A creative mess

Messy Desk

I was looking at my desk recently. Not because I had nothing to do I might add, but more so because I have piles of work everywhere. The longer I stared at the different work piles arranged in a haphazard way, the more I thought about why I could be so messy at work yet a complete neatness freak at home. It made me think of the comment last year proclaimed by our lovely office cleaners, who declared my desk the messiest desk of 2013. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or embarrassed. I swiftly tidied up and my desk stayed clutter free for a time. Yet old habits die hard, and I have slipped back into my old ways.

The reason for this blog is not to broadcast my banal desk musings by the way; there is a point coming…

The point

…The point being, I recently stumbled across a scientific study in the Psychological Science journal by three researchers (Vohs, Redden, and Rahinel 2013), with the rather long title ‘Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Where as Disorder Produces Creativity’.
In layman’s terms, it’s ok to have a messy desk. In fact, it helps you to be creative and solve problems.

Now I may not be creative in the conventional sense, i.e. a studio designer or artist: I am creative in lots of other ways. But to work for a creative design agency no matter what your role is requires creativity in some shape or form. We all need a degree of creative thought, creative understanding and creative communications with our clients and colleagues.

So I carried on reading…

“Order and disorder are prevalent in both nature and culture,” the authors write in their intro.
“This suggests that each environment confers advantages for different outcomes.”
“Beehives for example are highly ordered, yet ant nests disordered” (a bit like my desk and a those of a few others, whose names I won’t mention).

Two independent judges during the scientific experiment examined a cross-section of people. They found that those in a messy environment produced more creative solutions than those assigned to a tidy and well-ordered environment. The study also discovered that the people working in the messy surroundings were more likely to choose new ideas and think in a divergent way. Whereas those in the neat room wanted everything to stay the same, exactly as it was.

The authors then continued, “Being creative is aided by breaking away from tradition, order, and convention,” concluding in their science paper, “and a disorderly environment seems to help people do just that.”

The study works to a common theme, and when I started to investigate further, I came across all manner of experiments arriving at the same conclusion.

Researchers from Germany in 2012 also found that a messy desk can actually lead people towards clearer thinking. They found that, in a series of linked studies, using a messy desk helped people to think more clearly and creatively solve problems. They concluded that visual mess and disorder forces people to focus and think more efficiently.

Now I may not be an Albert Einstein or Roald Dahl (famously known for their messy work desks and environments) but I feel comforted by the fact I work well with a messy desk*. I’m certainly not the only messy desk owner here at mark-making* and I’m sure our cleaning ladies can testify to that.

* This blog is not meant to offend those mark-makers with clean desks.

By Steph Derby

About markmaking*

mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications