Deriving Design Principles

While this has not been an exhaustive review, we do believe it is possible to derive some general principles for the design of work and learning spaces that are conducive to creativity and innovation. These principles are as important for users of space—and those who commission such spaces—as they are for the designers of the spaces.
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"A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed, and in the end must be unmeasured."
— Louis Kahn (1901—1974) American architect

Considerations for designers and users

While this has not been an exhaustive review, we do believe it is possible to derive some general principles for the design of work and learning spaces that are conducive to creativity and innovation. These principles are as important for users of space—and those who commission such spaces—as they are for the designers of the spaces.

Principle 1: There are no guarantees. We stated this in chapter 1, and it is worth repeating: no space design can ever guarantee that a single creative thought will be thought or a single innovation will be created within it. The best one can do is to establish the conditions for creative thinking. In that regard, the WAB Room at RBSGROUP, shown in chapter 6, is quite instructive. It seems its designers embraced the no-guarantees principle, even if subconsciously, and so established a combination workshop, studio, and stage precisely to establish conditions (in the form of space) under which creativity and innovation could happen.

Principle 2: Comfort is key. Every one of the six elements of wellbeing we introduced in chapter 3 is part of being comfortable. Much more than through the ergonomic design of a chair, for instance, our human comfort is established by the degree to which we feel optimism, mindfulness, authenticity, belonging, meaning, and vitality. The spaces in which we work and learn should establish the mindset of comfort and wellbeing with how they look and how they function. Physical comfort matters, too, which means not only the right (and, again, exible) furniture but also good air, good acoustics, and so on.

Principle 3. Space can unleash good behaviors. Each of the four behaviors discussed in chapter 3 can be unleashed through the design of space. Communication cannot even begin unless we are aware of others with whom we might communicate, so design space that encourages awareness of everyone else who is also working or learning at the same company or university. Likewise with collaboration: we need to be aware of our potential collaborators. And with that awareness, we then need the spaces to communicate and collaborate. Conversely, concentrat ion requires its own spaces—indeed, even hidden “caves” where we can hide—and the permission to set ourselves apart in those spaces when needed. And allow rejuvenation— whether of the individual, restful kind or the group, playful kind—to unfold within our work and learning environments, rather than requiring that people go somewhere else to rejuvenate.

Principle 4: Flexibility is a necessity. A very broad view of “ exibility” is best, one that encompasses as well the notion of “variability.” It is not only about ensuring that a given room can be recon gured, which can be accomplished with furniture, rolling walls, and so on, but also about considering every room to have whatever purposes its users decide at a given moment. A tea kitchen is also a meeting space. A hallway is also a collaboration zone. A space for concentrated work is also a rejuvenation area.

Principle 5: Space connected with nature is best. The research is quite clear that humans function best in built environments that draw strongly from the natural world. The natural world is our true world; everything else is largely arti cial. Bringing the outside inside, within reason, establishes a truer world inside where we work and learn. It can be done with materials and colors and greenery, with how things look and feel, and it can be done by bringing natural light into a space and by providing views to the outside. A view might be the very thing that makes for relaxation, that leads to a daydream, and that thus induces the best and most creative idea in a very long time.

Principle 6. A space is only as good as those who lead in it. Even if it were possible to create the ideal space for creative thinking, it would not matter one bit if those in charge did not lead in the right way. No amount of cajoling employees or students to be creative and to innovate will produce good results in an ideal space if there is not full support for wellbeing and for the behaviors associated with wellbeing. If an employee is not trusted to use the “cave” bene cially, for instance, hiding away in there will produce the very opposite of its purpose.

Applying these six principles, as with setting aside specific space for creative thinking, offers no guarantee. The principles are, though, derived from the successful spaces we have shown as examples. They would thus be a very good starting point.

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