SideMark is pleased to explore the concept of the branded workplace with Eric McDougall, Director of Global Brand of Zynga since 2011. Zynga is one of the world’s leaders in social gaming, with millions of monthly active users playing its games in numerous countries. Many of Zynga’s employees reside in its distinctive, one-of-a-kind headquarters in San Francisco, California. Eric shared his thoughts on how and why the vibrant interiors of the 270,000 square foot headquarters reflect the spirit and mission of Zynga.
Was Zynga committed to unique interiors from its beginnings?
Eric McDougall: Zynga’s HQ is an urban campus. When we first looked at the building, we were looking for a model that would help us unify the design thinking, and we landed on the brutalist student unions built on college campuses in the ‘70’s. They featured exposed concrete, wood details, and functional furniture. A “70’s meets now” came prevalent and drove many of the design choices, including fabrics and styles, as well as bold super graphics. We brought on a team of wonderful designers to collaborate on the project, including Daren Joy - Joy Design, John Bela - Rebar, and Morag Myerscough from London.
Do you feel that the interiors are a recruiting tool?
When Zynga was a fast-growth startup, our HQ was definitely wonderful for recruiting - not just the physical facility, but also the features contained within: our homemade food, our unique fitness program, and our openness to our canine friends. But what’s amazing now that Zynga is in a more mature phase is how important the HQ is in retaining the best and brightest employees on our team.
What makes the space uniquely Zynga verses other gaming or tech company's spaces?
Zynga has a unique and special culture. We have always been exuberant and unique, even by Silicon Valley startup standards. While we are serious about our business, we like to have fun. Our interiors, however, are not a frivolous style layer intended to convey “fun,” but stem from thoughtful research, including conversations with all of our groups, that drove a “form follows function” approach. We are organized in a very flat and democratic manner, so we have very few private offices. The private rooms have unique furniture.
Did you survey other companies' or organizations' spaces when planning?
We visited a handful of leading companies including Google, Apple, and Facebook. We loved the kegerator, altars to employees, and hidden spaces at Facebook. We loved the food and daily over-urinal programming tips at Google.
How do employees participate in determining the look of their spaces, if they do?
One of my observations going into the project was that we were witnessing a major change in the work/home relationship. I observed that “work was becoming more like home” and “home was becoming more like work.” Boundaries were changing. So we endeavored to make Zynga HQ better than home: better food, better bathrooms, better furniture.
In addition to providing great Teknion task furniture and a huge diversity of contract “living room” soft furniture, we also worked with SideMark to purchase two containers of authentic 1970’s European furniture designed by leading visionaries including Verner Panton, Helmut Batzner and Pierre Paulin. So making the workplace better than home allows team members to feel comfortable about staying at the office with others when working late or cranking on a project. It’s fun and a great place to be, even for extended hours.
Collaboration versus private spaces: how do you determine balance and any pushback on using communal spaces?
We started with 100% open collaborative spaces and no private offices. Later we realized that some executives worked better in shared offices. We had our COO and CMO in a larger shared office. We also realized that our legal department needed to have private offices. They also needed paper document storage and more traditional conference rooms. But the rest of the company still produces great work in communal spaces. Over time, these communal spaces have lent us a lot of flexibility as we have scaled teams. Games come and go and team sizes grow and shift quite a lot over time. Our original plan has worked very well. We have had to increase our density, but this has been accommodated by the desking systems that we chose in the beginning.
How do interiors blend with other Zynga branding efforts?
Our Zynga HQ is part of our brand. It’s so distinctive that we’ve been asked to host a number of other organization’s events, such as Fortune’s 40 under 40, Brand Innovators conference, TYPO conference events, Game Developers Conference (GDC) events, and others. The exuberant spaces, both the interiors and exteriors, truly express our Zynga spirit through and through.
Headquarter views: At top, playful signage at the Visitors Center area. At top right, the busy Zynga Cafe. At bottom right, the collaborative, colorful workspaces. Jason Madara, photography. NicholsBooth, design.
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