Last summer, our Dr. Arndt Pechstein did a collaboration with Interface, a global leader in innovative carpet manufacturing. He explained the role of haptics in the creation of positive workspaces. Since we spend a large amount of time in our places of work, it’s important to understand how we work and which tactile factors can have a positive influence on our attention, performance, and creativity.
The video is in German, but we have provided a translation below for all our English-speaking readers.
“The sense of touch, haptic, is on the one hand our way of understanding our environment and the world around us, and on the other hand our physical condition, the fact that we have bodies. These are the two sides of haptic: firstly, how we perceive and decipher our immediate environment, and secondly, how this environment makes us feel.
One could argue that the sense of touch is the most important, and in fact, it is the first sense that we develop as babies. Recent studies have shown that it plays a great role in terms of developing our personalities. In contrast to our other senses, the sense of touch cannot be easily compensated for, if it is ever partially damaged or completely lost during our lifetime. Furthermore, touch allows us to intuitively explore spaces. We all experience this in our everyday lives, at home or at work, or using the touchscreens on our phones for instance. Children learn to use the sense of touch relatively fast, without a manual. We perceive many things in life more quickly through touching, feeling, and moving them – that’s how we see whether and how something works and one can make sense of it.
If we take a look how our brain works, there are different modes and phases in which we work – there are phases in which we are focused, concentrated and analytical, and others in which we are creative. For creative work, we require environments that are conducive and stimulating to this mode. So how does this kind of space look? If we think back to how the human brain works, it’s associative, it operates with images, not abstract terms or lists, and exactly this associative mode is what we should support in an ideal tactile working environment. That means that we need to create spaces where we can move information around, spaces which can be easily moved around and adjusted, which allow greater freedom of movement for the people using it.
How do we assemble positive spaces?
A simple step is to put our office furniture on wheels, so that people can move things around if needed. Another option is being able to adjust the height of our furniture, and to have a variety of different sitting options. These are examples for a single indoor space, but it’s also possible to have multiple rooms which stimulate different modes of working and thinking, and which can be used in different phases of a project, for instance. Finally, completely changing the environment is also very stimulating, such as going outdoors.
Of course, haptics also crops up in many of today’s major trends in the working world. One of these topics is digitalization. At the moment we primarily consider it from a technological standpoint, but in fact, the sense of touch plays a very important role in it too.
What does the sense of touch have to do with trends like digitalization and sustainability?
We are moving towards a world where mechanical tasks are increasingly being taken over by machines. This increases the possibility and necessity of promoting the creative, social and analogue processes within the workplace.
A second trend is called biophilia, a word which literally means ‘life’ (bio) and ‘affinity’ (philia) – in other words, our love for nature, natural forms and materials. We are increasingly observing a return to nature in the workplace, whether than means having more plants indoors, creating green areas near offices, or having floors or surfaces that mimic natural materials. As strange as it seems, these alterations can foster the greater wellbeing of employees, since we, as a species, have lived in natural surroundings for the vast majority of our existence.
Another important trend is sustainability. In the face of an increasing scarcity in natural resources, as well as climate change we also know that we have to change the way we use materials. That’s why innovative models like the Circular Economy, which promote a more responsible use of raw materials, and the recycling of already processed materials, are also of increasing relevance today. We can already see this reflected in the designs of our workplaces, where we are using more natural, renewable, or recycled materials to build furniture, buildings and surfaces, such as wood.
Finally, the sense of touch plays a really important role in the way we learn. German words like “begreifen” (to comprehend) and “erfassen” (to understand) are etymologically derived from the verbs “greifen” and “fassen”, both of which mean physically grasp. This clearly demonstrates how deeply embedded and intertwined the sense of touch is with our capacity as human beings to decipher our surroundings, learn new skills and master unfamiliar contexts.”