Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's All in the Design

The other day I was fortunate to attend a training session on the new Chromebook at Google's New York City offices.  The Chromebook itself turned about to be an intriguing device that clearly has an upside as an educational tool in schools.  It boots up in 8 seconds, has a sleek user interface, is very light, and allows you to pick up right where you left off when you log onto another device.  While engaging in professional development throughout the day I was amazed by the Google office and workspace structure as we had an opportunity to explore a little bit as me moved between sessions and lunch.  I have heard many rumors about life at Google and was extremely surprised to see that most of them were true.  Here is a quick snapshot:

  • Use of scooters as a means of transportation.  There were even racks throughout each floor for Google employees to park their scooter.
  • Lego wall in a lounge area.  The wall was lined with bins of different sized and colored Lego's.  It was clear that employees are encouraged to unleash their creativity when it suites them.  The Angry Birds and super-sized Ferris wheel designs were extremely impressive.
  • Specialized areas/rooms:  A few that I noticed were the gaming and massage rooms. 
  • Mini-kitchens galore.  It was obvious that appetite contentment is a priority at Google.  Some of these kitchens were decorated in particular themes.  One of the most elaborate mini-kitchens I saw was decorated as a jungle complete with hammock-like chairs, small waterfalls, decorated trees, and live frogs.  It was so relaxing that I could easily see myself napping in there from time to time. Equally impressive were the massive espresso, cappuccino, and coffee machines in each kitchen as well as the overwhelming selection of food and beverages.
  • Google-themed artwork throughout the building.  Company pride was apparent everywhere.
  • Clever reminders not to do certain things.  One sign throughout the building was a picture of an alligator with it's tail propping the door open.  Each picture was accompanied with this reminder, "Beware the Tailgator!" Obviously Google didn't want some doors propped open for security reasons.
  • Office spaces where entire walls were whiteboards, perfect for brainstorming and outlining creative ideas.  These offices had a large table that could seat approximately 12-16 people.
  • Open spaces with collaborative and comfortable furniture (leather couches, plush lounge chairs, etc.) not to mention more coffee stations. 
  • Bistro dinning area that provided employees with an unparalleled lunch.  This place was not even normal.  Lunch was truly a dining experience here and I was in awe of the immense selection of choices.  I couldn't believe that fresh sushi was available.  The chef preparing a special of the day was a nice touch as well.

The atmosphere described above along with Google's 80/20 Innovation Model really inspires and motivates employees to perform at a consistently high level.  Who wouldn't want to work here in this type of environment?  Now imagine if schools adopted a similar thought process and designed learning as well as common spaces using several of the principles described above?  It gives me chills thinking about the potential this could have on increasing achievement, motivation, and developing a passion for the learning process.  School would become a place where students couldn't wait to get to and at the end of the day would be reluctant to leave.  School re-design needs to become part of the education reform conversation.  Is my thinking that far-fetched? What would your perfect school environment include?


  1. All I can say is, I wan't to work for Google! That sounds awesome, and I wish I could visit for some training.

  2. Whenever I visit a Google campus, I leave thinking the exact same thing; how can we replicate that experience in the classroom.


  3. Google came up with another cool design. I am only watching it via youtube. I envy those who attended. It is such an honor to see the training.
    My Latest Post on...lifecell

  4. Hey Pal,

    Good bit---I've been interested in the connections between building design and productivity for teachers and students for a long while.

    The plain fact of the matter is that the physical structures in our schools send messages to everyone---parents, teachers and students---about what should be happening in those spaces.

    One change that I want to see in cafeteria/commons area is a huge wall with a projected display of the school's hashtag.

    I envision kids sharing thoughts and ideas randomly throughout the day and other kids reading and responding to those thoughts and ideas during their lunches or transitions.

    The message sent would be, "Look at how powerful a networked learner really is. Together we think. Together we learn. Together we know."

    One final thought: I'd love to see you ask this same question---what design changes would you like to see---of your students.

    Give 'em a Google survey and then share what they think a school should look like with us!

    Rock on,

  5. Great snapshot, Eric. I plan to use your question regarding the utopian school environment in our next faculty meeting. We must be willing to Google our schools (constantly searching to discover appropriate links to making a positive impact on learning).