow them to think.
As designers, we need to respond to creative briefs and adhere to our clients’ brand guidelines, but we have never imposed a house style on our team. I want our designers to come up with a better idea than mine. Let their personality show up in the work. Respect their talent, and most importantly, give them credit!
In our office we have musicians, painters, cooks, museum freaks, audiophiles, collectors, cyclists, and cat lovers. These disparate interests all feed into creativity, and should be encouraged. It helps keep the work fresh. Inspiration comes from a lot of little things, all of which add up to be bigger than the sum of its parts.