Friday, 16 October 2020 11:25

Designing for Wellbeing

    The global impact of COVID-19 and resulting lockdowns have shone a fresh spotlight on considerations around our physical and mental wellbeing. There is a growing body of research that shows how the design of our environments can impact our overall quality of life. Given we spend nearly 90% of our lives inside buildings, it’s important to explore the emotional benefits we can foster with the design of our everyday spaces, writes Donna Dent, Concept Designer at Interface.

    One of those spaces where we spend the vast amount of our time is work, so it’s important to consider how the design of our workplaces impact the way we feel. Creating spaces which support personal needs at all levels of the business and facilitate a supportive and flexible environment is crucial. In order to do this, we need a greater understanding of the relationship between our physical environments and emotions, particularly as it relates to design.

    Designing for emotional wellbeing

    Having a healthy state of emotional wellbeing has been linked to an overall increased quality of life, improved happiness and even improved learning performance. When designing a workspace, there are many factors to consider – such as personal, organisational and cultural preferences. Reducing the impact on climate is an increasing concern for many people, so creating sustainable workplaces is more important than ever before.

    Building frameworks, such as BREEAM and LEED, enable us to consider sustainability and wellbeing together, rather than in isolation. These initiatives help to create spaces which are not only beautifully designed and functional but also put user experience and the environment central to the design and specification process. For example, a workplace’s sustainability credentials can be simply elevated by incorporating sustainable materials which contain high amounts of recycled content which have less of an impact on the environment; this could apply to furnishings, flooring or accessories. User wellbeing is elevated by assessing elements such as high-quality air ventilation and daylight exposure.

    Another way to elevate wellbeing is through biophilic design, through which we can take a holistic approach and connect building occupants more closely to nature. Implementing biophilic design principles has been shown to support emotional wellbeing through engaging our senses, reducing cortisol levels – a marker of our body’s stress response, improving learning engagement and increasing social connectivity.

    As well as supporting the emotional wellbeing of individuals, biophilic design has also been shown to positively impact a company’s business goals through increasing the focus and productivity of employees.

    We all work differently

    It’s a simple truth that we all work in different ways, with each individual requiring varying levels of focus, collaboration, learning and socialisation. Incorporating an ecosystem of settings throughout a space provides people choice and control, supporting increased happiness. For example, some members of the team may find open-plan spaces overwhelming, stressful and noisy. Creating dedicated quiet spaces means these employees have areas to concentrate or make calls.

    As more people are starting to go back into the office, it is important they are integrated back safely and feel reassured about re-entering the workplace. Integrating diverse space types, to provide choice and control of the space while promoting visual captivation is one of the key principles of biophilic design and is important in elevating wellbeing. With the implementation of social distancing measures, establishing a range of open and closed areas that allow for clear sightlines throughout the space, which provide this sense of safety, is more important than ever. Using modular flooring is a great way of creating subtle pathways within a space to safely direct users to where they need to go. Creating smaller enclosed spaces, such as booth seating and independent quiet rooms with semi-transparent doors, can also help create areas of refuge that provide security and comfort.

    Fostering an engaging experience

    Introducing natural and tactile materials, such as wood and natural fibres, into the design of a space also supports workplace mental wellbeing. This can be as simple as integrating flooring which mimics patterns of materials found in nature, such as wood or stone, or leaving certain areas of brickwork exposed. The use of these materials subtly encourages employees to engage with their surroundings, albeit in a safe way, which brings focus and contributes to a practice of mindfulness.

    It’s also important to incorporate strategies that provide people with access to natural light throughout the day, especially as the days get shorter. Daylight supports emotional wellbeing by aligning our circadian rhythms – our body’s internal clock. Maximising daylight in a space can be as simple as arranging desks closer to existing windows or removing unnecessary blinds.

    Incorporating non-rhythmic moving elements, such as water features, mobiles and sculptural focal points that receive direct daylight, can prompt an awareness of the passage of time as the shadows move throughout the day, supporting a sense of place.

    Undoubtedly, the spaces we spend most of our time in have a significant impact on us. The availability of research-driven insights helps us design spaces which positively impact occupants and make them thrive. With many of us now taking a flexible approach to work, mixing days in the office with working from home, the role of the office is starting to shift, and it’s now more important than ever that the workplace promotes a sense of community and acts as a collaborative hub for employees. In a world which has placed a renewed importance on wellbeing and bringing people together safely at a time when they feel isolated, it’s vital that we strike the right balance with future designs.

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