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Physical design principles

 

Disciplines > Workplace design > Physical design principles

Light | Color | Lines | Angles | Surfaces | Shape | Height | Distance | Sound | See also

 

Here are physical design principles that you should consider when designing workplaces.

Light

  • Natural light is desirable, though there is often too little to go around.

    • Pre-empt arguments by assigning window area for shared use, such as corridors and relaxation.

  • Transparency allows the natural light to spread as far as possible.

  • Translucence allows light transmission and increases privacy.

    • Limited view transparency balances visibility with privacy. For example

  • Even light creates monotony. Light can be used to mark and identify. Pools of light are attractive.

  • Ceiling, pillar or wall-mounted spotlights can be used to highlight and create pools of light.

Color

  • Bright colors, especially at the red end of the spectrum, grab attention. For large expanses they are overpowering. In limited use, such as for highlighting, they break up tedium and create interest.

  • Contrast attracts attention and makes things stand out. Use to highlight differences.

  • Colors travel in matched sets. Coordinate colors that are used.

    • Utilize company standard colors, but do not be a slave to them except for specific brand effect.

  • There is an entire psychology of color. Thus:

    • Light colors reflect light and give an open, airy sense.

    • Dark colors absorb light, close space and can make a place seem cozy.

    • Natural colors and textures are relaxing. Earth colors (brown and orange) add warmth.

    • Red signals danger, love and hate (in China it means luck). It raises emotions and creates energy.

    • Yellow can be sunny and warm but can also be dazzling.

    • Green symbolizes life and nature and can be invigorating.

    • Blue, depending on hue, can be cool (ice blue) or calm (sky or water blue).

Lines

  • Lines divide, separating two things.

  • Lines lead the eye, especially when they converge (as in perspective).

    • Long lines are distracting and defocusing, pulling attention into the distance.

  • Curves are soft but require more attention to follow them, especially if they are very wavy.

    • They are also more challenging to construct and can cause usability issues.

  • Too many lines cause confusion, especially when they cross one another.

Angles

  • Right-angles are predictable and ease construction and make layout easy and efficient.

    • Too many can also be tiring. Break up the sea of right-angles with curves, plants, etc.

  • Obtuse angles fit within the field of vision and are thus more restful than acute angles. They can als be a practical shape.

    • Three 120’ tables fit well together for such as touchdown space.

Surfaces

  • Smooth surfaces, especially light ones, reflect light that can dazzle. Matt surfaces prevent this.

  • Textures add interest and tactile sensation.

  • Flat surfaces are convenient and easy, but can be boring and tiring.

    • Curves and breaks in flat surfaces can be added to break up flatness, especially where this does not cause inconvenience.

Shape

  • A shape is defined by its boundary, which may be a line or color change.

    • If the boundary is not complete, the shape is attached to another shape and is hence ‘virtual’.

  • Simple shapes are easy on the eye.

  • Make large shapes simple, then break up the large shapes with small complex shapes (eg. plants).

Height

  • Height can make something stand out from a distance, such as a common area. It can thus be used for wayfinding.

  • Height, such as a column, near a person can be overpowering.

Distance

  • People are pretty lazy about distance. They communicate and socialize with others who are closest to them. This effect drops off sharply with distance and required effort.

    • People on adjacent desks who can see one another will converse easily on most topics.

    • More effort is needed to get up to go and see someone else even on the same floor.

    • Effort increase with going to a different building or floor, different town, different country.

  • Effective distance is a combination of physical distance, visual distance and social distance.

    • The harder it is for people communicate the less they will do so.

    • Physical distance is affected by layout designs.

    • Visual distance is affected by barriers (and transparency).

    • Social distance is affected by the opportunities people have to meet on an informal basis.

Sound

  • Too little sound in the workplace can make people feel alone and lonely.

  • Too much sound is disturbing, especially if people are listening to something else (eg. on the phone).

  • Sudden sounds are alarming and can evoke the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline rush.

  • ‘Buzz’ is the comfortable sound of people at work. It conveys energy and companionship.

  • When we hear white noise, our ears compensate for it. It can be effective at masking background noise.

See also

The Meaning of Color

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