Introducing aesthetic design principles and art projects into the office environment boosts well-being and creativity, writes Dimitrios Tsivrikos, of University College London and p.a.r.t. art and branding consultancy.
You can buy a tuxedo for your cat online. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, why not buy a ‘useless box’ instead? These are two examples of how a focus on aesthetic design has entered our personal lives. Research has linked social networking to self-expression and one of the results of the digital revolution is that we are now placing a greater emphasis on creativity and pop culture.
Increasingly, however, the effects of this focus on aesthetics are seeping from the personal world into the professional environment. The Daily Telegraph compiled a list of the top 10 coolest offices in the UK which featured indoor gardens, slides, and themed work areas (Google’s pirate ship is a personal favourite) and many advertising agencies boast their own chic, highly aesthetic bars to relax in.
It is easy to mock the trend for ‘funky’ office spaces but these companies may be onto something with their aesthetic aspirations. Business consultancies specialising in the field have mushroomed to fill a need in recent years. The Design Council asserts that, “design can radically transform the way your business thinks and works” and an independent evaluation of the charity’s ‘Designing Demand’ programme found that every £1 businesses invested in office design led to an average return of £4.12 in net operating profit.
These are bold claims but is there any additional evidence to support them? It turns out that there is. Research in the fields of both psychology and business studies suggests two reasons why design principles make a big difference.
Incorporating design and aesthetics into the workplace has a number of benefits for employees. Though many cynics relegate Feng Shui to the ‘hokum’ bin alongside homeopathy and astrology, an abundance of evidence shows the right workspace decorations promote well-being. Research indicates that introducing elements from the natural world reduces the desire to quit, and that employees work more attentively when there are plants in the office. So, the aforementioned indoor garden may not be such a bad idea after all.
Art in the workplace has similar effects. One experiment asked office workers to complete some infuriating tasks and found that lower levels of anger and stress were experienced in spaces adorned with art posters. Another project showed direct financial benefits: after a collections agency moved premises to a more brightly painted office, the average dollar collected per employee increased by 16%.
But there’s another reason why design means big business. Incorporating design principles and a focus on bringing the arts into the workplace fosters creativity which boosts performance. The famous marketing guru, Philip Kotler, authored a paper which called design, “a powerful but neglected strategy tool” with the ability to generate a significant competitive advantage.
Engaging employees in artistic endeavours encourages ‘thinking outside of the box’. One review found that artistic projects change an employee’s thinking by encouraging personal development, promoting collaborative working, and – most importantly – broadening perspectives.
These qualities are transferred from the arts context into everyday activities. For example, introducing Yale medical students to an art history course improved their medical diagnostic skills significantly. A study of young US students found a strong correlation between their involvement in the arts and academic achievement 10 years later. And this is not just for kids. Tons of research finds the same results in adults. So it’s time to dust off those paint brushes and easels…
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