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Play’s the Thing

Posted in journal

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From the earliest days of the pandemic, we have all been touched by the power of design to communicate crucial information in relatable ways, provide clear instruction, and help us safely navigate environments.


The “Keep 2m Apart” floor decal has become a ubiquitous feature of our landscape. As the number of the fully vaccinated swells, it is also notable to observe how design is being employed to bring people back together in creative ways. A key ingredient of this next wave of designed experience is play.

In a recent article, Laurie Santos (Yale’s “happiness professor”) notes that “after a year-and-a-half of loss, sickness and stress caused by the pandemic, burnout is high and morale is low… the way to feel better need not depend on restrictive diets, gruelling fitness regimes or testing mental challenges, but in something far more attractive: fun.” This is an important factor to consider as we move to reopen workplaces and enjoy public spaces together. Play has the unique power to break down social barriers that prevent us from interacting.


Play gives us the freedom to be curious, explore and connect with others in ways we might not otherwise.


A recent surge of playful outdoor exhibitions and immersive environments—Playing in Public at the Bentway, Artful Harbourfront, Rendezviews—highlights the power of design to create energizing experiences that help us re-engage with each other in spaces not mediated by a video screen.

Play is integral to the process of design too—collaboration, ideation, experimentation—and it is a defining feature of many successful brands; typically expressed through engaging identity, colour, messaging, and materials. At Jacknife we have been lucky enough to work with many such brands across a wide range of categories where play is integral to design, from the visual energy of Fuse or Georgian to the engaging storytelling of Woolwich’s playful goats to the pleasingly tactile nature of environment work designed for Nike Canada.

As we re-acclimatize to environments and social interactions that were once second nature, play will continue to have a place in design. Just as importantly, as Professor Santos states: “consciously injecting more fun into our lives… can not only improve mental health and help prevent burnout but also improve physical health.”

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