How to design your workspace for creative thinking

3 rules of workspace design from an award winning architect

I believe there is a fundamental relationship between our well-being and the spaces in which we spend our time. 

But it’s not just our emotional well-being that can be affected. It’s also our productivity and ability to think. If you’re an entrepreneur who needs to work efficiently and creatively, this means your space can actually linked to business performance and ultimately your success.

Some people identify as ‘a creative’ because of the nature of the work they do, but the creativity I want you to think about today is relevant to all entrepreneurs. The ability to think differently and innovate are fundamental aspects of building a business.

From this brilliant new book, I’ve picked out some real gems to help small business owners and anyone who works predominantly from home. 

My Creative Space’ is written in a really accessible way by Donald Rattner, an award-winning American architect, who backs everything up with great examples and science. 

I’ve chosen these 3 key concepts from the book and explain how you might apply them to support your creative thinking.

1. Think curvy!

Objects that are rounded or curved have been shown to make us happy and relaxed; and, when we are happy and less fearful, we’re more creative. This is partly the result of learned experience that sharp objects can be harmful and partly us being innately conditioned to feel more comfortable at the sight of curved things. If we’re on edge, even a little, we classically become more convergent with our thoughts and for creativity, we need to be divergent in our thinking.

So, in your workspace, try to include curved items and soften hard edges for the times when you need to be creative. A good example of this is to have a round table; if not your desk, perhaps a coffee table. 

This is particularly powerful if others visit your work space, as research shows that people behave more collaboratively when arranged in radial patterns as it opens up possibilities for all to contribute equally. The teams at Pixar Animation Studios are testament to this; they discovered that interplay was better, the exchange of ideas more free-flowing and eye-contact more automatic when meeting at a round table.

If you don’t have space for a round table, think about seating that can be moved into radial arrangements. Something as simple as a round rug can encourage this. 

2. Be flexible!

As Rattner says, “a creative mind is a flexible mind and a flexible space is a creative space”. If our work space is rigid and immovable, we can get stuck in a more rigid mindset. 

However, if you can move your furniture around for the times when you need to think creatively, you change the energy of the room and (literally) start to look at things from a different perspective. 

Linked with this is the tactic of facing your space. Scientists suggest that humans are happiest and most secure when they have a clear field of vision and feel protected from behind. You can see an evolutionary connection here, but, as mentioned earlier, anything that makes us happier will help our ability to think creatively. 

So, have a think about whether you can position your desk so that you are looking into the room, rather than at a wall. If you can’t, then consider dressing the wall with artwork, wall coverings or materials that create an awareness of distance or nature.

3. Embrace ‘loftiness’

Researchers have found that people perform more creatively in rooms with ten foot high ceilings than those who performed the same exercises under ceilings that were eight foot high. This is to do with the activation of the part of the brain responsible for the visual exploration of space. In short, this ‘Cathedral Effect’ instils a willingness in people to explore and hence engage in more divergent thinking.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you raise your ceilings, but think about the height of the space you work in when you’re doing your creative thinking. Maybe you have a room or a conservatory with a pitched roof that you can work in at these times? 

If that option isn’t available to you, there are things you can do to increase your perception of height. Such as:

  • applying vertical features and patterns to the walls,
  • hanging artwork in portrait-oriented frames,
  • having tall bookcases and full-length curtains.

Also, painting the walls and ceiling in the same light colour, so there is nowhere for your eye to stop as it travels up from the floor, can add to the illusion of height.

Blue sky thinking

And, of course, the loftiest ceiling of all is the sky! The positive link between nature and creativity is well-known and Ratner’s book explains the theories behind this connection. For example, that of saccadic eye movement (which is when our eyes rapidly dart back and forth in different directions; resulting in the strengthening of the neural connections between the two hemispheres).

If you have access to a great view from your workspace, then that will support the creative process. But if you don’t, then try to incorporate natural materials into your workspace, be that through surfaces, objects, artwork or plants.

The creative/thinking/ideas space is a place for divergent thought and so it may not be the same place you do the accounts, when you need a more focussed, convergent process. However, employing some simple tricks in zoning your work space will ensure it supports all your business needs.

There are lots of things to consider to ensure your home work space is optimal  – whether it is functionally fit for purpose, if there are clear boundaries between work and home and whether you can control factors like noise, temperature and lighting. Book a call with me to find out how I can optimise your workspace for efficiency, productivity and innovative thinking.

Sarah Swain

Sarah Swain

Sarah is an interiors consultant & coach who helps people live the way they want to live, in spaces they absolutely love. Email sarah@cohesiveliving.com to find out more about Sarah's online coaching or book a free consultation call right now.

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