Bring human-centred design to your workplace

When we think of health and wellbeing it is often exercise and diet that comes to mind, but the spaces you live and work in everyday also impact your health. We spend most of our days inside relatively unnatural spaces, and like the processed food we eat, they can be filled with unhealthy toxins. Also, from an evolutionary perspective, there are types of spaces in which we will operate better physically and mentally.

The old office ignores human needs

I have walked through rabbit warren cubicle offices, those with minimal daylight, or where air intake vents are near smoking areas, broken shades on dirty windows or musty smells in the corridors. I recall seeing a gentleman wearing a cap because the fluorescent lighting in his windowless room gave him a headache. More often than not, these are older buildings, and the majority of our buildings are over 20 years old. If we don’t address these issues there are major health implications for individuals and costs for companies, into the billions.

In the past few decades, buildings have neglected fundamental functional needs of occupants. An aesthetically beautiful building may be pleasing on the eye, but is it working for the occupants is today’s question, and it’s not a passing fad.

Understanding these human factors is imperative to optimise our future wellbeing and helps create a healthy organisational culture. According to psychologist Ron Friedman the cubicle office ignores human needs… Depriving people of sunlight, restricting their views, and seating them with their backs exposed is not a recipe for success—it’s a recipe for chronic anxiety.” Why? Because from an evolutionary perspective certain types of space provide us with a feeling of safety (or anxiety), we like to see what is going on around us to minimise threat, we like being close to nature, and we operate better with sunlight.

Our brains respond to design

The exciting integration of public health, psychology, built environment and medicine is growing. We are learning more about how neuroscience and architecture work together. The brain responds to different stimuli, and we are seeing this used for design such as way-finding in aged care facilities, optimal ceiling heights in buildings and stress responses to certain design features. Greenery exposure is linked to a 15% productivity improvement for staff.

Considering the human factors in building design and operation will pay off. 

Create a healthy space

I think about how I feel when I walk into my yoga studio, a raw timber floored room flooded with sunlight, breeze across my skin from open doors, incense aromas taking me back to Thailand. The tension literally melts out my shoulders. I have a very different response walking into an office, a train station, a restaurant, a library, etc.

Think about spaces that relax you, and why. What’s your yoga space?  We focus on downloading various apps for our productivity, ones to help us focus, minimise email, manage projects, communicate with teams, but look at the space you are in every day. Is it de-cluttered? Notice triggers for stress and anxiety.  Are there pleasant aromas that lift your mood? Can you see some nature? Do you feel safe and calm?

Change your space, you can literally change your life!

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Dr Sam Hall

Dr Sam Hall

Sam is the founder of Spaces Alive. She's an advocate for re-imaging our cities and buildings to prepare for the future of work and study.