Designing A Workplace For The Five Senses


Museums are beautiful places.  I personally enjoy aimlessly walking around a museum and taking in the history that lies within it's walls.  What I cannot understand, is why anyone would design their space to feel like one?   Museums specifically put the focus on the objects they are displaying, and on nothing else. They are not spaces meant to house humans (not living ones at least).  Yet, many people insist on designing workplaces as museums.  When the majority of us spend more time in our workplaces than at home, we can ill afford to be in a place that is cold and inhuman.  What can we do to make our spaces feel more human?

One place to start is with Ilse Crawford’s concept of designing for the 5 senses—designing for the human experience.  It is just as relevant to Workplace as it is to the residential or hospitality fields.  As she states in her book A Frame For Life,At best, an office can act as host to the people that work there—creating the best emotional and physical conditions for them to do their best and an atmosphere of trust that they will do this—and as a space that facilitates co creation among staff and clients.”

Now, how can we start creating a human centered Workplace Experience by designing with the 5 senses in mind?


Are you designing your Workplace with one type of fluorescent or LED light across the entire space, or are you actually considering the type of work your teams will do in each space?  Different types of work require different lighting.  Programming in the right kind of light can make a big difference in productivity and how a space feels.


Have you considered what kind of sounds you do (or don’t) want people to hear in each specific area?  Have you ever accidentally placed desks for quiet work right next to a kitchen with a loud blender?  Designing with intention by defining what the sound levels are for each space in your Workplace will cut down on complaints and foster happiness within your team.


What’s the first thing a guest would smell when they walk into your office?  Is it the smell of freshly ground coffee?  Or is it the smell of the trash cans that weren’t emptied the night before?   Smell is typically the last thing Workplace team considers when designing a space, but it can have a major impact (good or bad).   Even just the absence of smell is not a bad thing necessarily, as smells can be polarizing.  Considering what smells are produced by your space, and where they flow to, is important either way.


Touch is such an incredible sense and it can be used for so many things in Workplace design!  Every day we touch hundreds of objects.  Each object we interact with can inform us, guide us, or even remind us of something.  The textures of objects in a room can even change the way we experience that space.  The textures of furniture  can make the room feel more warm and put us at ease. Would’nt you feel more comfortable having a difficult meeting in a room with a soft - inviting chair,  rather than a room with a hard plastic chair?  Little human-centered details can make all the difference.


Taste is one of the senses that can immediately spark joy.  When we taste something delicious, it can change our whole mood.  Employee food programs are a great way to help brighten people’s day, while improving their health as well.  Psychologically, people will cultivate a positive association with the space in which they had that delicious food memory. 

Human Centered Experiences

These are a few examples of how to apply thinking about the 5 senses to your Workplace, creating a human-centered design.  In reality, it takes time and effort to consider these things.  Considering them, however, is something your company should begin doing immediately.  When you start to design your spaces with the human experience at the center, then you will be creating great Workplace Experiences.