Google has had a negative effect on office design, says Jeremy Myerson


The Google-inspired fad for slides and ping-pong tables has had a damaging impact on the workplace, according to office design expert Jeremy Myerson.

Myerson said the tech giant's influence had been "detrimental" to good workplace design and said the trend for treating offices as playgrounds is "a very bad idea".

"I think that the Google effect in the workplace is quite detrimental," Myerson told Dezeen. "Trying to treat the whole world as though every organisation should be like Google is a bit of a bad idea."

Google Tel Aviv office
Google helped popularise the idea of the office-as-playground. Its Tel Aviv office is one of many to feature a slide

"One of the things the Google effect has had is the idea that work is somehow a playground and you can infantilise your staff," he added. "It's actually a very bad idea."

Myerson said that the office-as-playground might be appropriate for Google, but other companies should be wary of copying the tech giant.

Instead, businesses should first determine their own organisational culture and then brief designers to create workspaces that support and encourage that culture.

The Google approach is "right for their own company," Myerson said, but "each company needs its own fit between the physical infrastructure of the office and their own organisational culture."

Google office
One of Google's London offices has a Brighton beach theme with meeting rooms disguised as beach huts, but Myerson warns that emulating Google's "creative playpen" could be detrimental to other companies

Myerson, who is Helen Hamlyn chair of design at London's Royal College of Art and is an expert in workplace design, spoke to Dezeen as part of our Haworth white papers series of articles, produced in collaboration with the US office furniture giant.

"Work's a serious thing and I suppose the Haworth cultures model is a serious attempt to say that not all companies need a creative playpen," Myerson said, referring to a research methodology developed by Haworth that helps align workplace design with office culture.

Tech giant Google has pioneered gimmicky office interiors. Its Tel Aviv headquarters has an artificial beach as well as a slide, while one of its London offices features dodgem cars, beach huts and meeting rooms disguised as giant dice.

"'We want to be like Google' is a common misconception that clients try to convey to designers, and by that they mean funky offices, playful furniture and ping-pong tables or game rooms," agreed Haworth ideation manager Gabor Nagy.

Google office
Haworth research Gabor Nagy says "I want to be like Google" is a common misconception among clients, as "playful" offices aren't always right for their own company culture

"Problem is, if the organisation's culture is not like Google's, chances are very high that such design conceptions will back-fire: employees hanging out in the game room or playing ping pong while working will not be seen as creative innovators, but more like folks who are sabotaging their daily work."

Speaking at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town last month, Fredrik Öst of Swedish graphic design studio Snask said that the famous slides at Google's campus in California were disliked by many Google employees.

"Everyone hates the slide because it ruins your clothes," said Öst, who visited the campus to give a lecture. "You go once on the first day and then you never go again."

Öst added: "If you work close to it you hear people scream constantly because it's tourists and new employees going in it all the time."

  • alexwills

    I’m too posh to play. Sorry Google.

  • Jjjasper

    Well, I agree with the argument that Google office design isn’t meant for any company, but this isn’t Google’s fault. It’s the fault of designers, interior architects and consultants who didn’t do their research, or just do what the clients say and want.

    The main statement “Google has had a negative effect on office design” – I can’t disagree more. Because work isn’t fun but it should be, don’t you think?

    And you should interact as much with your colleagues as possible, which makes social spaces so important. As somebody who has worked in Google-like workspaces and workspaces with grey carpet, white walls and single-room offices I always prefer the first.

    • Archi-Nerd

      The architect can strongly suggest things, but at the end of the day has to give the client what they want. Ask and you shall receive. The client really should understand their own office’s culture or have an idea of what they would like the culture to be.

      Also the consultants job is to be directed by the architect or the client, they give two-hoots about how the design comes out, so you can never really blame consultants. As an architect, if you don’t like the direction of the project, you have to just pass up the project (and the mula $$$).

  • Jeremy Reding

    Many don’t realise that Google does not add whimsy for the sake of adding whimsy. It is added as a means for collaboration, learning, and discovery – very intentional in most cases. The real problem is that most companies don’t understand the DNA of Google so they copy their “playful” design and hope for similar results.

    The typical copy-cat mentality becomes worse and farther from original intent with each iteration.

    • LucyW

      Nobody uses the slides. Those that do are new or just visiting. It’s a gimmick and let’s face it, boring after a week anyway.

  • Leo

    I never thought offices would attract tourists…

  • Niamh Josephine Hunter

    Jeremy Myerson sounds like the biggest killjoy ever.

  • SpatialDDB

    OK, not every company is Google and therefore the design isn’t meant for every company. But engaging current members of staff and attracting the correct employees from the talent pool all requires a workplace which doesn’t just offer a desk, a meeting room and a kitchen.

  • IONDESIGN GmbH Berlin

    We have often had clients who longed for a playful “Google-atmosphere”. Our task as interior designers is to translate this desire into concrete solutions that fit the company we design for while bringing the desired mood into the office.

    Playful does not necessarily mean ping-pong table or mini golf. If we create an environment where employees can focus on their work, where they like to spend their work day and where the exchange among the employees is facilitated, we know that we’ve done a good job. As it is mentioned in the article, every company is different and that is what is so great about interior design. How boring would it be if there was the one solution that is valid for every company?!

  • Sim

    I think it is important to see staff as functional, living people. Not as people who need to be straightened out and be restrained and normal when arriving at the office and staying that way between nine and five. An office should be part of a city, a neighbourhood in the larger context as well.

    My husband once worked in a place where there were no supermarkets nearby. As a result I had to do all the grocery shopping. Later he worked at an office in a big old villa, meetings and lunches would be in the garden when the weather permitted. In the garage was a table-tennis table. It was much more relaxed and pleasant for him to work there.

    I think you take a lot out of a person if you expect them to sit and work and focus in boring offices. Sometimes you have to be able to reload yourself, let some steam off for a few moments. In the end people will work better if they do (as research has shown).

    • LucyW

      Installing a slide does not provide them with those benefits. It’s just pretty pathetic and better solutions to work atmosphere could be implemented.

  • Kay

    He’s right. I had the displeasure of working in a few of these “fun” offices along the years. Mostly agencies and companies trying to re-model themselves. I have actually noticed their vibe to be measurably less jovial than other more bland places that I worked.

    What I found was that in these places, toys most often were for show and employees felt that their purpose was PR rather than for any internal purpose, be it collaborative or social. Those in agencies that did leverage their slides and pinball machines were normally a select few who would find ways to waste time even if they worked at Morgan Stanley…

    This often then came along with what I called the “tacky package”. You know what I’m talking about, things like fluorescent lights, overpoweringly bright walls and carpet, cheap furniture with big prints on them. The works.

    It was an attack on the senses and it’s actually distracting. Elegant clean de-cluttered designs certainly make for a much better and interactive working environment, every time.

    • LucyW

      Sense in a sea of fluff! Well said.

  • LucyW

    Forced fun isn’t fun. Grow up and put in a shift.

  • solace

    This isn’t anything new? Office designers – at least the ones I’ve worked with – match their designs to the clients.

  • Davide

    I think all this is part of a misconcenption. These office designs have never been intended to be a productive working environment – it has always been just a clever marketing strategy to visualize Google’s self-prescribed business culture, adressing employees and customers both alike. And oh has it worked!

  • Derrick Riley

    My only question is why is that slide flesh-toned?