Productive Desktops: Red, Blue or Whimsical Dolphins?

Productive Desktops: Red, Blue or Whimsical Dolphins?

So cometh the confession hour…

Who has a desktop that looks like this?

Cluttered Desktop

Given my rich celebrated history in front end web design (*snortle*), I am all too familiar with the sight. It screams to me… Friday afternoon.

You can forget the blue screen of death, it’s this rainbow of crackling static that poses a much greater risk to our hairlines.

While I do agree that productivity can be improved by culling the desktop clutter, you will also find a great deal of research which goes much further, suggesting that even our choice of wallpaper can affect working habits.

Is there such a thing as a productive desktop? Have I been shooting myself in the balls all this time with those whimsical dolphins, or the lovely sweeping Apple landscapes on my iMac? According to this University of British Columbia study, there is.

The study looks at how colour can affect our brain performance, using red and blue desktops to measure any cognitive boosts. It was established that test subjects with a red desktop performed better in tasks that required attention to detail and memory retrieval. However, the blue desktop was noticeably more effective for tasks that required brainstorming and creative thinking.

Juliet Zhu, author of the study, sums it up best: “Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers’ red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution. The avoidance motivation, or heightened state, that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer.

Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquillity. The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people’s favourite colour.

In the light of this information, maybe I should change my desktop to vivid red whenever I’m feeling brave enough to bust open the accounting software? It would probably reduce the arse-numbing pain I associate with monthly reconciliation. Perhaps, if I’m short on inspiration for my affiliate campaigns, a swish of the ocean on my wallpaper would help.

Further studies have shown that solid colour desktops tend to work better than background images, which can steal attention away from the task at hand. Even if you don’t notice the distractions, your brain is latching on to every last glimpse of the image. So as tempting as it can be to place an affectionate image of your newborn son on the desktop, or your beloved pets, it’s probably not a smart idea.

It’s the same principle as listening to music on the job. You may think it boosts your comfort, helps you focus, and makes working a more pleasurable experience – I’m sure it does, on the pleasure scale – but the jarring influence of subconsciously following the lyrics (or furiously out loud, if you’re my girlfriend) shouldn’t be underestimated. And that’s why I am a huge white noise junkie, with some binaural beats thrown in for good measure.

Some people will go to crazy lengths to give themselves the best possible chance of staying productive. If you’re super cautious about your work, or perhaps enjoy indulging in the odd bit of freelance proofreading, you could go one step further.

Don’t just use a red desktop…

Paint the walls red. Buy red curtains. Force any visitors to enter your office lair in stark red overalls. Hell, you could become the devil’s child if you’re committed to the cause.

Likewise, if you’re missing the inspiration gene, you should probably just decorate your workspace in glorious royal blue Chelsea colours. Not only will you be boosting your creative thinking, but you’ll be supporting a real team in the process.

I’m shortly going to be running a case study on my affiliate marketing blog showing the effects of red and blue on consumer decisions. It should reveal some tasty tips for marketers, so for all my good fellow scumbags out there, keep an eye out!

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