How Steve Jobs Encouraged Creativity and Collaboration

Posted: September 10, 2012   /   by

Pixar is one of the most successful movie studios producing such movies as Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Up, Wall-E, etc… With so many hits, taking a look at what makes the company so successful can be a beneficial task. And as we discuss office design here, we can study Pixar through its lens.

And what we find is that Steve Jobs had a large influence on the overall design and working of their corporate campus in Emeryville, Ca. Let’s take a closer look…

Promote Encounters and Unplanned Collaborations

One important element of the Pixar campus is its large atrium space. Steve Jobs believed that unplanned collaborations were vitally important to the company culture, this atrium space was to act as a melting pot of meeting space. He even wanted the atrium to house the only campus restrooms to force such collaboration – but while there are obviously more than one set of restrooms, the idea of unplanned collaboration still exists.

The biography adds that Jobs believed that, “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Different Departments Mixed

As a part of the Pixar campus, Jobs envisioned the atrium bringing the different departments together. Animators could talk to storyboarders. Sound technicians could talk to computer scientists. And everyone would be pushing each other on toward their goal- but doing so in an environment were employees see fresh faces and have interactions that spark new creative ideas.

Employee Creativity On Display

While some offices are sterile and allow for just about zero creativity to be displayed. However, Pixar’s employees decorate their offices to their own satisfaction.

In terms of decoration and style, employee office spaces are a sight to be seen. Some work in small house huts, other share space, some stand up. John Lasseter’s office (image right, click to zoom) is filled to the brim with toys – clearly not your average executive office.

Brad Bird notes, ”If you walk around downstairs in the animation area, you’ll see that it is unhinged. People are allowed to create whatever front to their office they want. One guy might build a front that’s like a Western town. Someone else might do something that looks like Hawaii…John [Lasseter – Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer] believes that if you have a loose, free kind of atmosphere, it helps creativity.”

Reminders of Past Successes

Creating a work environment that people enjoy working in can be one of the most challenging aspects of modern office design. And surely one of the most memorable features of Pixar’s are the many characters, both big and small, that find their way around the campus. Outside you’ll find a huge version of Luxo Jr., while the cast of The Incredibles and Monsters Inc. can be found within the atrium.

Why do they do this? Sure it adds some brand value to a campus that otherwise might seem plain, but for a company like Pixar who slaves for many years bringing their films to life, I think it represents a connection to and love of their work.

There can be no greater feeling that walking around the workplace and being reminded of the great work you helped to produce – as well as seeing the smiles of the many visitors as they recollect the ways each movie touched their lives.

Create that ‘Pixar feeling’ in your office:

  1. Be intentional about designing for collisions and unplanned collaboration – rather than using managerial force.
  2. Use the office space to remind employees why they work for the company.
  3. Make the office fun and a place employees want to work, rather than have to work.
  4. Allow employees to express themselves through their workspaces.


Looking to create a collaborative office?