Dec 03, 2019

Design for the Senses: Part 2

The human touch

The workplace is no longer merely about maximizing square footage. It’s about the people inside. Here’s how some of the world’s best companies and innovators are using the five senses to turn environments into multi sensory experiences.

Human experience is the new ROI. More than ever, employees want to feel engaged and happy where they work. And for years it seems like companies have unknowingly begrudged them the opportunity by cramming rows of soulless cubicles, drab carpeting, and fluorescent lighting into buildings that separate people from the hard-wired connection to nature they crave. The result is a form of sensory deprivation and the lack of creativity, happiness, and motivation that comes with it.

Fortunately, employees and customers have come to expect more. And some of the world’s most creative thinkers and companies have started to bring the five senses into the workplace. By mindfully designing variety and choice through sensory elements that subconsciously enhance the way people experience space, they’re completely improving the way people experience the day.

Here are just a few.

The Fat Duck: cooking up a journey.

Heston Blumenthal – the celebrated chef and proprietor of The Fat Duck doesn’t just make food. He creates an experience that engages all of the senses for his diners. Menus are aptly called itineraries. Throughout the dining experience, Blumenthal looks for nontraditional pairings: what audio pairs with jellyfish and seaweed. How the table material subconsciously elevates the food flavors. How specific smells and sounds work together to enhance the diner’s overall experience. When guests step into a Fat Duck restaurant, they’re getting much more than a meal. They’re embarking on a journey.

LinkedIn: putting a multisensory experience to work.

LinkedIn undertook a unique research project with Italian Steelcase distributor Il Prima that led to the design of new offices in Milan, Munich, Paris, and Madrid. The backbone of the work, according to architect Elisabetta Pero was “all about turning on the senses at work, not turning them off.” LinkedIn discovered that workspaces designed to stimulate the senses can have a positive or negative affect on a person depending on what kind of work they need to get done.

Apple: bringing the outside, in.

Apple had a big vision when Steve Jobs and his team decided to create a second major campus in the round. In the process, they broke every rule in the book. For example, the windows covering the outer portion of the mile round building are made from the longest sheets of glass available in the world. These glass curtain walls aren’t only letting in more natural light, they’re ingeniously designed to allow natural air from the outside directly into the building, so workers can breathe in and smell the outdoors. People work in the park, run in the park, and socialize in the park. The result is a campus that merges the indoors and outdoors into one unifying experience. Steve Jobs summed up the design approach to Apple’s new headquarters when he said, “I think the overall feeling of the place is going to be a zillion times better.”

Putting sense into practice.

At One Workplace, we’ve been testing multisensory design on ourselves. Over the last couple of years, we redesigned our headquarters around the people inside using a human-centered approach that tapped both research and design to account for how, where, when, and why our employees get their work done. We were mindful of the views we created and the visuals we displayed, the colors, textures, sounds and scents we chose to stimulate reactions in different functional areas, and increased access to natural light and nature itself throughout our space.

By engaging the five senses, designers are also engaging workers cognitively and emotionally throughout the day. Design for the senses puts people at front and center of the environment that surrounds them – exactly where they should be. Discovering and designing around what human beings actually want and need, more often yields environments that go well beyond addressing the task at hand, to improving the way our human, hard wired selves experience the world.

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