Human Spaces

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Human Spaces Global Report

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The Impact of Biophilia - Creativity

The impact of biophilic design on the individual’s ability to act, behave and perform creatively within the context of their role is something that has received less focus within the realm of research into biophilic design.

The analysis of the global data sample revealed that a worker’s creativity can be strongly influenced by their surrounding environment and the extent to which this incorporates natural elements. More specifically, we found that for those working in environments that incorporate these natural elements, such as daylight and live plants, reported levels of creativity are 15% higher than the levels reported by those who work in environments devoid of nature.

Again, this highlights an important consideration for employers and designers to think about how they can incorporate aspects of biophilic design into the work environment that they are either creating or providing.

In all countries analyzed in the study, when elements of nature were incorporated into the workplace, the impact on workers’ creativity was positive. In the past, some academics have discussed the concept of ‘creativity potential’ when it comes to office design. This is the idea that some spaces, depending upon their design features, have different influences on the creativity of those who occupy them. This is supported empirically and identifies two types of offices: those with high; and those with low creativity.

Although it may seem obvious that poorly-lit environments that lack color and nature elements dampen creativity, the findings, as mentioned previously, show that a significant number of people don’t have natural lighting or elements of nature within the workplace. Considering the simple changes that can be made (increasing access to natural light through office layout or bringing greenery and plants into the office), there are plenty of (‘low hanging fruit’) options for organizations wanting to inspire creativity in their workforce.

It is also clear that biophilic design elements can have differing effects on workers in each country. For example, in Spain, the provision of greenery in the office, in the form of plants or green walls, was linked to greater levels of creativity. In comparison, water was particularly important when it came to the productivity of Brazil’s office workers, who, when working in offices that either afforded window views of water or incorporated water features into the office space, reported high levels of creativity. Office color was also important for creativity in some countries, specifically in India where the incorporation of the color red within the office design was strongly linked to greater levels of creativity.

Minimalist (38%) was most often cited as the style of building design that would inspire at work

The global study findings identify that simple, minimalist design is the most preferred style, with natural lighting, plants and natural colors all topping the list of the most wanted elements in the workplace. More specifically, window views were found to be crucial in maintaining creativity within a workforce, as were using bright colors to stimulate workers and promote creative working.

Global Research Findings

Natural elements positively linked to creativity at work – Nature views: Having no window had a significant negative effect on employee creativity.

Colors: Gray offices were associated with lower levels of employee creativity. Bright colors like yellow, blue and green were beneficial in promoting creativity.

Nature within the workspace: Natural elements in the office space had a positive effect on levels of creativity.

Color and Creativity

While color is often the first design element one notices when stepping into a space, surprisingly little research exists that explores the effect that color has on human cognition and behavior.

The research shows that, for employees wanting a creative environment, incorporating accent colors of green, blue and white could have positive benefits. Green in particular seems to be important, with research finding that when people see just a brief glimpse of green prior to a creative task, it indeed enhanced their creativity performance, in comparison to glimpses of white, gray or other bright colors.

What this does show is that while we can draw some similarities between different research studies (for example that green accents in offices can positively impact on workers’ motivation, enthusiasm and productivity), it is still difficult to make definitive recommendations, with this area of research still being explored in great depth.

Dr. Stephen Kellert, Professor of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and author of the book Biophilic Design, comments:
“The biophilic application of color should favor muted “earth” tones characteristic of soil, rock, and plants. The use of bright colors should be cautiously applied, emphasising hues found in appealing environmental forms, such as flowers, sunsets, rainbows, and certain plants and animals.”

Bill Browning: Savanna Hypothesis

Scientific evidence for the biophilic effect of color is still emerging. While the consensus around these effects is currently limited, it can be an important factor in creating a healthy, vibrant, and biophilic environment. Based on what information is available, here is some general guidance for design application:

  • Through the work on the Savanna Hypothesis there is a clear preference for the blue water, greens, tawny
    golds, tans, browns, and earth colors found on the African savannas. This tells us there is a general preference
    for earth tones.
  • Humans are attuned to seeking out colors indicative of flowers and fruit. Therefore a judicious use of bright
    colors will help liken a space to natural conditions and improved user preference.
  • Vibrating color combinations can be exciting in limited applications or, in the extreme, they can cause after image effects and induce unpleasant responses such as dizziness. This tells us that a minimal use of vibrating color combinations will help maintain a restorative and healthful environment.

The operating theory has been that colors found in nature that indicate resources, or conditions supportive of survival, would elicit positive responses. In the African savanna setting, blue is frequently the color of water, medium and darker greens are indicators of the presence of water and healthy vegetation, red is a common fruit color, while yellowed or brown vegetation is frequently a sign of drying or dying vegetation. This has been called an “ecological valence theory” (Palmer & Schloss, 2010). There is a clear preference for trees that have dark green, medium green and bright red colors (Kaufman & Lohr, 2004). Seeing these color varieties in different plants of the same species can produce different responses: dark green – relaxation, green yellow – excitement, red – high concentration (Sadek, Sayaki, et. al. 2013).

The color red is associated with an increased performance on tasks requiring cognitive focus and the color blue is associated with increased creativity (Hatta, Yoshida, 2002; Mehta & Zhu, 2009). Medium green may also support enhanced creativity (Litchenfeld, 2012). Physiological responses can include slightly increased muscular strength from seeing red (Elliot & Aarts, 2011). Red is also associated with increased galvanic skin response and heart rate, while blue is associated with the opposite response (Harkonen, 2012).

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