Intuitively, designers understand that aesthetically pleasing spaces deliver results.  However intuition does not always allow a business to justify investment. 

Research by Prism (psychological research into identity and space management), part of the University of Exeter’s internationally renowned School of Psychology(†), is challenging some widely held beliefs around the continually evolving workspace.  In fact their research shows that it may be the reverse that is occurring.  The “modern” open plan offices of today compares strongly with that of offices of the early 1900’s.  While the drivers back then were hierarchical in nature compared to the collaborative drivers of the current model, the research showed that the thinking may not be so new.

The current trend to clean desk policy and lean environments are possibly the worst case scenario. During investigations Knight and Haslam put more than 100 individuals through tests in four different environments, including:
a) lean spaces that contain only the minimum required elements in easy access positions
b) enriched office spaces including those that contain art and or plants
c) empowered  spaces where participants could dictate the location of the enriching items
d)Re-arranged; in this latter space participants were empowered to arrange the environment yet once they were complete the experimenter entered the space and re-arranged the items

Not surprisingly the strongest test results occurred in the enriched and most notably the empowered spaces.  Knight and Haslams research suggests a gain of 32% in productivity. While it may be intuitive to expect that empowering and enriching spaces is powerful in driving creativity, engagement and productivity, it is now possible to substantiate these intuitions with empirical data.


† Knight, C.P, & Haslam, S.A. (2010). The relative merits of lean, enriched, and empowered offices: An experimental examination of the impact of workspace management strategies on well-being and productivity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol 16(2), Jun 2010, 158-172. doi: 10.1037/a0019292



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