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Four types of (creative) space

Creativity requires different thinking modes and activities. Different types of space can support these activities.

Four types of space support creative activity that enable, engage and energise people:

STIMULATE : space for inspiration

For most people, it’s virtually impossible to have fresh ideas in a vacuum. Stimulating spaces can enable people to connect with the problem, subject or consumer they’re working on by allowing them to immerse themselves in that world, deriving mental energy from the stimuli itself.

Human beings thrive on stimulation – mental, emotional and physical. Stimulating spaces speak to people through non-verbal means, reinforcing messages, attitudes and values. They lift spirits, connect people to a common purpose and appeal to the senses.

A word of warning: ‘clean desk policies’ fly in the face of stimulating spaces, although careful space design and maintaining rituals around managing the space can maintain a happy balance between stimulation and clutter!

No empty slogans here: the “Love” room at Virgin HQ in London brings a company value to life in a vibrant way.

A work cave at Hasbro Inc. allows a toy designer to immerse herself in a world of cute animals and other inspiration.

REFLECT : space to think

Once the mind has been fed a problem, it often needs time and space to allow that problem to incubate. Periods of intense focus, coupled with time to unwind set up the right conditions for a creative brain to problem solve. Reflective spaces allow people to refresh and recharge. They can provide individual contemplation or allow people to focus on a project or task uninterrupted.

NB: This type of space is often forgotten in open plan offices!

Circulation routes designed to slow people down can be a powerful way of injecting reflective headspace into the daily grind. Creating zig-zag, curved or random paths force people to take a breath of air, stop to think and break out of uber-busy automatic pilot mode.

A hanging basket at Innocent Drinks’ “Fruit Towers” provides a place to escape and reflect.

At Bloomberg, NY, a curved escalator encourages people to slow down, rather than rushing from A to B in elevators – a great way of injecting space to think.

In a bid to improve communication, transparency and generate a vibrant, buzzy environment, I often see those essential retreat spaces swallowed up by large conference rooms or more desks as the company expands.

Better to maintain a balance of private and public, individual and team spaces, with smaller or shared desks than lose this valuable space type.

COLLABORATE : space to share

Ideas need to be shared in order to get better, progress and ultimately to happen. The best creative collaborative spaces are more than just meeting rooms. In fact they’re usually not meeting rooms – they’re hallways, food stops or outside areas – and they encourage the sharing of tacit knowledge in a non-hierarchical way.

Great collaboration spaces are designed to engineer collisions, cross over functions, accommodate impromptu get-togethers, share thinking ‘live’ and they also send cultural ‘open door’ messages that encourage informal conversations despite seniority or tenure.

For P&G’s claystreet project, collaborative thinking happens low-tech, and it happens live. Home-made boards on casters provide the ultimate flexible collaboration.

Aardman Animations realised that often the best conversations happen on the stairs, so they deliberately widened them to accommodate impromptu chats and provided places to sit down if things get really involved.

PLAY : space to connect and explore

The benefits of play are well documented for social development and well-being, but few businesses really understand the power of play. Play comes in many guises – not just slapstick craziness, but also in the form of deep exploration and experimentation – as well as simply adding a light touch to human interactions. Playful spaces allow collegues to connect in a relaxed, agendaless way – which strengthens relationship bonds and makes work conversations easier. Playful spaces also let people de-stress and let off steam, making their working day more productive and healthy in the long-term.

…Yes, there is a horse in Sony Music's London office…

Finally, having ‘closed door’ spaces is an important aspect that encourages free thinking, experimentation and supports those childlike behaviours that are great for creativity, but often distracting for those trying to complete an Excel spreadsheet!

Nike’s Innovation Kitchen is off-limits to all but a few select people who keep the ideas, processes and projects within a closely-guarded secret.

Different spaces will appeal to different businesses in different measures, but a combination of all four types (whatever the blend suits your company) makes for great environments that support the work that people need to do, the culture you’re building and reinforce the business values and vision in a way that’s uniquely you.

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