How we change what others think, feel, believe and do

| Menu | Quick | Books | Share | Search | Settings |

Office design


Disciplines > Workplace design > Office design

Boundaries | Zones | Core | Managed noise | Walkways and places between | Shared areas | Views | Office size | See also


Here are a set of principles you can use in designing offices and workplaces to create satisfying and effective environments in which people can be comfortable, stimulated and effective.


  • Boundaries that separate but do not divide. People need a strong sense of identity, both individually and with people with whom they work. Boundaries mark the edges of these groups, separating ‘them’ from ‘us’. The more complete the separation (preventing visual and verbal connection), the greater the perceived division and the less communication there will be between groups.

    • Physical things help mark boundaries, including aisles, walls, partitions, flooring, light, color.

  • Boundaries divide ownership. Within their boundary, people will take greater ownership. Outside of it, they will take less. Where boundaries are not clear, they may either fight for ownership or abandon it, assuming others will take it.


  • Visible zones. Different zones for teams and shared areas, help support their sense of identity and aid navigation.

    • Zones can be marked with lighting, signage, furniture, color, etc.

  • Coordinate zones. Although different zones allow difference to be shown, too much difference leads to unpleasant appearance and confusion in such activities as wayfinding.

    • Coordinate the zones as themes, balancing the use of light, color, etc.

  • Entrance transitions. Mark the transition into zones with distinct entrances. These may be marked by signs, arches, changing color, carpeting, etc.


A core area is a specific zone that provides a center of activity.

  • The core need not be at the center, although this could be a good choice.

  • Tangential to highway. Areas that are adjacent to main circulation routes are easier to find and make it easier to ‘drop in’.

  • Visual cues can be used to identify the core, for example ceiling ‘skylight’ and signage.

Managed noise

  • Build a noise gradient: a greater noise may be expected at the core, with quieter areas at the periphery. This will also help to insulate current residents the noise of the field. Offices thus have ‘contours’ of equivalent noise that are usually equidistant from noise sources. Seek to smooth the slope across the contours.

    • Isolate the quieter areas with sound buffering and narrower, twisty aisles that discourage traffic.

  • Match the people to the bustle. People have different noise needs. Some need calm and quiet whilst others feel lonely and left out if they are not sited near the centers of action. Match the people as best as possible to the noise and bustle that suits them best.

  • Manage the natural noise points. There are points where noise naturally occurs and where people should not be put at desks if they have a significant need for quiet.

    • By coffee machines and other intended break areas.

    • Next to meeting areas.

    • Next to people with louder tendencies – such as exuberant sales people or those who use the phone a lot.

    • At junctions where people pause before going their separate ways.

Walkways and places between

  • Promenade. Many people like to take occasional breaks from their desks and go for a stroll to think and refresh. Give them somewhere useful to walk where they might sit down along the way, meet others, etc. This kind of area is sometimes called ‘Main Street’.

  • Excuses to pause. When people are out walking they may meet others but they often need an excuse to pause and maybe have a common topic to talk about. Ways of doing this include:

    • Notice boards (especially if they are well-laid out and up to date).

    • White-boards where they can doodle.

  • Space to stop. Where people stop, others need to pass by, so ensure these areas are wide enough.

    • People often stop on junctions, for example when they have been walking together and are going separate ways. This

  • Connecting shared areas. A walkway that connects breakout and other shared areas encourages groups to visit one another.

  • Anchors at the ends. Just as shopping Malls have major stores at either end to ensure people walk the full length, office walkways can have major points of attraction at either end.

Shared areas

  • Create people magnets. People often need to be encouraged to talk together, yet when they get fully engaged can provide each other with helpful ideas and connections.

    • ‘People magnets’ are spaces that concentrate things that attract people and hence leading to greater chances of synergy and serendipity.

    • Breakout areas near the core will help bring people together.

  • Communal areas towards the core. Just as people will go towards the center of a town to find a shopping area, so also the magnetic effect of a site core will mean that shared areas away from the core may well receive less traffic.

  • Quiet areas away from the core. The opposite effect of ‘towards the core’ is where people seek quiet and isolation. Just as town people flee to the country so also can private and quiet spaces be put far away from the core.

  • Airport lounges are a good example of an informal balance of work and relaxation.

  • Booths, with panels between 2/4/6-seater tables (possibly with benches) are both space-efficient and provide a balance of privacy and openness for informal meetings. They work well near drinks areas.

  • Propose shared space. Increasing space shared across the site reduces the need for individual and team space, but requires that people be prepared to share. With no direct mandate for sharing, shared areas may need negotiation.

  • No white elephants. Soft-seating areas, and play areas although inviting can be shunned when people are concerned at appearing to be not working or where they are too far away. Such white elephants can lead to the building and workplace services achieving disrepute.


  • Pleasant vista. When people are working, many gaze into the distance for inspiration and as a pause from the work. This is one reason why window seats are popular. These need not be broad vistas—tantalizing glimpses can also be pleasant.

    • Create views and vistas that are pleasant to look at.  Where outside views or glimpses are not available, views across the office can be used, with color, pictures, shape, etc. being used to create interest.

Office size

Large offices can offer economies of scale as well as a broader array of benefits, but they can be overpowering and dark. It is easier to get to know everyone in smaller offices, although they can be relatively Spartan.

  • The maximum group size with which people generally feel comfortable is 150. This makes offices of 100 or so people likely to lead to satisfying communities (provided there is sufficient connection between people, of course).

  • Economies of scale are not necessarily realized in large offices, as they have additional overheads.

  • Real costs can be difficult to determine where allocations are not done on a realistic basis.

See also

Overall design principles


Site Menu

| Home | Top | Quick Links | Settings |

Main sections: | Disciplines | Techniques | Principles | Explanations | Theories |

Other sections: | Blog! | Quotes | Guest articles | Analysis | Books | Help |

More pages: | Contact | Caveat | About | Students | Webmasters | Awards | Guestbook | Feedback | Sitemap | Changes |

Settings: | Computer layout | Mobile layout | Small font | Medium font | Large font | Translate |



Please help and share:


Quick links


* Argument
* Brand management
* Change Management
* Coaching
* Communication
* Counseling
* Game Design
* Human Resources
* Job-finding
* Leadership
* Marketing
* Politics
* Propaganda
* Rhetoric
* Negotiation
* Psychoanalysis
* Sales
* Sociology
* Storytelling
* Teaching
* Warfare
* Workplace design


* Assertiveness
* Body language
* Change techniques
* Closing techniques
* Conversation
* Confidence tricks
* Conversion
* Creative techniques
* General techniques
* Happiness
* Hypnotism
* Interrogation
* Language
* Listening
* Negotiation tactics
* Objection handling
* Propaganda
* Problem-solving
* Public speaking
* Questioning
* Using repetition
* Resisting persuasion
* Self-development
* Sequential requests
* Storytelling
* Stress Management
* Tipping
* Using humor
* Willpower


+ Principles


* Behaviors
* Beliefs
* Brain stuff
* Conditioning
* Coping Mechanisms
* Critical Theory
* Culture
* Decisions
* Emotions
* Evolution
* Gender
* Games
* Groups
* Habit
* Identity
* Learning
* Meaning
* Memory
* Motivation
* Models
* Needs
* Personality
* Power
* Preferences
* Research
* Relationships
* SIFT Model
* Social Research
* Stress
* Trust
* Values


* Alphabetic list
* Theory types


Guest Articles


| Home | Top | Menu | Quick Links |

© Changing Works 2002-
Massive Content — Maximum Speed