top of page

As a creative who has spent over twenty years in a variety of professional work environments, I’ve paid significant dues and have naviagted time on different rungs of the corporate ladder. I’ve also been an active participant in grind culture, taking misguided pride for a level of dedication that meant being one of the first people to arrive and last to leave any given office. As a recent graduate student, I’ve been given the fortunate opportunity to thoughtfully reconsider what it looks like to reenter the work force.

My goal was to look towards a future which prioritizes people over profits and call bullshit on systems of white supremacy and capitalism which suppress much of the working force.

The Case for Negative Space

Design Manifesto


We need to prioritize giving ourselves adequate space to breathe and shift expectations about being on and available at all times. 

As we look back and learn from a devastating pandemic, traditional modes of working have been upended and glaring inequities have been exposed. We’re seeing a shift towards more flexible working environments, salary transparency, investments in employee health, and shorter work weeks. At the same time, hybrid work has blurred the lines between home and office, often with new expectations to be available at all hours of the day.

A volatile economy and recent collapses in the tech sector have many employees on edge, as there is less leverage to advocate for ourselves and our peers. Looking towards a future which prioritizes people over profits, I have a firm belief that we need to prioritize giving ourselves adequate space to breathe and shift expectations about being on and available at all times. 

A Designer's Response to Grind Culture

1. Being busy does not make you worth more. Being burned out makes you worthless.

The benefit of endless time off has become a trend in many corporate environments, but research shows it’s usually a red herring. Most companies still operate in a culture where taking ample time away from a job is interpreted as being less dedicated, less motivated and self-serving. Even worse, we see many company leaders that are still checking into work while on vacation/out of office, which creates the expectation that subordinates should do the same. Time off is earned and creates a more productive and content work force when respected. Truly disconnecting from your work is essential to  being a more effective contributor. We must ensure that our teams are taking advantage of this necessary time to recharge.

2. My personal day is personal.*

We are often hesitant to take days to ourselves because we feel they haven’t been earned (even if they have, contractually speaking). We also feel the need to craft explanations, both internally and externally, about why we are taking room to breathe/rest/take care of ourselves. We do not owe anyone a reason for using this time, and we do not need to make excuses to ourselves about this necessity. In short, *it’s none of your damn business.

3. Doing nothing is productive.

We’ve become terrible at letting our minds wander. When sitting at a checkout line or waiting at a cafe for a friend to arrive, it can take mere seconds before we pull out our phones and distract ourselves with some form of media content. Each one of these moments is a missed opportunity to let our eyes, brains and hearts get lost in the space we are in. We could be exchanging flirtatious glances with a stranger, admiring the scenery just beyond the window, or sparking nostalgia when the scent of a bouquet takes us back to our grandmother’s living room. There is a reason why some of our best ideas come to us in the shower: the task is so mundane and the warmth so serene that our mind naturally veers elsewhere. Without other stimulation to distract us, those pivotal a-ha moments present themselves. We need to make ample space for similar day dreaming.

4. Social media is a second job.

Charles M. Blow makes a compelling argument for taking a long pause from social media. He posits that “one day we will look back on this moment in human history with astonishment. Social media companies turned us into an unpaid work force, willingly producing free content because of our desperation to be seen, heard and liked.” Content is king, and we’ve all become voluntary serfs. For the average user, there is little to no return for our constant stream of personalized content creation. Instead, our devices are saving valuable information about our behavior, contacts, conversations and purchasing patterns to turn this data into its own form of currency. If we are not being fairly compensated for all of this free data and content, we certainly deserve a respite. Taking time away from these media outlets needs to be frequently encouraged, and our room to breathe should be met without shame or judgement. 

5. We may be lucky to be here, but you’re lucky to have us.

I’ve personally encountered several working environments where the outspoken sentiment towards the work force was ‘they should consider themselves lucky to have a job here.’ This fear-induced tactic pushes employees to go above and beyond to prove their value, often pitting colleagues against one another and encouraging a cycle of burn and churn. These may in fact be coveted roles and/or resume boosters, but the less people feel a sense of genuine gratitude for their hard work, the higher the rate of employee turnover. It’s been promising to see some innovative modes of employee appreciation, especially when it comes in the form of time (like a company-wide holiday week/long weekend off) or money (like transparent profit sharing that benefits everyone from top to bottom). These should become the norm to attract top talent.

6. We cannot exit grind culture alone.

In order to make real shifts in the paradigm of work culture, there has to be a collective effort. There is still a time and place for burning the midnight oil, but these must come with adequate balance. When hard work pays off, those moments should be celebrated collectively and employees should be rewarded accordingly. When there are failures to do so, action must be taken. There is power in numbers, and employees should work together to craft solutions and come to the table with bargaining tools. We must be extra supportive of those most at risk of being exploited at work, which are typically those from marginalized communities (presented in forms of racism, sexism and ableism). There are no movements of resistance that come without risk, but the normative modes of high-performance work have roots in capitalism and white supremacy. There is much greater danger in allowing abusive patterns to perpetuate.

Blow, Charles M. “Seven Months on a Strict Twitter Diet”.
The New York Times, November 20, 2022.


Hersey, Tricia, founder of The Nap Ministry.
Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, 2022.


Muradov, Roman. On Doing Nothing: Finding Inspiration in Idleness, 2018.

Works Cited/References

More Case Studies

bottom of page