How designing for the senses can boost productivity

The effects that light, sound, texture and scent have on us as humans are undeniable, and the latest thinking suggests they could help give us the edge at work too. Imagine specially created atmospheres and environments to help shape our mindsets. From light, open creative rooms to narrow, focused concentration spaces.

The future looks and smells exciting.

1. Color code your ambitions

Does it matter if your office is grey? Is it important that your boardroom is orange? Apparently so. Global design firm HOK are experts in the power of the paintbrush to influence the way we all think, and consequently perform when exposed to different colors in our environment.

Brighter colors (such as reds, blues and greens) are conducive to higher focus and task accuracy, and blue promotes calm, mental clarity, control and creative thinking. When you understand this, it isn’t too difficult to see which areas of your workplace may be mis-hued. In research, priming people with the color blue produced an increase in lateral thinking, and the color red yielded greater proofreading accuracy. Furthermore, yellow and orange naturally stimulated alertness, clear decision making and lively discussion.

All of which is useful knowledge to build into workplace design, and findings that the workplace of the future will doubtless make use of.

2. Light up the bottom line

The right lighting has a bright future in the workplace of the future, whether it’s making better use of natural light, or turning on to the benefits of intelligent lighting. Daylight exposure’s connection to healthier sleep patterns, activity and quality of life have long been understood, not to mention its ability to reduce heating and cooling costs. However, intelligent lighting is the one to watch, since its ability to improve concentration and performance in schools has been proven in research by Philips.

Philips Schoolvision is a lighting system specifically created with different settings to help shape positive classroom behavior. Settings include ‘Focus’ – high intensity light with a cool color tone to support concentration, and ‘Calm’ – standard intensity level with a warm color tone. The ability of lighting types to affect performance was shown to be nothing short of amazing: a 35% increase in reading speed, 45% decrease in error frequency and 76% decrease in hyperactive behavior.

With results like that, intelligent lighting is sure to light up the future of workplace performance.

3. Sound business sense

Overhearing colleagues talking whilst trying to read or write can reduce your performance by up to 66%, according to workplace research conducted by sound consultant Julian Treasure. Based on figures like this, Treasure advocates considering the way workplaces conduct and carry sound as a major factor in their design.

The negative effects of sound in the workplace are well documented, yet less well understood is whether sound can have positive influences. Juliet Zhu, Professor of Marketing and Co-Director for the Branding Center in Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, has been listening out for the answers – and they are not what you may expect. Surprisingly, her research reveals low levels of sound affect productivity almost as much as high ones, with moderate levels of ambient noise having the ability to increase performance. The challenge is finding the sweet spot for optimum concentration and creative flow. Excitingly, using sound deadening and absorbing furniture and tiles, such as those by textile designers Kvadrat, offer ways to do just that. ‘Tuning’ the workplace of the future sounds like a very good idea.

4. Smell profit

The sense of smell has a direct connection to the emotional and memory center of the brain which bypasses conscious thought, meaning the right scent can directly affect how we feel and behave. Harnessing the knowledge of how different scents affect us is already proving a powerful tool in the hospitality and marketing businesses. “Brands who use the right scent in the right way have seen results as high as double digit growth in brand preference”, says Donna Sturgess, president of marketing firm Buyology. The possibilities for workplace use are fast becoming evident too, with cinnamon, mint, lemon, orange and rosemary all linked to increased productivity. Tailoring scents to work in tandem with other environmental factors can help amplify a particular effect too.

The future of successful pitches and presentations could lie in the jasmine meeting room.