Another day, another design, another multi-hour stretch to focus focus focus on your design work. If you're like me, you vacillate between needing the total silence of an empty studio and the busy-ness of working in a cafe. But what if you need to be in the studio? Perhaps all the cafes are closed, or perhaps you have a few hours before your next meeting, and it doesn't make sense to pop out for a quick cafe work session.
While some studies suggest that background noise can negatively affect concentration, most freelancers I know have found that working in a cafe provides just enough external stimuli to force them to concentrate. While office banter involves people we know, cafe banter is usually done by strangers, and so we're less likely to want to listen in.
Enter Coffitivity, my new favorite web site for those moments when the office is either too quiet or too loud. The site simply recreates the ambient sounds of working in a cafe, that slight murmur of voices and random clinking of glasses that makes a cafe a cafe. They point to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research that suggests the link between creativity and this sweet spot:
We argue that noise distracts people but that the degree of distraction induced by various noise levels will affect creativity differently. A high level of noise may cause a great deal of distraction, causing individuals to process information to a lesser extent and therefore to exhibit lower creativity. A moderate (vs. low) level of noise, however, is expected to distract people without significantly affecting the extent of processing. Further, we reason that such a moderate distraction, which induces processing difficulty, enhances creativity by prompting abstract thinking. We predict, in sum, that a moderate level of noise will enhance creativity relative to both high and low levels of noise.
Coffitivity joins in the long line of white noise generators. Some, like these listed in Harvard Business Review, attempt to cancel out white noise. Others, like SimplyNoise, generate a simple spray-like sound of white noise straight through your browser. And don't forget the famous Buddha Machines, dedicated to simple ambient sounds in a single box.
But I don't like white noise—I like the sounds of the cafe. I'd venture to guess that this is part of what makes Coffitivity work for me. It's not just white noise, it's the particular white noise of the cafe that carries the associations of work and productivity. And so when I'm in a quiet studio, I can crank up the coffee shop sounds, and suddenly I'm back in my favorite cafe, busily working, ideating and concentrating.