Stimulating creativity through office design

Creativity is the most valuable currency in the global economy today. It is the means by which companies differentiate their commercial offerings and themselves in a crowded and hypercompetitive market place.

modern office furniture


Creative currency drives commerce

In the modern world, creativity has become productivity. In the age of disruption, the ability for organisations to continually innovate around (and reinvent) their product suite is critical to their growth and survival.

When nothing stands still

Disruption is affecting everyone.  Traditional business models are being rendered obsolete as new technology presents novel ways to serve customers and solve for their problems. Hyperscale challengers are exploiting opportunities in a range of sectors, thanks to their big data advantage and, crucially, the creative confidence of the talent they employ.

Faced with this reality, companies of all kinds are realising their competitive advantage must lie in the people whose ideas drive them forward - the creative minds that can apply themselves to understanding and solving for the needs of their customers.

As a recent KPMG report puts it:

"Disruption acts as a driver of change across many business disciplines. Its effects are pervasive, requiring firms to invest differently, act bravely and adapt their corporate cultures."


Knowledge sharing and organisational transparency as creative drivers

The most progressive companies are listening to ideas from wherever they emerge in their business, adopting a culture of knowledge sharing across departments - ensuring the talents and visions of a new generation of workers are respected and cultivated.

Because creativity isn’t about one individual in an organisation anymore - an Ogilvy-like figure ruling the roost, from whom all ideas emanate and where all initiatives are ultimately sanctioned.

The Agile workforce collaborates to ideate and deliver quickly and as one, identifying needs, failing fast and succeeding quickly.

The great leaders of today realise that everyone in a company can and must contribute to a culture of continuous creative innovation if they are to respond to the shifting challenges of 21st Century business.

workplace wellbeing

The state of creativity

With all this in mind it should come as no surprise that Steelcase research has found that 72% of people at work today believe their future success depends on their ability to be creative. And yet the same research points at a consistent failure of employers to provide the right conditions for creativity to thrive.

The research shows the kind of roadblocks that many workers feel are standing in the way of reaching their full creative potential.

In the Steelcase study 20% of the 4,500 participants cited uninspiring spaces as a major block on their creativity within the workspace; 20% identified outdated technology as a factor, 36% blamed the weight of their existing workloads, while 19% thought they lacked the guidance and permission to be creative.


Holistic design response

So when companies are responding to the need to stimulate creativity in the workplace, the findings are that the challenge is holistic.

Nearly every part of the working day in the modern office is a creative undertaking, after all.  From the problem solving ‘stand up’ sessions that set the daily agenda for a team, to the agile planning sessions that bring disciplines together to collaborate on strategic solutions. Biz dev, account management, design and dev roles are all now defined by the need to innovate and reinvent - to co-operatively solve for the challenges presented by evolving technology, platforms and channels. And what’s more, the roles and responsibilities (previously clearly demarked and siloed) are becoming increasingly porous.

Because of all this, the workspace design response should be equally flexible and reflective of blurring boundaries between disciplines. It should also be mindful of the possibility of inspirational work occurring anywhere within a workspace both formally and informally.

“Creativity isn’t a linear process. It’s not even a predictable process. It has a rhythm of different activities and requires both convergent and divergent thinking.”

- James Ludwig, Vice President, Global Design, Steelcase


The creative opportunity of the workspace

From the moment we walk into work, the quality of our focus and collaborative energy should be harnessed and optimised by our surroundings.

So, how can you design your workspace to support this creativity - and keep the people in your business engaged and contributing to its success and innovation in every way?

Creativity is a collective pursuit, but it is also strongly linked with a sense of shared personal and professional fulfilment.

Key ways to design for creativity in the workplace

1. Create environments that stimulate emotional connections

  • Use ambient and thoughtful design elements to inspire thinking and foster team culture.
  • Build a welcoming environment and personal connection to a space with authentic design elements, artefacts and materiality.
  • Within meeting rooms and collaborative workspaces support a variety of posture options that allow for comfortable proximity to other people and content sources. Keep sightlines to screens open and make eye to eye contact possible for colleagues.


2. Build a fluid creative ecosystem

  • A variety of spaces can support individuals and teams as they cycle through their days to day tasks and creative processes. Design for moments of individual exploration, cognitive resting, social connection, co-creation and evaluation.
  • Build an ecosystem with options so people can choose where and how to work. A range of spaces and devices is necessary to support the diverse stages of creative at work
  • Scale the ecosystem with separate spaces or zones for specific individual, team and organisational needs.
  • In the natural ebb and flow of office life, there should always be the possibility of accidental encounters between disparate people that can identify opportunities or spark new ideas. Some offices are designed to achieve just this. Think of the UK TV HQ which uses communal space to connect workers in exactly this way:

“We wanted to disassemble the hierarchy through design. Partly we did that by redesigning our entire office. We assembled this huge stairway to connect the two floors as we don’t want our employees to be separated. We want them to connect and bump into each other. These serendipitous meetings create some of the best ideas"

Darren Childs,  ex UKTV CEO


agile working

3. Nurture creative confidence

  • Support the visibility and tangibility of ideas by using partitions and walls as postable, writing surfaces to guide the creative process.
  • Provide co-creation tools, such as large-scale computing devices, that allow everyone to contribute to and interact with content. Does your workspace allow for the seamless sharing of content between devices and rooms?
  • Enable privacy and control over the environment to provide a “safe haven” where new ideas can incubate.

office design

The modern workplace should optimise for creativity by facilitating comfort, collaboration and more meaningful interactions between people, content and technology.

But in amongst these more practical considerations is the intriguing possibility of designing for creative serendipity - building workspaces that are so free of silos, so frictionless in their accommodation of networked teams that they can facilitate chance encounters and power new collaborative processes that lead to even greater organisational success.


Steelcase 360 - Creativity Ideabook





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Attract and retain through workplace design