This mortal coil?

“…what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause..”

It can be said that one icon alone represents the descent of workplace design into mediocre homogeneity more than any other: the slide.

Slide1

Misconceived, trivial, embarrassing and regrettably ubiquitous, they have become the unfortunate vermiform (from the Latin “worm shaped”) appendix that performs as much use as our own. They are just as liable to become toxic and in need of whipping out to leave no effect on the host other than a small scar and a deep-seated feeling of relief.

Here are a few reasons why it is time designers should let the idea quietly slip away, and pretend it never happened.

  • Novelty is great – once. Its shelf life is inherently short. After that it’s just not funny or interesting anymore. But when it’s repeated over and over, it stands a slim chance of becoming mainstream if it can justify its usefulness – in which case it’s not – by definition – fun or interesting anymore. The slide isn’t useful. Either way, once was only ever going to be enough.
  • Given the novelty value, replicating the idea – then just making them longer, weirder, snakier, brighter – is lazy, unimaginative and disrespectful design. It’s been done. If the client wants “different”, then think of something else. Something that hasn’t been done. That makes it different.
  • The consequence of the slide is that it unnecessarily demeans the design profession. Otherwise able to make a serious and informed contribution to workplace effectiveness, where designers are asked to “make us cool, put a slide in”  it’s like asking a Masterchef finalist to knock up some donuts. A sugarburst, when nutrition is required. If the designers suggest putting a slide in themselves, they are offering to make donuts. With sprinkles.
  • A slide is fundamentally impractical. You can’t carry anything on one. Technical point, but even in a smart casual or casual-dress environment (“play clothes” not being a recognised form of attire), adults generally wear adult clothes and shoes, that don’t work on a slide. There is also no graceful way to dismount a slide with everything about you intact. Which brings me onto….
  • Slides are part of the unfortunate genre of misplaced “fun” elements in workplace design (along with fussball, climbing walls, table tennis tables etc) that are fundamentally masculine – the modern equivalent of the black leather, smoky glass and chrome office set-up. They only serve to reinforce the notion that the workplace is a male environment. It is design straight out of Nuts or Stuff magazine, the titles of which tell you all you need to know.
  • They are installed in a mistaken belief that they appeal to younger workers. That’s fine if the target demographic are under eight. Thankfully most people entering the workforce, since around late Victorian times, are sixteen and over, and have long since abandoned the playground. Other than those who appear on the Apprentice. Who haven’t.
  • They are installed in a mistaken belief that they support learning and development through play. This trivialises and fundamentally misunderstands what this means. A slide makes no contribution to L&D whatsoever.
  • They are considered by their advocates to be liberating, but they are in fact the reverse, an inhibitor, a contribution to the compulsion of the occupants of a space to a prescribed way of being, living and working. A slide is useful for one thing only. By definition it tells you what to do and how to do it, and offers no possibility of interpretation or free expression.
  • You are just not going to use it, are you? Especially in front of your team, your guests, or (extra especially) your boss. For the majority of occupants of the space, they are simply embarrassing, and so are ignored and left to quietly gather dust. You can tell the person who is still excited by the novelty: dusty trousers.
  • They say something about your organisation. And it’s not a good thing. It reflects much of what is said above. And that means you personally are associated with it. “Oh you work in that place with the slide? Yeah, great. Hey, isn’t that Pippa over there? Must go and have a word, excuse me”.
  • Finally, the metaphor is wrong. In the human condition, “upwards” is good and “downwards” is bad. Ladders go up, slippery snakes take you down. Underground, the underworld, under pressure. In an episode of Peppa Pig (bear with me – you are learning through play) the characters are dressed in national costumes, and are in the playground. The narrator tells us what each are doing in terms of the nation they represent, and first announces “The United Kingdom is on the slide”.

Like everything in the playground, it’ll end in tears.

 

4 thoughts on “This mortal coil?

  1. I’d no idea these things existed other than in playgrounds….and a while back, in the Tate Modern.

    I confess I was not much of a fan of slides as a kid having had my backside gnawed by a dog down at the park as I frantically tried to escape back up the slide I’d just come down.

    I therefore used the installation at The Tate Modern as therapy, to get over my slideophobia. It was great fun, but: a) I didn’t work there, b) I used it about three times and c) it’s a fucking slide for chrissakes.

    Great post.

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  4. We have one in the office. We all love it. One person hurt himself on the first day but nothing since then. Yes, ladies don’t use it much: high heels and dresses don’t lend themselves to slides much. Reading your article, I can’t help but get the impression you would never be considered the life of the party…any party. Relax a bit, have some fun.

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