Next Big Design: Coffee Shop Noise Makes You Creative

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Coffee Shop Noise Makes You Creative

Walk into any coffee shop and you are bound to find people hunched over laptops and tablets, working away. Turns out, they are not just there for the cup-a-joe and the free Wi-Fi. In fact, scientists have found that some need background noise to get inspired and create.

A new website, Coffitivity, now lets you bring the coffee shop to your cubicle. This free website was triggered by recent research showing that the sounds of espresso machines and caffeinated chatter typical of most coffee shops creates the perfect right level of background noise to stimulate creativity.

The New York Times reported that researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking by having participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a coffee shop, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels. But, a higher level of noise, about 85 decibels, the noise level generated by a blender, was found to be too distracting.  

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus, preventing you from thinking in the abstract. He explained, “This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it. You leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”

The creators of the Coffitivity site struck upon their idea after brainstorming on an unrelated start-up. “We had been in and out of coffee shops, and we were getting really good work done,” said Ace Callwood, a founder of the site.

Another member of the team, Justin Kauszler, noticed that when he returned to his regular work space, in a sterile office, his productivity plummeted. When Kauszler’s boss shot down his request to leave the office and work from a coffee shop, he and his colleagues decided that they would bring their favorite coffeehouses to their computers. With some audio equipment in hand, they eventually found a spot with ideal noise level, a place called Harrison Street Cafe.

“It had just the right mix of everything,” Callwood said. “You could get the coffee machine, and you had people talking and eating. It has two levels, and we got the vibe upstairs and downstairs.”
Coffitivity started on March 4, and that day it got about 120 page views. Since then, traffic has exploded. Seoul, Korea, is the top user city, followed by New York City London, L.A. and Chicago. Callwood and his colleagues at Coffitivity say they are creating an app and adding soundtracks tailored to specific countries.


Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist at IIR USA in New York City, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the tech industry.  She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc. 
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