Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

Not Just Art--Empowered Art--Improves Worker Creativity

Photo by  Igor Miske  on  Unsplash

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

I stumbled upon a fascinating study around the role artwork can play inspiring creativity levels of a company’s employees. What’s cool about this study is that it’s not binary—with art, without art—it’s about control of how the art is displayed as well.

The study.

Dr Craig Knight has studied the psychology of working environments for 12 years at the University of Exeter. He and his team conducted a study testing various creative work environments, comparing:

  • Lean: containing no art and only the stuff workers need to do their work.

  • Enriched: featuring art and plants which were pre-arranged by the researchers.

  • Empowered: the same art and plants as above but workers could choose where to put it all.

  • Disempowered: workers could decide where to put the art and plants – but then the researchers undid it all and reverted to the enriched layout (ouch!).

The results.

The research found that those who worked in the enriched office worked about 15% quicker than those in the lean office and, interestingly, had fewer health complaints. But it gets better.

That figure doubled for people who worked in the empowered space. Doubled!

As for those who were disempowered, their productivity levels were the same as those in the lean space. Any effect the art and plants had before now was rendered powerless because of this perceived “powerplay.”

As Knight put it,

In 12 years we have never found that lean offices create better results; and the more involved people are in the enrichment process, the more they are able to realize a part of themselves in the space.


The finding that creativity increases when people are empowered to dress their environment up with art and plants is just as interesting as the fact that undoing those choices (disempowered) renders impotent any power the art and plants may have had.

For companies, the implication is clear: involve your people in the design of the office. Give them parameters, sure, but whatever you do, DO NOT undo it once it’s done.

Or all that money you paid for the art and the plants will be wasted.