Researching the relationship between creativity and design attributes
of the built environment to support creative intelligence.
When and where are people most creative? Research on the psychology of creativity suggests that creativity can be influenced by one’s physical context. However, the relationship between space and creativity is not yet well understood. For instance, research has not explored how this relationship changes based on what kind of creative task is being performed or what part of the creative process one is engaged in. As recipients of the ONEder grant from One Workplace, we created a study to better understand the relationship between creativity and the built environment, with the aim of informing workplace design to enhance creativity.
What is creativity? Creativity is a topic of great interest, yet it defies a simple and universally-accepted explanation. In scientific research, creativity is often described as a multi-phase process that, ultimately, produces ideas that are both novel and appropriate to a particular situation. In spite of its inflated reputation as a rare gift bestowed on the DaVincis and Picassos of the world, creativity is part of our everyday lives—at work, at home, and in all of the places between. In today’s workplace, creativity is a skill to be practiced, cultivated, and sought-after; therefore, an improved understanding of how the built environment impacts creativity will benefit a wide range of professions.
How can creativity be enhanced? Most existing work on creativity in the workplace has focused on the social, cultural, or organizational environment and how these factors shape creative behavior. Although there is some work on the effects of the physical environment on creativity, research suggests that these effects may depend on the type of creative task performed.
What did we do? To better understand where people are creative, we ran an experience-sampling study and surveyed creative professionals twice a day over the course of a week about their physical work environments, creative process, and mood.
What did we find? Our results show that homey environments are positively associated with creativity. Our study participants felt more inspired, had moments of greater insight, and engaged more in evaluating and refining creative ideas in spaces that made them feel at home, looked natural, and looked personal.
What does this mean? We speculate that homey environments allow for more privacy and self-regulation, which enables creativity. It is worth noting that our results are limited by a small sample and a data collection period that occurred during the Omicron COVID-19 wave, meaning that most of our participants were at home while they answered our survey questions. Even with these limitations, our preliminary findings bring up new possibilities for the design of future offices and lay the groundwork for further data collection.
Where will we go next? We hope to expand our study to include more people and varied environments in order to better understand how different phases of the creative process may be influenced by various aspects of the physical environment.
Director of Design Strategy
Professor of Architecture
Kansas State University