How do an individual’s 5 key senses effect the new trend in ‘experiential’ design?

The word experiential – with a definition of ‘involving or based on experience and observation’ is being used more and more within the office design industry as new trends wade in. It is fundamental, when designing an office interior, to keep in mind the flow and movement of an end user, but more recently their individual experience has become ever more important and sets a style when designing. Looking at the characters in a specific company is the starting point – it is useless designing an office with fantastic experiences such as swings and slides if the users of the space would find this irrelevant. We must understand the client’s and their visitor’s needs to design them a truly ‘experiential’ space, rather than just what is considered ‘cool’, especially as an experiential office is not only considered for the new trend in tech start ups or media based consultancies – experiential office design is for everyone!

The experience in an office for the visitor can be applied to not only the interior but also the brand. When visitors enter a space and have a tactile and interactive encounter with a brand it is vital to the experience, further to this, any user being able to connect with the surroundings can all contribute to the final design - looking deeper in to what connects us with a space such as the senses we use on a daily basis that may effect us as individuals, sight, hearing, taste, scent and touch.

Sight being the first and possibly most prominent sense in office interior design, as branding and interiors are often a predominantly visual experience…..this however is now developing towards the other senses as trends progress. The visual is still very important, of course, and striking a balance that encapsulates the brand, the personality of the company/people and the welcoming nature any visitor and employee would expect is the start of the experience and the building block to the other senses, this is true of a space with a lavish reception area in the same way it is in spaces with no reception at all. Sight isn’t only focussed on the fixed items, this also includes moving imagery for example AV screens in receptions displaying marketing and branding materials, that if done well, can capture the attention of the desired audience in such a way that connects the interior surrounding them.

Sound is becoming essential in experiential office design as a ‘buzz’ can be created from the sound of people and collaboration reverberating throughout a space. From an employee’s perspective arriving in to work on a Monday, first thing, after a great weekend, can no matter how much they love their job, be a bit of a chore. So entering in to a space that has the buzz of the worker bees chiming through, creating excitement for the day, can lift the mood instantly, this can also be said for a visitor. From a client’s perspective, the personality of the employees is important, especially if their visit is to strike a deal or meet a sales team – they need to feel welcome and so seeing a friendly face (sight) and hearing the action, can be an encouraging sound…..in design terms having an open entrance area with enough privacy still, but the background of the company can be seen is a good place to start and is becoming a strong trend, progressing from the reception space of the past with a lonely receptionist and an interior full of doors and separation.

Taste leans more towards the offerings a company can provide once the visitors/employees are in situ – this being for example at the very basic, a nice coffee machine providing café style coffee so employees don’t have to buy them daily as well as giving the visitors a better selection than the standard tea, coffee or water, and this can be designed within a client lounge and give the visitor the feeling that they are in a first class environment. On a less basic note, many offices are starting to provide lunches and catering for employees and large meetings and so in terms of office design this creates a brief that is inclusive of a kitchen beyond the standard tea-points, and understanding the regulatory limitations and the needs of in house catering staff or external brands. It has in fact been said, that you can judge the state of the economy on how much a company will feed you!

Scent is more commonly the final stage of a design to dress the space and create an ambience; however, this atmosphere does stem from the style of the original design of the space, whether this be a rustic, earthy scheme with a Jo Malone pine and eucalyptus aroma or the more feminine orange blossom of perhaps a fashion house, these can solidify how people feel within an environment and how they experience this space.

Lastly, touch. This is the activation of neural receptors in the skin and can be identified throughout an interior in many ways, less obviously being for example temperature and most obviously, products or finishes of a tactile nature.

Finishes that draw an individual in to physically feeling, connecting and exploring are incredibly important to experiential design, as this is based on a personal choice. Sight, sound, taste and scent are less a choice and more a result of the surroundings, and therefore an involuntary experience, that the design of a space makes a positive one. Touch and feeling within a space is the key indicator that a person is enjoying that surrounding and is curious and intrigued as they make that movement themselves…which personally, as a designer, is pretty much the desired effect to aim for, in the case of interior design, curiosity most certainly did not kill the cat!

There are many different elements to creating an experiential office and starting with the basics of individuals senses is as good a building block as any to get a tailored and successful end result.

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