Designers focus on Wellness to promote employee wellbeing
With June being Employee Wellbeing Month, our focus turns to interior wellness and how interior design can aid in mental and physical wellbeing. We’ve brought together views and opinions from across interior design to discuss the thought process, its importance at the early stage of planning and how these processes create positive environments for employees and in-turn generating better business.
Design factors such as colour, lighting, acoustics, air quality, furnishings and architectural design can have an impact on the health, performance and engagement to those occupying the space. “Designers are masters of subliminal communication” says Michaela Jones, Director of Chroma Flooring, “Using interiors to transmit messages about their surrounding, ensuring users get to know their immediate environment. The overall design is the conduit for the multiple ways that users perceive and understand space and the designer’s innate empathy towards texture, colour and space has to connect with the user’s senses; to engage the cognitive process of assimilation”.
Aidan Walker, author of “The Ecology of the Soul” comments “You can be in the finest, most beautifully designed and executed interior in the world, but you can still feel grumpy”. He continues “Designers themselves are saying that their driving principle is changing from sustainability to wellbeing. But a designer cannot deliver a space or product enhancing wellbeing without understanding or practicing mindfulness him or her self”.
Mental health charity, Mind, states that wellbeing in itself describes how you are feeling and how well you can cope with day-to-day life. Our mental wellbeing is dynamic, it can change from moment to moment, day to day, month to month or year to year.
Interior designer, sustainability and wellbeing expert Elina Grigoriou says “When we refer to wellbeing in interior design, I always find it helpful to clarify at the start that wellbeing is a state of ‘being’ that people have and not a feature of the interior itself. Being ‘well’ is a choice humans must consciously make; it is not given to us from someone else or any thing – against all marketing messages we may hear!” She continues to state that “Interior spaces themselves can support people in achieving human wellbeing through their impact on us, as they are able to support or remove our health and comfort levels. Most people’s comfort body temperature ranges within 8 degrees Celsius; all bodies find certain air quality mixes healthy or toxic; and sun glaring into ones eyes can be blinding for all humans. We can ensure now that the way interiors are designed cater for issues like these as part of what is a good design thinking process, especially through the specification of materials such as upholstery and adhesives, such as those found in furniture and flooring installations. Emotional and cognitive health and comfort are the traditionally trickier areas but we are now much more knowledgeable about how interior design affects, positively or negatively, a human being. We are able to adjust the design characteristics of an interior to harmonise with what will support the health and comfort of a person’s emotional and cognitive state. For example, if we are designing an office reception area or lounge in a hotel, the shapes and patterns that would harmonise with the tasks taking place in these spaces may be more soft and curvatious rather than angular”.
Similarly Jacqui Smith, Director of Homesmiths and specialist interior designer for the visually impaired states “When we design care homes, how the residents are going to use the space and we want them to feel is of course at the top of our list. However the environment has to work for all visitors coming to the home and crucially the team caring for the residents. Employees in the care sector will often work unconventional hours, long shifts and in challenging circumstances; with staff turnover high in this sector, providing well designed spaces for people to work and rest is key; healthy staff who stay longer with a particular home, offer more consistent care to residents. Staff need a quiet, relaxing space where they can take their breaks. We apply the same degree of attention to designing staff areas as those for residents”.
With these views in mind, it seems pertinent to move the conversation topic across to education and find out how interior design undergraduates are being prepared for the new approach to design for interior wellness. “Increasingly there is a need to design spaces, building and interior products to enhance and benefit the health and wellbeing of occupants especially in the area of healthcare” says Sarah Bax, course leader of the existing BA (Hons) Interior Design course and creator of the new Masters course in Design for Health & Wellbeing. “Young designers of the future need to be prepared and trained. Designing for health and wellbeing is an aspect employers see as an important area of increasing productivity in the workplace, along with the growing need to cater for mental health and elderly diseases such as dementia, this leads to an opportunity for industry and education to come together to facilitate this growing need”.
Reba Global’s Employee Wellbeing 2018 Research (researching how employers, CEOs and government are driving new agendas) claims that while more than one in 10 respondents introduced on-site relaxation or recreation areas in the last 12 months, a further one in 10 (11.3%) are planning to introduce them in the near future. Almost a fifth of respondents have implemented new workstation designs, such as standing desks, in the last year. A further one in 10 (12.9%) plan to make changes in this area at some point in the near future.
As the research suggests this topic is ever-growing and with many corporations allocating budget for corporate wellbeing, it seems interior wellness will turn into a necessity for all design spaces. As Aidan Walker suggests “We need to turn our attention to designing a sustainable world, that won’t happen without mindful design, because it creates both the world we want to live in and the people we want to live in it”.