Want the perfect workspace? Science has the solution
Maya Angelou tells of how she did most of her writing from hotel rooms. This is what she said about her process in a Paris Review interview:
I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember. ”
“Nothing holds me to anything.” I love that line, don’t you? It is a perfect description of the state of flow that accompanies a creative act.
For Angelou, the writing space had to be blank; a space in which she could put “black on white” as Guy de Maupassant famously said.
There’s a distinction between the macro-environment, the culture and social conditions of your space, and the microenvironment, the room or area where you create your work.
The two types of environments have different influences, which can be used to effect depending on what stage of the creative process you are in.
For preparation, a diverse macro-environment that offers various ways of seeing the world through heterogeneous cultural outlooks may be optimal. As in Angelou’s case, for execution of the work, a stripped back microenvironment might be best for focussed concentration.
“ Let’s face it – having a few pot plants beats writing from prison. ”
When people have a say over decisions about how their workspace is designed efficiency improves, as well as accuracy. There is also a greater sense of permanence.
If you are an office manager, letting staff choose how the office should look has benefits for productivity.
Select furniture that’s rounded and arrange it in a circle.
Humans are innately disposed to find circles appealing. Perhaps this comes from our early vital fascination with the breast as a source of food.
In a recent study students were asked to rate circular and rectangular rooms. Rooms with curvilinear settings elicited higher amounts of pleasant, un-arousing emotions (such as feeling relaxed, peaceful, and calm) than the rectilinear settings.
How furniture’s arranged may also impact workplace output – and brain function. A 2013 study showed that the parts of the brain used for aesthetic processing show an increase in activity when curvilinear spaces are viewed.
Further, the curvilinear spaces were rated as more approachable in an approach-avoidance scale.
Colour and light
Colours, light and space act as environmental metaphors. Environmental conditions can promote certain states of mind. For instance, a study from 2013 shows that priming participants for darkness, as well as actually putting them in the dark, enables a more “global and explorative processing style” which in turn leads to a sense of freedom and creativity.
Another study showed that if you want to get into the exploratory mode, blue is your colour, whereas red helps promote close attention to details.
As well as views of nature, plants in a workspace significantly reduce stress and increase attention span. Sure, these factors do not necessarily produce creativity, but they increase creative output. Another study shows direct benefits between elements of natural environment and perceived creativity of a workspace.
Many creatives tend toward abstract thinking that is not consciously and explicitly grounded in the ‘real’ or material aspects of their surroundings. But this research shows that certain factors can help to foster more creative spaces.