Sitting on a beach, feeling the coarseness of the sand on your fingertips, breathing in the smells of the salt in the air while watching the waves approach and then fade away. Would the experience be the same if you couldn’t touch the texture of the sand, or smell the salt in the air?
The dominance of the visual realm in today’s world contradicts our experience of the world as formulated by a combination of the five senses. For whatever reason, most design is produced under consideration of only one – sight. Yet, the way a space feels; the sounds and smells of a place all have an equal weight into how something looks.
Did you realize that automobile brands have separate door development teams, with design engineers dedicated to developing signature door closing sounds? Before you can take a test drive and listen to the rev of the engine, subconsciously you have already perceived the value of the car from the sound of the car door.
And while retail and hospitality industries have long incorporated multisensory elements into their environments, corporate workplace design is only now starting to embrace the possibilities, focusing on how people will react to a space both physically and emotionally.
This is considered the primary sensibility, but it is actually made up of different facets that go beyond just the aesthetic quality. Daylight and views help us maintain steady circadian rhythms, while exposure to sunlight improves vitamin D synthesis.
Natural materials increase occupant satisfaction and comfort, linking in with the principles of biophilia. Color psychology also plays a big role in producing higher focus, task accuracy or promoting mental clarity and creative thinking. Ironically, white is found to be the most unproductive color for a working environment.
It is important to consider the function of the space, and then choose a color that corresponds with that.
Sound is the second most talked about sensory experience in the workplace, mostly in the form of complaints. Open office layouts tend to exacerbate these frustrations.
According to a recent study, hearing someone talking while you are reading or writing, leads to a dip in productivity by up to 66%. Quiet zones lend themselves to focused workspaces, while playing background music in common spaces or giving staff the ability to have personal control in certain spaces can actually set a workplace apart.
With more offices moving towards open office designs, we’ve seen an increase in acoustic pods or quiet rooms so that staff have quiet and focused environments to work from. It is also important to work with your acoustic consultant to understand how sound will travel through a room, as it may be that you are overdesigning the acoustic elements.
Scent is most strongly tied to memory – think about how the smell of pine needles will remind you of Christmas, or the smell of apple pie brings up memories of your grandmother’s kitchen.
It is because of this association that retail and hospitality environments have long used signature scents to create memorable experiences for their customers. In a similar way, scents in an office can create strong and positive associations between a space and its occupants, or even result in improvements in productivity levels. As an example, in a study done on Japanese data entry workers, citrus scents were found to increase alertness with performance increasing by 54%.
Food and drink play an important role in creating bonds between people. Healthy options ensure that the wellbeing of staff has been considered. Providing amenities and activities that revolve around meals encourages people to share personal experiences and connect across cultures.
In order to build communal environments within an office, consider square tables that can be put together for a long dining table but still give you the flexibility to move them around.
This accounts for the textures in a space, but also air quality and ergonomics. Your sense of touch is even at play when you experience the humidity level in a space, or react to the airflow. When considering textures, try avoiding using only hard surfaces in an environment that are not inviting to touch.
In an age where we are consumed by screen-based interactions, there are some exciting developments on the horizon that put our most precious resources as humans in the foreground.
As an example, startup eScent is developing a wearable device that emits scents such as perfumes or pheromones based on sensing a customer’s emotional state or biofeedback, detecting and improving on your mood.
Other technologies aim to improve senses and create a more immersive environment. For instance, haptic technology products like HaptX can deliver realistic touch in virtual reality, while a Tokyo based startup called Vasqo will incorporate the sense of smell using the world’s smallest scent emitter into their VR headsets.
Then there are other exciting technologies being developed that utilize sensory technologies to enhance experiences for people with sensory impairments. Ford unveiled its new concept called “Feel The View” last year that allows the blind to touch a window and rebuild in their mind the landscape in front of them.
Since a lot of these factors are actually measurable, i.e. ideal lux levels for lighting, or decibels to indicate appropriate sound levels for a task at hand etc., we are going to start to see more and more personalization with employees having the ability to program their ideal work environments. This will allow employees to create immersive environments resulting in increased employee satisfaction and wellbeing.
We are currently working on a zen room in an office where staff can retreat to a room with calming colors, programmable color temperature and music so that each individual can configure the room to their own liking.
Technology like this is quite prevalent within the residential market, so is actually quite easy to implement in a corporate environment.