Posts Tagged ‘attention restoration theory’

Faking nature in your work environment.

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011


Once upon a time I worked in a digital agency, in London, in Canary Wharf, also known as “Thatcher’s armpit”. The office was fairly standard, it was on the 14th floor and on all the other floors were home to banking institutions. Our office looked a bit like a bank. The tables were those horrible standard tables you get in offices with the stupid little walls to segregate you from talking to one another. The ceiling was a hanging ceiling made of the nasty white tiles with strip lighting that made you look like you had a terminal disease. For all intensive purposes it felt like a bank.

But there was one redeeming feature of this office, that made it not so bank-like, the back wall was covered in wallpaper that had a forest scene painted printed on it.

At the time I was a hardcore lonestar programmer (not something I would recommend these days), coding late, headphones on, many hours spent in my head and in the machine in front of me. After an hour or so of intensive logic thought based activity, often, I would get up to go get a glass of water and relax and more often than not, I would spend a few moments inspecting the wall paper.

Something about it, enveloped you. The level of detail, everytime you looked at it, you would find something new, something you hadn’t seen before. It was refreshing, regenerating, revitalizing. And then almost effortlessly you jumped back into the code and back into the flow.

Years later, I am reading the book: 125 design principles, a recommendation from my father, and I was amused to find very early on a mention of ‘the biophilia effect’ and more specifically the ‘attention restoration theory’.The later theory states:

Attention Restoration Theory (ART) asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature. Natural environments abound with “soft fascinations” which a person can reflect upon in “effortless attention”, such as clouds moving across the sky, leaves rustling in a breeze or water bubbling over rocks in a stream.

The book further describes the science of how nature scenery affects us as creatures and should be specifically “in environments where learning, healing and concentration are paramount”. So now it begins to make sense why back in that office, that wall paper made so much of a difference to my working environment. Programming is nothing if not something that requires exceptional concentration abilities, and the ability to be able to quickly relax and regenerate is exceedingly important.

So, now I find myself as the manager and I understand the ‘why’, so lets get on with the ‘how’. Below is a picture of my new attention restoring office.


The best company I found to help is, the pictures are good quality and indeed help you to relax when you most need it.

I highly recommend you go forth, and even if you work in the drabbest of banks, add a little regenerative imagery to your wall. It will make you feel that tiny bit better.