One of the common things that clients ask me to develop in their office is creative space. In this context, “creative” is used to mean a group problem solving process drawing on a variety of different perspectives and disciplines to arrive at an innovative solution. Brainstorming, design charrettes, visioning session are some of the main creative techniques that these spaces are developed to foster.
A lot of companies prize creativity, but aren’t setting their team members up for success especially, when it come to the space they provide for creative work. How can your facilities best support your team members to implement creative techniques such as brainstorming?
The space is important.
When brainstorming, the energy is high and fast paced. It is best to allow people to popcorn ideas when they come to them and play off each others ideas and energy.
Key design elements:
Look/feel of the space:
It’s ok for this space to feel more like a classroom or workshop than a formal meeting room. It’s a great place to skimp on high end materials in your space – this space is where ideas come out messy and half formed. If a space is fully developed and has high end furniture and fixtures, it sets a precedent that that’s how the ideas should be. If you make the space too polished, it will be too intimidating for some team members to speak up about their ideas if they are not perfect. Think about where you’d rather do a brainstorming session with your team, in a formal board room or in a casual cafe space. I truly believe that it’s no mistake that more traditional office spaces, like law firms, that only have formal meeting rooms, don’t tend to do a lot of creative thinking.
Seating & tables:
The best way to facilitate that style of work is to have the space reflect that energy with furniture that allows for energy to be high. This means bar height tables and stools that make it easy for team members to stand and think on their feet, contribute post-its to a wall or jot down an idea on a whiteboard. Tables should be small so the focus is less on what is happening on the tabletop and more what is happening on the whiteboard and in the space.
Whiteboards are key, most people know that. This is a particularly great opportunity for whiteboard paint to make every wall surface writeable. This allows team members to spread out, have big ideas, not just ones that fit on 4ft x 6ft whiteboard.
Good, bright lighting is key to keeping the energy up. This is an opportunity for light and bright colored walls. According to color theory, green is a calming color that helps people get in touch with their creative side, but it’s also a good time to have a your brand colors splashed up on the wall to remind your team of your branding and mission.
Have materials within easy reach.
All materials should be plentiful and easily accessible by all team members. I recommend a caddy with the following items:
1. Whiteboard pens in different colors
2. Pens of all different types, ballpoint, felt tip, sharpie etc.
3. Unlined paper for people to jot down notes on ideas that come to them when someone else is talking, or to draw out ideas and diagrams if they are visual thinkers.
4. Post-its, the perennial favorite of creatives and brainstormers.
Separate processes, separate spaces.
It is best to separate the creative, brainstorming process from the decision making process. In a brainstorming session your goal is just to get as many ideas on the whiteboard as possible, later you can decide which ones will work. One of the central tenants of brainstorming is you shouldn’t criticize anything, only come up with a better solution. By separating the critical thinking from the creative, you end up with more ideas because you are not trying to do both at the same time, editing your thoughts even before they come out. Your idea might spark someone else’s imagination to help them find the solution.
Decision making is best supported by a different type space than creative sessions. When you’re making a decision you want to sit back and see the big picture, take in all the ideas and options that are presented to you and think critically about them. Ideally all the information is presented in front of the team members that are making the decision - on a whiteboard or in a presentation. The physical posture for this is ideally a relaxed seated position, one of comfort. Lounge chairs or comfortable meeting room chairs with arms are good in these types of spaces.
The space you work in can contribute greatly to the type of work you’re doing – positively or negatively. By making small changes to your space you can facilitate better work on your team.
How do you find that your space contributes to or detracts from the types of work you do?