The Science and Psychology of Office Design

27th November 2019

Contemporary office design


Bluespace Ltd

Discover how science and psychology have helped to shape our workplaces.

When it comes to improving the ways that we live and work, science and psychology play a vital role. Combining data and observation, researchers working in these fields have a long history of finding solutions that allow us to lead healthier and more enjoyable lives.

It was scientists who founded the study of medicine. It was psychologists who recognised the need for us all to pay attention to our happiness. It was a combination of the two that made our working environment comfortable.

Not convinced that office design owes a debt to psychology and science? Perhaps the following facts and figures will change your mind.

  • Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago discovered that staff who worked in offices with windows benefitted from 173% more natural light, resulting in a happier and more productive workforce.
  • A study at the University of Technology in Sydney found that employees experienced 37% less tension and anxiety when plants were introduced to their office.
  • A review of scientific literature found that 90% of studies into open-plan offices concluded that they contribute to higher levels of stress

Evidently, science can tell us a lot about how we can improve the environments we work in.

But what about the way that psychology influences office design?

The science of interior design colours

Perhaps the greatest contribution that psychology has made to office design comes in the way of Angela Wright’s work on the relationship between colour and human behaviour.

Striving to identify the way that our minds and bodies respond to certain colours, her work – summarised in both the Wright Theory and Colour Affects System – reveals a great deal about how certain hues and shades influence our mood and emotion.
Using the data, it has been possible to create environments that stimulate, relax, and inspire those who enter them.
Applying this knowledge to office design, it’s possible to create a space that fosters both motivation and productivity.

Here’s a quick summary of what the science says about the colours we use in commercial interior design:

1. Blue

Proven to have a calming influence on staff, blue is a colour which has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve mental focus. This makes navy tones a particularly good choice for anywhere that’s designed for people to get work done in. Keeping us all feeling much more centred, it’s a colour that encourages efficiency and lends itself nicely to modern design aesthetics.
Not all blues are created equal, though, and office designers should be wary of using too many pastel shades. Indeed, pastel blues risk making a workspace feel cold and uninviting rather than warm and inspiring.

2. Yellow

A source of vitality, yellow is a colour which has been shown to improve mood and energy when incorporated into living and working environments. A great way to enliven staff, using yellow throughout break out spaces will help everyone recharge their batteries. Sunlight also reflects off yellow extremely well, so office designers will get the most benefit from the colour in areas that enjoy plenty of natural light.

3. White

That most fundamental of all design colours, white is renowned for making rooms feel more neutral and spacious. Whilst it might be at more risk of being marked than any other colour, there are far too many advantages of using white to suggest we exclude it from the office designer’s colour palette.

No doubt its greatest asset is the way that it helps to open up rooms. This is especially useful when it comes to enhancing the sense of space on offer in a working environment.

Linked with greater productivity, feeling as though we’ve got ample room to work in makes it easier for us to focus and get on with things.

A great choice of colour for a suspended ceiling, white complements and completes themes made up of all tones.

4. Green

Credited with reducing anxiety and being easy on the eye, green is a colour which has been proven to restore our sense of balance. It’s also been linked with feelings of prosperity, so it has the added advantage of motivating people whenever it appears in a working environment. Another attractive choice for a breakout space, green has connotations of nature and the great outdoors that help make us feel refreshed.

5. Purple

Long associated with royalty, purple is also strongly connected with our creative impulses. Stimulating this part of our brain, purple is a great choice for areas that are designed for working, collaborating or meeting.

6. Orange

Celebrated for its energising qualities, orange has been shown to cultivate a positive outlook and engender feelings of enthusiasm. This vibrancy makes it a great choice for any area that’s designed to increase employee participation.
A word of warning, though. The colour has also been connected to increasing appetite, so it might be best to limit the use of oranges to places that staff are permitted to snack.

7. Red

Connected with just about every emotion from rage through to romance, red should be approached sensitively when being used in office design. Proven to raise blood pressure and increase irritability, using red as a dominant colour scheme is unlikely to create a working environment as conducive as those made up of more neutral and subtle tones.

By assembling your colour palette in line with these findings you can be confident that your office design will inspire a healthy and productive working environment.

The Psychology of Break Out Areas

Break out space design norfolk

A common feature of commercial interior design, the break out area is an area which has its origins firmly rooted in psychology.

Indeed, a study carried out at the University of Oxford revealed that when we have the time to consider our decisions, we often make better ones. This has to do with the way that our neural networks take time to gather, understand, and respond to information. Made to perform this process too quickly, we tend to make impulsive decisions rather than ones which have been enriched by analytical thought.

Office designers can help to facilitate better ‘thinking time’ by providing a dedicated space for employees to withdraw to when faced with big decisions. Whether it’s a question of recruitment or any other important business matter, escaping to a breakout space will provide them with the necessary time and surroundings to reach the best decision.

Altogether, the science and psychology behind office design make it easier to make the decisions that matter. From the colour of the walls to the way things are laid out, you can expect better results when turning to research.

Holdon Group Volvo Commercial Design Norfolk

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