“We aim to help local people and places tell their story in a playful way, with every project we do being uniquely tailored to its site, its heritage and its people – helping to create awareness and strengthen local identity.”
playground’s work spans across a range of scales and disciplines; providing everything from architecture and interiors; to furniture design and art installations; exhibitions and community workshops; public realm design. Key to all of playground’s work is a strong narrative, bold use of colour and shape, and most importantly a sense of playfulness. playground. is lead by Carma Masson, an architect and academic, who has worked for various award-winning architecture, interior, and multidisciplinary design practices, think tanks and consultancies in London and Manchester. Alongside her work in practice, Carma teaches Architecture and Interior Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and Sheffield Hallam University.
What makes Manchester a great place to start a business?
Manchester is the perfect place to start a business, as a city, it has an overwhelming sense of optimism – it makes you feel like with a little hard work anything is possible, and nothing is outside your grasp. Manchester is also an incredibly proud city that loves to celebrate its people and its achievements; this is apparent in the ongoing festivals and events through the year with Manchester Day, Pride, and Manchester Carnival to name a few. With this comes overwhelming sense of community, with everyone looking to support each other, wanting each other to succeed, and going out their way to help you. This gives you the freedom to make mistakes, which inevitably you will – something that is invaluable when starting a business. I moved up from London two years ago, after having previously tried to start my business and finding quite a different story.
What makes a great start-up in 2018?
2018 to me, is the year of positive change. I think to be a good startup in 2018 and for people to really invest in you as a business, you need to be a business that really cares and gives something back to the local or wider community. As a counter-reaction to the growing world of online business, there has been a return to traditional business values; to creating a physical community, to loyalty and face to face interaction. People want to feel engaged and connected physically to a start-up; and I think that play in its many forms addresses this – the need to be social, be creative, to be entertained. Many start-ups have had to adapt to this, holding unique socials or one-day events for its followers, or creating transformative pop-ups – generally with a playful undertone. It has been said that 2018 is the year of the multi-hyphener, so as a start-up business it seems you not only need to be flexible and willing to listen to your consumer but to actively work across disciplines or create new original typologies. I think on top of all of this, as a result of the way the world is politically, people are more than ever looking for opportunities to escape and play; playground is helping to create those opportunities.
What inspired you to start the business?
playground., as the name implies, was started out of a curiosity and a want to play – with everybody and everything. I was keen for playground. to be a platform which enabled me to do this: working across different design disciplines; gaining knowledge and new skills; and collaborating with the design and local community as I went. Working in practice I found a tendency for designers to design only within the discipline in which they were qualified, often leading to very limited design outcomes, with the same ideas being recycled. I also became disheartened by the formulaic process rolled out to create designs; often based on no more than design trends or designer’s preference; with no real knowledge or understanding of context or community in which they are placed, or human needs – morally this did not sit right with me. While at university, I researched about the power of play, and have witnessed over many years first-hand how it can be used in design and placemaking to help tell peoples stories and transform spaces and places into positive neighbourhoods – this inspired me to create playground.
What makes your business stand out from the crowd?
Playground is different from other design and architecture businesses, as at the core of every project we undertake is playfulness. Our work enables people to really experience and connect with their cities, rather than just coexist alongside them, in an engaging and fun way. With Manchester currently undergoing a construction boom, so much of what is built is for purpose – for living in, working in, transporting from A to B; with little opportunity for interaction and play – a key part of both adults’ and children’s lives. Playground aims to create those opportunities throughout the city, the colourful, the whimsical, the playful, that create positive connections with the city with its residents and make experiencing it that bit more enjoyable.
What surprised you the most when setting up your business?
I was most surprised by how much more is going on in the city than you think! I feel like I have gone from being a consumer to a provider, each day learning about new different organisations that I didn’t know existed, that each work in different ways to mould the city into the great one that it is. On a more business note, I’ve worked freelance for various companies over the years, but never really realised how much of a balancing act running a business is. This has given me new found respect for those I have worked for, and how much they have achieved. There are so many sides to a business, and in order to succeed, you can’t hide from any of them. I’ve learnt to spend time on all of them, especially those I’m weakest at, to try and become the best business I can be. I think as with all creatives, you instinctively just want to create great things for people and make them happy, it’s easy to forget you are a business too.
What keeps you motivated?
Lots of things keep me motivated. I think, as with many designers, seeing and hearing people’s responses to a design first hand is really motivating; knowing that you have improved their neighbourhoods and lives in some way, made them proud to live there, or even just made them smile or helped create a memory. Seeing a place change for the better in front of your eyes over a period of time is really rewarding, particularly if your project has helped kick-start the change. I travel a lot, so I also find motivation in seeing other cities neighbourhoods regenerate and become places of pride and interest; I enjoy seeing how they went about it and learning about their unique stories. I also find a great sense of motivation in meeting new interesting people, often while travelling, hearing their business stories, dreaming up with them ways we can collaborate, and watching them succeed and grow.
How does your business help give back to Manchester?
At the heart of all the work playground. does is the idea of supporting the city, and as we are a young business, most of this is directed towards my home city of Manchester. We aim to help local people and places tell their story in a playful way, with every project we do being uniquely tailored to its site, its heritage and its people; thus helping to create awareness and strengthen local identity. In collaborating with local designers and makers, businesses and communities, playground. creates opportunities for them to be involved in the design and making of projects, thus helping to support local businesses and promote this idea of the ‘Great Northern Powerhouse.’
What are your business goals for the next 3 years?
Within the next 3 years, I would have liked to have built up a portfolio of temporary and permanent projects across a range of disciplines; helping to improve people’s experiences of the city in the UK. I hope in doing so to have gained new knowledge and a range of new skills shared my own; and have built up a network of great local people. I would also like to have established some connections abroad for projects, starting with Amsterdam and Berlin – two great cities for people, as I am keen for playground. to help improve cities across the world. Eventually, I would like playground. to be the global ‘go-to’ business for anyone wanting to create positive playful spaces for people within the city.
Our first annual ‘Manchester’s 20 Hottest Startups’ feature is our pick of the most inspiring startups and stepups in our city. If you’d like to be featured in 2019’s ‘Manchester’s 20 Hottest Startups’, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.