Designing Human-Centered Spaces

“Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.”     

– Robert L. Peters

Today some of the most forward-looking companies are engaging employees by designing environments that address four core human needs—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—the same factors often evaluated in human-centered product design. Here are some quick examples of how this human-centered design methodology works for workspaces.


The furniture in a space should fit a broad range of users in the best way possible. Furniture designed with the human form in mind can increase comfort for users and reduce or eradicate repetitive-stress injuries caused by poor fit. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that the current cost of repetitive stress injuries in the US is $80 billion dollars. Ergonomic products, such as keyboards and mice designed to prevent carpal tunnel, can offset much of this cost. In addition, spaces that encourage movement throughout the day, such as an office space places the stairs more conveniently than the elevators, can actually improve the health of sedentary workers.


Our feelings have a strong influence on our behavior and space undoubtedly affects emotions. For example, if you felt a dark ally was unsafe, you wouldn’t go down it. Lumosity, a fast-growing tech company, has used this principle to their advantage. When they moved into a staggering 38,000 square foot office space they made it warm, quirky, social, and inviting, so employees were excited to come to the office and new talent wanted to work there.

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Environments can be designed to complement our natural mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response. When designed with our cognitive processes in mind, environments can enhance our focus, creativity, collaboration, and retention. One classic is the open office space, offering easy collaboration and social interactions.  But, open office spaces are also notorious for being noisy and not conducive to focused individual work. A solution that has risen to popularity in recent years has been to create spaces for temporary privacy. This diversity of space types allows for both focus and collaboration, based on the task at hand.

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When the space we use aligns with company values, brand, and mission it creates a sense of purpose. In fact, having a space that aligns with the company’s values is a way that many of the most cutting-edge companies attract top talent. Some examples of space speaking to company values include Urban Outfitters and Nike.

Urban Outfitters – Value: adaptive reuse.

Urban Outfitters displayed this value by locating their headquarters in a reclaimed historic Philadelphia building that sparked the revitalization and expansion of the area.

Urban Outfitters office, source Kontor

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Nike – Values: performance and innovation.

Nike displays these values by highlighting clients performing and utilizing their products in their space. In addition, displays showcase the product innovations Nike has developed in the field of sports.

Nike office, source Kontor

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The Energy Project’s findings show that the best corporate cultures actively assess how they are meeting people’s core needs, and then adjust their practices accordingly. Space is undoubtedly a tool to help them meet those needs.


* May, 2016 Zogby International & The Energy Project (n=1,100)


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