Posted in biology, communication and networking, design and architecture

Designing around the mind

I’ve seen this discussed in other areas, but it’s still an interesting concept: how do you design a space to make a certain activity – work, relaxation, play – more likely to occur? How does your space effect your mood?

An article recently published in Scientific American discusses some of the breakthroughs in this research. For example:

  • “Research around this area is leading to cutting-edge projects such as residences for seniors with dementia in which the building itself is part of the treatment.
  • “Institutions such as the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture in San Diego are encouraging interdisciplinary research into how a planned ­environment influences the mind, and some architecture schools are now offering classes in introductory neuroscience.
  • One example: “earlier work had indicated that elevated ceilings make people feel physically less constrained, so investigators posit that higher ceilings encourage people to think more freely, which may lead them to make more abstract connections.”

My favorite work is the effects of green space on people with attention disorders:

“Landscape architect and researcher William Sullivan of the University of Illinois and his colleagues studied 96 children with attention deficit disorder (ADD). The scientists asked parents to describe their children’s ability to concentrate—say, on homework or spoken directions—after the kids engaged in activities such as fishing, soccer and playing video games in which they were exposed to varying amounts of greenery. “The parents reported that their children’s ADD symptoms were least severe after they’d been in or observing green spaces,” says Sullivan, whose results were published in 2001.”

That is soooo fascinating to me that something as simple as doing homework in the backyard could improve a person with ADHD’s ability to concentrate and learn.

I know designers and artists decorate their spaces in certain ways to inspire and motivate them to work. Some of this is documented on the blog On My Desk.

I’m interested in what readers have done to their own spaces to make them more conducive to work, or keep them motivated. I know my bedroom is more conducive to sleeping than doing homework, which is a drag when I’m trying to crunch through research papers.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.