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Research Explores the Characteristics of “Creative Spaces” and their Impact on Innovative Thinking
How is creativitythe ability to solve problems in innovative and novel waysfostered? Most research outlines personal characteristics to look for in creative problem solvers, but how might one create a physical environment that facilitates innovation in the general population? Until recently, little “data” existed to answer this question, but one set of researchers is changing that.
McCoy and Evans published two studies in 2002 exploring the link between the physical environment and innovative thought.1 In their first, the research pair determined what characteristics of the interior environment people would seek out to think creatively. Starting with photographs of over 1200 sites, McCoy and Evans had study participants choose which places they would want to go “if [they] had a very special problem to solve and needed to generate a lot of new ideas” (p. 413). Using statistical analyses, the researchers determined that, when seeking a place to think creatively, participants chose those spaces that were spatially complex and conducive to social interaction; places that were full of visual detail and ornamental objects; and places that had extended views and used more natural materials (e.g., wood). McCoy and Evans also determined that, when looking for a creative space, participants avoided interior environments that used cool color schemes (e.g., green, blue, or blue violet spectrum), had no view, and employed predominantly manufactured or composite materials.
In McCoy and Evans’ second study, they tested to see if working in a creative space actually enhanced innovative thinking. The research pair tested the creative performance of a different set of study participants in two environmentsone interesting space with visual detail, spatial complexity, windows, seating for social interaction, and natural materials/plants, and one bland space with solid walls, manufactured materials, no view, and monochromatic colors. McCoy and Evans found that participants in the creative space made collages that were more interesting and original than those participants in the bland space.
 McCoy, J.M. & Evans, G.W. (2002). The potential role of the physical environment in fostering creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 14, 409-426.
However, on another task of creative performance (The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking2 ), there was no difference between the two groups. The researchers cite possible study limitations for this latter lack of effect.
Based on the research of McCoy and Evans, it appears that there are certain characteristics of an interior environment that people are drawn to when they want to think in creative and innovative ways. Windows, aesthetic detail, warm colors, and natural building materials (to name a few) all seem to be favored. But do these interior design characteristics actually enhance innovative thought? On at least on one type of creative task, it appears that they do.
Although the research in this field is still fledgling, it is hoped that these results will inspire further study. Armed with additional data, interior design architects and managers could ultimately use the physical environment to maximize innovation and creativity within organizations.
2 Torrance, E.P. (1966). The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking: Technical-norms manual. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press.