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Overall Design Principles


Disciplines > Workplace design > Overall Design Principles

Support the work of individuals | Support the work of groups | Create a motivating environmentReflect company values | Be economic | See also


The goal of workplace design is to provide spaces that allow people to do their jobs with maximum utility and comfort.

Support the work of individuals

Work is done by individual people who must be both motivated and given the wherewithal to do the job.

  • Workspaces that support the job. Standard cubes make layout easier, but they may also give space that is more or less than is actually needed.

    • Rather than blindly give people a standard cube, first listen and try to meet needs. Eg. racks and bench for equipment engineers, touchdown and demo space for sales people.

    • Workspaces to support the job rather than a perk of status or from historical precedent.

  • Proximity. Where the things and people associated with the job are not to hand, it makes work harder and reduces efficiency.

    • Adequate (but not excessive) storage at desk.

    • Nearby services (printers, coffee, stationery, etc.)

    • Teams near other teams with similar interests, customers, etc.

    • Connect both functional specialists and operational teams.

Support the work of groups

Groups also need good workplace design. They must be able to easily work together. They must also feel like a group.

  • Create community. A community is a group of people with shared interests who communicate. They define themselves by how they are different to other communities and by the boundaries between them.

    • Design the workplace to include different areas and boundaries that help people define themselves.

  • Link communities. A company is a collection of communities which interact. Where the boundaries are too high, this can shut people in and shut others out, making communication more difficult.

    • Lower boundaries and widen entrances as much as possible to enable communities to optimally interact with one another.

  • Design collaboratively. Involving teams in the design of their space creates buy-in and allows them to optimize for their specific needs.

    • Allocate space for teams and then discuss alternatives with them.

    • Attempt to meet adjacency needs.

Create a motivating environment

To give of their best, people in the workplace must be well motivated. And the design of the workplace can make a big difference.

  • Light and comfortable.

    • Natural light as a shared resource: not just a management perk.

    • Color that alleviates boredom and creates interest.

    • Comfortable and ergonomic furniture.

  • Social spaces. Shared space should be perceived as beneficial and useful by the majority.

    • People magnets that refresh and encourage interaction (not unused aesthetic spaces).

    • The ‘buzz’ of an active office is a positive social signal, indicating the presence of co-workers and providing cues to encourage active work.

  • Clear signage so even visitors can find things.

    • This includes formal signs and cues from layout, color, etc.

Reflect company values

Company values are inculcated in many ways, including through the workplace, which may be functional and austere or light and frivolous.

Be economic

Workplaces cost lots of money to set up and maintain. The other functions may often be fulfilled without significant loss at a reasonably economic price.

  • Balance cost and benefit.

  • Avoid ‘white elephants’ that will not be used.

    • Do small experiments to test new principles.

  • Avoid opulence or waste.

    • Conservatism and quality.

    • Touches of genius. The wow factor.

  • Maximize utilization.

  • Use standards to reduce cost.

    • Find optimum balance with customization.

See also

Office design


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