The Rise Of The Studio
Apple caught our attention recently by naming their new computer the Mac Studio. Is this more than just a name? Has Studio now replaced Office as the dominant metaphor for how we work?
Does anyone even work in an office anymore? The pandemic forced many people to work from home. Workers are starting to return to offices, but the shape of work and expectations around it have shifted.
Every few years, the world of work changes. Skills that were once the domain of experts become widespread. Typing, word processing, managing spreadsheets and databases, and creating presentation slides once required specialist training.
Now it’s video. Workers around the world learnt to perform on camera and became video streamers.
The trend for responsibilities and required skills continuing to expand is sometimes called job-creep. With every round of cost-cutting, productivity enhancements, and consultancy-firm-led restructuring, three jobs become two and everyone’s commitments broaden and grow more complex.
But there’s another way of looking at this. At least for the highest paid workers, jobs are becoming more creative.
And nobody understands this quite like Apple.
From Office To Studio
For a long time, working meant using Microsoft Office. It’s no coincidence that when Microsoft turned computing into a serious business (rather than the domain of geeks, nerds, and hobbyists), they relied on the word Office to add gravitas to their suite of programmes.
But it wasn’t just office workers who used Office. Students, writers of all types, engineers and scientists found themselves relying on the Office products as well.
We stopped calling that space in our home where we did some work – or reading or thinking – a den or study. We started calling it a home office.
Office was the aspirational term for a place where you did serious stuff.
Now Apple has released its most powerful consumer computer. Apple didn’t call it the Mac Office. They called it the Mac Studio.
Names like this don’t appear in a vacuum. They’re the result of mountains of research into consumers and cultural trends. Apple understands how to trade on their association with creative industries to help make their products better.
And they also know that the aspirational vision for a workplace has shifted. Now, everyone wants to work in a studio.
Studios are cool.
From We Work To Work From Home
A kind of recent nostalgia permeates WeCrashed, the Apple TV+ adaptation of WeWork’s spectacular rise and fall. As Katy Perry’s anthemic song Roar transports us back into the middle of the last decade, we’re reminded how innovative the idea of co-working spaces once felt.
In a way, it was an expensive version of “sitting in a cafe with your laptop”. But WeWork managed to make it feel revolutionary – as if making your workday feel more like hanging out at a college library would solve our workplace woes. Eye of the Tiger indeed!
But, in a more subtle way, a revolution was happening. Increased computing power and cloud services meant workers didn’t need to be tethered to a desk. And companies were less willing to provide a permanent space to every employee anyway.
This coincided with the mainstreaming of skills once associated with creative fields. Presentations became more elaborate. Infographics emerged. Use of video became commonplace. And an explosion in new digital work tools made it easier to personalize your work experience.
Moreover, people started wanting to work in spaces that felt more “creative”. WeWork’s claim that they were going to “elevate the world’s consciousness” became a punchline as the company’s value collapsed. But many workers’ consciousness, or at least their expectations, grew.
What most people want from their workspace now is an aesthetic we associate more with a studio than an office. They want something that feels freer, sparks ideas, but also welcomes them as a unique individual.
The office of the ʼ80s and ʼ90s was like the shadow of the Henry Ford-inspired industrial society. The approach to work, division of labour, and even the philosophy of productivity was a reflection of industrial economics.
Since the mid-ʼ90s, we’ve been living in a transition – call it postmodernity, or post-industrial, if you like. Work has become networked. Job descriptions are less clear cut. Responsibilities are shared. Agility is prized. Creativity is required.
For the fortunate few, those with the best paid jobs in the best fields, this way of working is not only rewarding but also meaningful. This trend is explored in more depth in Carolyn Chen’s book Eat Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion In Silicon Valley.
The studio reflects this new philosophy of work. Not everyone can afford the new Mac Studio. But those that can are probably also enjoying a quiet revolution in the shape of work itself.