Mapping the creative workspace

Katja Thoring
PhD Project
Supervisory team: Petra Badke-Schaub (promotor) | Pieter Desmet (promotor)
Contact: Katja Thoring | k.c.thoring[a]

Work and study environments that facilitate creative design processes—so called creative spaces—have gained an increased interest in the past years. The question if, and if yes how the physical environment could support designerly activities, has attracted the attention of design schools, startups, and global companies. The system of creative spaces can be addressed on different scales: (1) furniture, (2) interior, (3) architecture, or (4) neighbourhood.

This PhD project contributes to this emerging field by providing a holistic overview from three different angles:

(1) A Typology of Creative Spaces
The first part of the PhD project is dedicated to the understanding of the system of creative spaces from a user’s perspective. What kinds of spaces are required for designerly activities and what qualities need to be provided by a space? We developed a typology of creative spaces, based on a qualitative study using cultural probes (Gaver, Dunne, & Pacenti, 1999) in a design educational, a design thinking, and a practitioner’s environment. Through this approach it was possible to identify five different space types for creative activities, as well as five qualities a space should provide in order to support the respective activity.

(2) A Theory of Creative Spaces
The second part of the PhD project develops a theory about the influence of the physical environment on creativity. Based on eight expert interviews we developed a total of twelve propositions describing possible causal relationships between space and creativity. These propositions are supplemented by supporting or contradicting literature.

(3) A Toolkit for Designing Creative Spaces
The third part of the PhD project presents a tangible toolkit that consolidates the collected insights from the previous studies. The toolkit consists of the following elements: (1) adaptable floorplans (2) several canvases for determining spatial configurations, (3) stickers to locate space types on the provided plans and canvases, (4) a set of trigger questions to prompt users to question and reconsider their spatial requirements, (5) a set of 53 abstracted design patterns, inspired by ‚The Pattern Language’ by Alexander, Ishikawa, & Silverstein (1977) that outline several principles for designing creative spaces along with pictures of exemplary spaces, and (6) postcards for the retention of spatial ideas. The toolkit is meant to be used in a co-creation workshop together with spatial planners and future users of a space in order to involve all stakeholders in the spatial planning process.


Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., & Silverstein, M. (1977). A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Design: Cultural probes. Interactions, 6(1), 21–29.


Thoring, K., Mueller, R. M., Badke-Schaub, P., & Desmet, P. (2017). A creative learning space development toolkit: empirical evaluation of a novel design method. In Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED17). Vancouver, Canada.

Thoring, K., Gonçalves, M., Mueller, R. M., Badke-Schaub, P., & Desmet, P. (2017). Inspiration Space: Towards a theory of creativity-supporting learning environments. In Proceedings of the Design Management Academy (DMA) (Vol. 5, pp. 1539 – 1561). Hong Kong, CN.

Thoring, K., Mueller, R. M., Badke-Schaub, P., & Desmet, P. (2016). Design the Campus: Introducing a Toolkit for Developing Creative Learning Spaces. In Proceeding of the International Cumulus Association Conference (pp. 358 – 368). Nottingham, UK.

Thoring, K., Bellermann, F., Mueller, R. M., Badke-Schaub, P., & Desmet, P. (2016). A Framework of Technology-Supported Emotion Measurement. In Proceedings of the 10th Design & Emotion Conference (pp. 572–576). Amsterdam, NL.

Thoring, K., Luippold, C., Mueller, R. M., & Badke-Schaub, P. (2015a). Workspaces for Design Education and Practice. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Researchers (pp. 330–346). Chicago, USA.

Thoring, K., Mueller, R. M., & Badke-Schaub, P. (2015b). Ethnographic Design Research With Wearable Cameras. In CHI’15 Extended Abstracts. Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Thoring, K., Mueller, R. M., & Badke-Schaub, P. (2015c). Technology-Supported Design Research. In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 15) (Vol. 11, pp. 31–40). Milan, Italy: Design Society.

Thoring, K., & Mueller, R. M. (2014). Spatial Knowledge Management in Design Education. In Proceedings of the Spring Cumulus Conference. Aveiro, Portugal.

Thoring, K., Luippold, C., & Mueller, R. M. (2012a). Creative Space In Design Education: A Typology of Spatial Functions. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education. Antwerp, Belgium.

Thoring, K., Luippold, C., & Mueller, R. M. (2012b). Where do we Learn to Design? A Case Study About Creative Spaces. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Design Creativity. Glasgow, UK.