• Beth Strickland

Setting up Your Workspace - 5 Tips from a Design Expert

Practical Ways to get Your Work Space Just Right

Would you like a work space that helps you problem solve, think clearly, be more productive and creative? Now more than ever, especially if you are working from home, that space is needed.


So who is this blog for? It is for you, or anyone in your environment - from children to teenagers to adults. The advice comes from a design perspective. It is based on the science of 'person to place interaction' - how people think, feel and act within a space.


You may have competing priorities and limitations - working around children or teenagers. Or limitations such as size of area, lighting, lack of view, you're renting so can't make big changes and/or a limited budget.


While we can't promise to control your children - we can offer a proven way to enhance your working space - without the need for costly renovations.

Not everyone has the luxury of a separate work space at home. Often the dining room or lounge or kitchen doubles up as the work space. How do you make that work? Even if you have a dedicated room - it may not be optimised to work in the best way for you.


But just before we reveal these - we need to acknowledge that much of this advice, comes from the work of Donald M Rattner - an Architect who has written the book My Creative Space – How to Design your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation (48 Science Backed Techniques).

His thinking is based on Evolutionary & Environmental Psychology. Donald Rattner also uses Biophilic Design - which means reconnecting humans to nature through using things like natural materials, abundant natural light, plant products and sights & smells. Then, just to throw in one more fancy term - he talks about Evidence Based Design. This is when designers and decision makers, filter their decisions in order to achieve the best outcome for users e.g. if used within Healthcare Industry facilities improves human wellness.


We hope you find these tips useful and able to implement. Please try and use what you have around you first. See what you can up-cycle. No need to start with a complete blank canvas. Good sustainable design means taking care of the environment.


There is one very important tactic that is not discussed here - and that is colour. Colour Psychology is a complete subject in itself. Colour definitely influences behaviour - ask any marketer! Every colour has a positive and negative aspect. So colour requires more bespoke solutions. We can discuss that another time. All good stuff, but phew! That's a lot of new words and for some of us, new thinking going on there. Let's see how it works and what it means in practical terms for you.

Here's the 5 Top Tips

TIP NUMBER ONE Space Try and create the feeling of space and height as much as possible. Why? Our mental space expands and contracts in direct proportion to our perception of physical space. Its known as the CLT – Construal Level Theory. The further away we see, encourages broader, big picture thinking. The closer in we see, encourages more detailed, analytical thinking.

If you have a window - position yourself so you can look out of it. If you don't have a window, add a large mirror which creates the illusion of space. You can also use artwork to create a sense of time and space eg travel posters, maps, exotic images from Europe, South America, Africa - or street images from far away places like Athens, London, New York. Where-ever or what-ever far away means for you. It could also be outer-space images, far-distance landscapes, seascapes, images of another era eg Vintage, Art-Deco. There are unlimited options - find a common theme or go random - whatever is appealing to you.

TIP NUMBER TWO Furniture - Arrangement & Style Arrangement - Face your space where possible. Ever wondered why you walk into a cafe or restaurant and prefer to have your back to the wall so you are looking out towards the room? This one comes from a theory called the Prospect Refuge Theory. It relates to Survival of the Species. If you are protected overhead and behind while having a 180 degree view outwards, you feel safer. If you don’t feel safe – or are stressed - it kills creativity. Creativity thrives when you are relaxed. Fear makes us think analytically as we focus on getting out of a danger situation.

If your space means you have no options and need to face a wall - keep reading and we'll cover that under Tip No 3.

In an office meeting situation - circular arrangements around a table are best as they aren't power based and encourage the sharing of ideas. Everyone is based the same equal distance from the centre.

Furniture Style - curves where possible. For design in general, curves are preferable. The thinking behind encouraging curves in design is because in nature, curve-linear is not perceived as dangerous. Things are more organic/more approachable. Recto-linear or sharp angles may be perceived as more dangerous/things to avoid. Think of a spoon and a knife. Of course, some design styles such as minimalism encourage straight lines - so there are exceptions. Don't take this too seriously. Use what is ergonomically the best option. Rugs, throws and cushions can also soften the angles.

TIP NUMBER THREE Plants, Scents and Materials Include as many items as you can that reference nature. Evolutionary Psychology shows people in the industrialized world spend 80% of their time indoors – i.e. not outdoors. The more we divorce ourselves from the natural world, the more we reduce our mental well-being. You know you feel good after a walk surrounded by nature. Plants material improvements in human health and happiness and can help boost productivity by 15-40%.

