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Interior design

The Art of Human-Centric Design in the Workplace

June 6, 2023

It’s undeniable that individual well-being impacts workplace productivity. Tapping into space planning and neuroscience, three leading experts weigh in on what it means to design workspaces that are truly human-centric.

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Human-centric design has increasingly been brought up in design thinking literature over the past two decades. It’s also been a longstanding office design trend. After all, there has been no better time to make actionable adjustments to floor plans and office dynamics than the post-pandemic present.

The open-plan workplace continues to receive its fair share of criticism for its lack of privacy and excessive noise, and the long break from the office has provided us with ample distance to re-evaluate modern office design and our existing configurations with fresh eyes.

The long and short of human-centric design is that humans are at the absolute centre (as the term very succinctly indicates). That definition applies across all disciplines, whether software engineering, product design, or other. 

How can we genuinely factor employee needs and wants into the workspace design process? Discover three experts’ perspectives on approaches to human-centric interior design in the workplace, as well as examples of companies that place their employees at the centre of their office design. 

Neuroscience and Human-Centric Design

Though workspace design isn’t exactly categorised as a science, it can certainly factor in science-based considerations, namely: the psychological experiences.

According to Sophie Schuller, Head of Living Lab EMEA at the global real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, we can't design spaces that are human-centric without first understanding what it means to be human on a very biological level. 

Schuller, who researches the way in which office design can impact human neurophysiology, behaviour, and health, argues that even though might not be able to have all the answers now, as neuroscience progresses and physiological and neurological measures become more evident, “so does our ability to understand the way in which space can mediate neurophysiology”.

The future might bring thrilling insights. “Once we can understand the way in which we interact with our environment through sensory stimulation and the way that impacts our bodily processes, can we then start to design and cultivate spaces to enhance the positive aspects of that experience,” she adds. 


And of course, the environmental quality of the workplace – which includes parameters like acoustic comfort, thermal comfort, and lighting – cannot be overlooked when discussing cognitive and psychological wellbeing. Biophilia, access to natural lighting, and colour psychology are other highly well-evidenced considerations.

The Individual in Human-Centric Design

No two employees are ever the same, and consequently, the way they interact with a space will be different.

“If we look at a personal or individualized perspective, it's about perception, and we don't perceive the world in the same way,” says Anne Sarto, partner at of the space planning, client consultancy, and user involvement consultancy firm mtre at C.F. Møller Architects. Sarto’s expertise in creating sensory-stimulating architectural solutions has helped her clients achieve high-performing and flexible office spaces.


One possible solution is making available multiple spatial options, resulting in autonomy in choice. “To be able to design spaces that allow people to have different moods or different activities and that it almost kind of responds to how somebody is feeling on a particular day or an activity that they have on a particular day,” adds Justin Treacy, Principal of Corporate Interiors at Perkins & Will. Treacy leads Perkins and Will's new studio in Dublin, Ireland, and is behind some of the city’s largest and most innovative workplace projects. “You're not designing for 100 people, you're designing for 100 individuals,” he adds.

Treacy isn’t the only one that holds that view. The designer Sanna Laukanaho took such a “mood-based" approach in designing the Paytrail offices in Tampere, Finland – opting to provide a variety of working moods by using colour zoning so that employees are empowered to find the space that works for them on that given day, whether for focus, collaboration, or rest.

Such a zoning philosophy is also the overarching argument for activity-based design, the increasingly popular approach to workplace design with the objective of countering the shortcomings of open-plan offices. At the L'Oréal Paris headquarters in France, the architecture and interior design studio Maison Sarah Lavoine designed the space in a way to allow all employees to arrange their working day according to their needs, and over 500 team members now work out of unassigned workstations.