Jul 2, 2018
Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Agatha Christie. What do all these writers have in common (besides producing seminal works of literature)?
Each of them famously used beautifully crafted, much-loved wooden desks to create their great works – desks that are still around for us to admire today. Christie and Coleridge used large, regal, heavy desks with multiple drawers, while Hemingway opted for a standing desk. Dickens' rather more humble desk sold for an incredible $890,000 at an auction in 2008.
The point is that gorgeous wood has always been an important element in the creation of some the world's great literature. It was always there. And now we are beginning to further understand and appreciate how a theme of wood in our design surroundings can be a contributing factor in getting the creative juices flowing.
Recent studies have shown that working in an environment where wood is prominent can foster productivity and workplace harmony. We can expand this to say that wood can be a true catalyst for creativity, imaginative thinking and innovative approaches to project management and professional life.
One study, by Pollinate, Wellness + Wood = Productivity, produced a number of enlightening results. In particular, by utilising biophilic design – the incorporation into design of natural elements such as wood, with the aim of contributing to health and wellbeing – productivity levels can be increased by up to 15 percent.
Biophilic design can have a major influence on creativity as well. Here’s how...
The Wellness + Wood = Productivity report found that workers exposed to a higher proportion of wooden surfaces have more positive associations with their workplace, and in particular enjoy feelings of relaxation and calmness.
A sense of calm is vital to creativity and our capacity to approach tasks with imagination and innovation. Academic studies have shown that the opportunity for peace, focus and contemplation is essential for maximum creativity (even if a bit of chaos is good every now and then).
In short, a workplace with prominent wood in its design scheme can become a sanctuary for the creative mind to return to when a relaxed setting is required.
The study also found that workers with more exposed wood in their professional environment rate their ability to concentrate and overall mood more positively – a similar pattern was discovered in relation to clarity, confidence and optimism.
All of these are qualities that can aid concentration – an essential ability in any workplace, and often crucial to the creative process, be it writing, project management, myriad types of manual work and much more.
Exposed wood in the workplace can help block out the distractions of co-workers and technology and encourage the single-mindedness that can fire creative ideas.
If biophilic design and wood specifically can aid with all of creativity, calmness, concentration and confidence, what exactly is it about this style of design that makes it beneficial to workers in an indoor setting?
As the report suggests, it all boils down to what we might regard as that innate human need: a connection with nature. The report notes that biophilic design drives feelings of satisfaction, creativity and workplace wellbeing, due to the strong incorporation of nature into our increasingly indoor lives.
Other studies support this conclusion in compelling ways. For example, 2012 study, Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, found unequivocally that there are measurable cognitive advantages to be had by spending time immersed in natural settings. Importantly, this study also found that the increase in emotional positivity in response to natural stimuli corresponded with a decrease in exposure to technology – so often ubiquitous in the modern workplace.
Biophilic design in the workplace, with a particular emphasis on wood, taps into this. By allowing our reliance on technology in the indoor workplace to be balanced by some exposure to the natural world, we can bring benefits to our mental and emotional wellbeing, allowing our creativity to soar.
Unfortunately, the The Wellness + Wood = Productivity report found that only 47 percent of workers are satisfied with their connection to nature in the workplace, so we have some way to go in allowing nature
Let's not forget the illustrious desks of those great writers, and how a home work environment can also be enhanced by biophilic design.
Expert and design psychology consultant Barbara Lyons Stewart believes wooden desk spaces at home offer a warmth and a "lower energy" compared with white laminate or metal desks. Wooden desks also offer curved edges, rather than straight edges, that can contribute to a sense of tranquillity in a home work space and foster creativity.
"You want your energy to go into the creative work, not the environment," says Stewart. "If I know I’m designing and doing something creative, I’ll go for a lower-energy environment."
Wood constitutes this kind of environment, and taps into that innate need of ours to forge a connection with the natural world.
"There’s something that's in you that makes you want to be outside," says Stewart.
So whether at home or at work, biophilic design with an emphasis on wood can make a meaningful difference to our creative faculties.
And for the likes of Dickens and co., wood was nothing short of essential.