In your work space you could perhaps use fresh, fragrant flowers, plants or at least images of plants, diffusers burning essential oil or jars filled with spices that you love the smell of. Also jars filled with sand, river stones, a sheepskin throw over your chair or a linen throw. These items can be authentic or good fakes. Even use fake plants if you don't want to have the maintenance that comes with real plants. There are some good realistic looking options available now.

If your work space needs to face a wall - here's a few things you can do. Paint a section or all of the wall. A quick tip with colour is that dark colours recede in a space. Lighter colours generally open up a space. Or get creative on what you have on that section/part of wall to make it clear its your work area. For example you could also use a screen resting up against the wall or frame a huge piece of fabric that suits the space - this could be natural material eg linen, leather. flax etc.

Add open shelving if possible. On the shelves have different textures, books, frames, artwork, plants, colour, anything that leads the eyes from left to right and vice versa. Books and reading material adds interest to the eye.

The main point is you have a display in front of you that encourages saccade eye movement. It means simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. It activates the left side of brain (analytical) and right side of brain (creative). This forges and strengthens new neural pathways and amplifies the process of creative thinking.

A quick review for people like me who get mixed up which side of the brain does what. Analytical Thinking – left brain: reason & logic, linear, concrete/detailed, narrow/focused, single solution, outward/objective, what is/exploit eg proof-reading, memory recall Creative Thinking – right brain: intuition & insight, zigzag, abstract, broad/big picture, multiple solutions, inward/subjective, what could be/explore eg alternative uses, product improvement

Enough of that. The idea is to make it a beautiful space - whatever beautiful means to you. Why? Because positive emotive factors encourage creativity.

The other thing you are doing is creating a defined work space - creating a space that offers commitment. So you know that's the space where you will work. This one is called Classical Conditioning - habitual repeated behaviour to be in a certain state of being. You can unlock blocks by leaving that space - check out Tip No 4. The down-side is that 'too much' routine leads to ‘falling into the familiar’ so that's when a complete change of scene helps.

TIP NUMBER FOUR The Working Wall & Breakout Areas Encourage play – a break room with games or nap space can help solve problems more often than trying to work straight through. Your mind is still working in the background in this time. Absorbing & consolidating. Ever noticed how solutions or ideas come to you in the shower? Or after a sleep? Or after exercising? Taking a break is very important. Put your walls to work You should always try to externalise your thoughts, so paint an area using blackboard paint, or use pin boards, big whiteboards, markers on windows/glass - absolutely anything you or others can draw, write or doodle on. Why? Exercising the hand is an idea engine. It's great for collaboration and there is also a communal aspect. Accidental creativity can occur as someone walks past, reads whats on the board and it sparks off an idea for them.


Cooking & Preparing Food Is that work? Nope, but while you are at home, or in an office situation, the influence of food processing/cooking can be helpful with mental processing. It's also effective to bring people together in a social situation where they can throw ideas around informally.

TIP NUMBER FIVE Lighting and Sound Sound you're likely to be at your creative best with some background noise around 70 decibels. It takes off the edge of complete silence. Unless you are a true introvert who work best in total quiet. Most of us are a mix or extrovert/introvert. If its too quiet, you may feel too self-conscious of being conscious. Quality wireless headphones that sit comfortably over your head, are the ideal solution when you're working in a space with others.

Lighting If there is too much strong light, it leads to feelings of being watched/creates stress. Too dark and you may find your eyes are straining and you tire more easily. Softer lighting at a minimum of 150+ lux or natural lighting is great. Creativity thrives in environments where people feel safe and feel free to think.

SUMMARY We are usually most creative in our own homes, or somewhere we feel totally relaxed. Why? We usually feel safe in that space. Stress reduces creativity, while relaxation encourages it. We probably feel safest in our homes as we exert greater control here, often achieving our best results when we have a period of focus followed by a period of rest - not trying to force a result e.g. take a shower, exercising, reading, playing with pet or after a power nap.

By using some or all of these design triggers - you are priming your brain to be more creative. Remember, it is based on the science of person to place interaction - how people think, feel and act within a space.

Creating an individualised work area - no matter how small - for each person who lives in that space, results in the positive behaviour you are wanting to see.

So you can set up a special work area in every bedroom, the dining room/lounge/kitchen areas, or where-ever it needs to be, for your particular living or office situation.

If you'd like some help with how to set it up - please get in touch. More than happy to help. Beth PS Special thanks to the artists from Pexel.com for these images.





Colour Harmony

Indira Place | Khandallah | Wellington 6035

E bethstrickland@xtra.co.nz

M +64 21 586 190

W colourharmony.co

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