Making sense(s) of the workplace: Sight

Which sense do you value the most? For most of us, sight is the answer.

According to a survey conducted in 2019, sight is the most valued sense. On average, participants would prefer 4.6 years of life in complete health over 10 years of life with complete sight loss.

Although other senses are equally important, what we see visually can have a significant impact on our mood, wellbeing, and productivity.

The visual world is vast, so there are many things to consider when it comes to workplace design. Knowing where to begin is crucial. Let’s examine the factors that influence and improve the visual elements of an office environment.

Landscaping is for offices, not just gardens

Office design has evolved significantly over the years. When you think of a traditional office, you might imagine a large, dull space filled with endless rows of desks, with very little visual interest. When you walk into such a big space, your eyes tend to scan everything on one level, which can be overwhelming for your visual perception.

However, there are better ways to design workspaces. For instance, instead of laying out offices in a single, straight line, like a train carriage, you can create visual interest and accentuate features by using thoughtful landscaping techniques.

By designing the workspace with people’s needs and functionality in mind, you can create an environment that inspires creativity, excitement, safety, security, or calm, depending on the purpose of the space.

In workspace landscaping, designers create a floor plate that allows them to experiment with how people read and interact with the space. By doing so, they can create an environment that is both visually stimulating and conducive to productivity.

Historic design philosophy

The 18th-century English landscape architect, Capability Brown, is known for his naturalistic approach to designing gardens and landscapes. His design principles are still relevant today.‍

Applying Brown’s design principles to workplace design is crucial, but visual appeal must work together with other senses.

A visual journey

How do you get drawn into a space? How do you interact with your surroundings? How can you optimise your workplace? These are some of the questions we ask to sketch out your workplace journey, which is a crucial component of office design. Every organisation has a unique journey, influenced by how people work, what attracts or repels them, and other factors.

Building from your base

If your office space has amazing views, it can serve as a natural connection point for your employees, promoting teamwork and collaboration. However, if your building lacks such features, don’t worry! There are ways to design areas that bring employees together using lighting, furnishings, colour, and artwork.

To get started, we’ll create a ‘block plan’ to determine how your social, meeting or collaborative space will work, among other functions. A block plan is where we understand the building, staff requirements, and floor plate and stitch them together to come up with a basic concept.

‍Three visual factors to consider


Have you ever stepped out into the sunshine and felt instantly happier? Or turned down a light and felt more relaxed? This is the basic concept that underlies the use of lighting in the workplace. Most of the time, we want to use lighting that supports and resets our circadian rhythm. You can optimise natural light by placing seating near windows, or you can use clever lighting installations to imitate natural light. Even if lighting isn’t abundant in your space, there are still many things you can do to make the most of it.


Sometimes, we may overlook the impact that shapes have on our mood, behaviour, and experience as we move through different spaces.


The symbolism of colours comes from our history, culture, and shared understanding. Specific colours are connected to emotions and ideas. Below is a table of common symbolic interpretations for each colour:

Colour psychology

There are three attributes of colour that you need to keep in mind:

  1. Hue – the origin of the colour
  2. Colour saturation – the depth or intensity of a colour
  3. Brightness – the lightness/brightness of a colour

Colours that are relatively white and less saturated tend to be more relaxing. On the other hand, more saturated colours tend to be more energising.

Becoming conscious of differences

It is common for us to associate red with danger, often due to the assumption that it represents bleeding, injury, and death. However, in Chinese culture, red is regarded as a symbol of life-generating energy and is associated with prosperity and celebration.

Similarly, the colour white has a different meaning depending on the culture. In the Western world, it is linked to cleanliness and purity, while in many Asian cultures, it is the colour of mourning.

It is important to be aware of these cultural differences, particularly when creating an office design that caters to a multicultural workforce or when dealing with international clients. Understanding these interpretations can be crucial to avoid misunderstandings and ensure effective communication.

The power of colour

Colour can be a powerful tool for enhancing the visual appeal of your workplace. By using colour to highlight a walkway, you can create a clear path for your employees and make navigation easier. Another way to use colour is by incorporating diagonal cuts across a floor plate to visually segment different areas and create distinct zones.

The eye of the beholder

Not everyone experiences visual journeys in the same way; a crowded scene may make some feel uncomfortable while others may find it refreshing.

‍Catering to diverse needs

Every individual is unique and has their own set of needs. So, the design of a workplace should cater to these diverse needs. Visual pockets, which are places where employees can retreat to, will create an environment where everyone feels comfortable.

When designing a workplace, it’s important to remember that you’re not designing for just one person, but for many. This means that your design needs to have multiple layers to accommodate the needs of different individuals.

Neurodiversity-friendly design

Approximately 15-20% of the population is considered neurodiverse, prompting progressive employers to prioritise adaptable workspaces over designs meant for the masses.

This can look like:

  • Providing different coloured zones for various sensory preferences
  • Smaller spaces to support introversion
  • Quieter areas to reduce social anxiety
  • Adjustable lighting controls

According to the Harvard Business Review, studies have shown that teams with neurodiverse members are 30% more productive and make fewer errors than those without.

Take a look around

Looking at a bland, grey wall in your workplace can lead to boredom, lack of motivation, and decreased productivity. However, if you imagine a visually stimulating environment filled with colour, light, art, nature, and space, you will feel instantly invigorated. Employers who prioritise improving the visual quality of their workplace will attract and retain top talent within their organisations.

Here are nine important visual considerations for designing a human-cantered office landscape:

  1. Break down your office landscape into smaller zones that cater to diverse needs
  2. Use the psychology of colour to encourage different feelings, emotions, and qualities
  3. Ensure good lighting to improve the productivity and wellbeing of employees
  4. Incorporate shapes that enhance collaboration and productivity
  5. Create central viewpoints, or “vistas,” to inspire and motivate employees
  6. Integrate the local context into the visual landscape
  7. Celebrate architectural elements to add character to the workspace
  8. Design office pathways in a way that enhances fluidity and movement
  9. Keep in mind diverse human needs while designing the office landscape

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