Oct 25, 2015 by

Designing for the Health-Conscious Office

The interior design of an office can contribute to its employees’ health through quiet rooms and connections to nature.

Courtesy Drew Kelly

Interior design today goes well beyond mere aesthetics. In fact, the profession has changed tremendously in the past decade with practitioners being expected to solve complex problems such as encouraging healthy behaviors and creating multigenerational homes and workplaces. Metropolis recently spoke to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), and Randy Fiser, ASID CEO, about their take on the field today and its role in health and wellness. After completing its 2015/2016 Outlook and State of the Industry report earlier this year, ASID was poised to give well-informed answers, backed by recent statistics.

Tamy Cozier: How can interior design affect health and productivity?

Randy Fiser: Interior designers create the spaces where we spend 93 percent of our time: home, work, recreation, etc. At the office, for instance, research demonstrates that a healthy workforce benefits an employer’s bottom line, leading to a surge in workplace wellness programs. In general, healthier employees are more productive, and workplaces that promote a culture of wellness benefit from increased engagement, retention, morale, and a decrease in absenteeism. In terms of interior design, workers repeatedly cite design-related factors when explaining their reasons for choosing a job or staying with a certain company, and managers recognize that employee satisfaction and productivity rise in aesthetically appealing workplaces.

TC: What are some trends that are emerging with regard to interior design and health?

RF: ASID completed its 2015/16 Outlook and State of the Industry report earlier this year. In developing the report, we analyzed data from both public and private sources, surveying more than 200 practicing interior designers. As a result, we identified several key sub-trends under the heading of health and well-being (in order of fastest moving):

  1. Design for Healthy Behaviors—focusing on movement or physical activity and how design can motivate more of it. (Ex. Visible stairs and centrally located common areas.)
  2. Sit/Stand Workstations—having adjustable workstations that accommodate both sitting and standing for work.
  3. Wellness Programs—incorporating wellness in the physical workplace (e.g. fitness, yoga, and quiet rooms)
  4. Connection to Nature—having access to natural views and bringing nature into the built environment.
  5. Design of Healthy Buildings—providing buildings that are healthy with ambient elements of the environment that support health, including air quality, temperature, lighting, and acoustics.

The above numbers are according to an ASID survery of over 120 practicing interior designers from a mix of disciplines, but mostly residential.

Graphics courtesy Interior Design 2015/2016 Outlook and State of the Industry report


TC: What does designing for healthy behaviors look like in various settings (home, hospital, school, hospitality, etc.)?

RF: Quality of life matters, of course, and as a result, examples of designing for healthy behaviors can be found in nearly every building we enter. For example, residential designers must consider including products that support healthful outcomes that result from connecting to nature, like lower blood pressure, improved mental engagement, positive attitude, and happiness. Hospitals and healthcare facilities must be designed to interact with each other to improve air quality, temperature, lighting, and acoustics, while learning institutions are now smarter than ever and include integrative systems that connect with others to create a dynamic, functional, and high-performing structure. But, as part of a broader urbanization trend, younger generations seek walkable access to the spaces in which they live, work, and play. Incorporating restaurants into these areas creates opportunities for people to meet and develop a sense of community.

TC: What are some simple design solutions that one can implement to influence healthy behaviors without a big budget?

RF: 1) Upgrading lighting controls from flip switches to dimmers of various types reduces energy bills and introduces the circadian rhythm, which helps with sleep, relaxation, energy, and activity. 2) Adding under-cabinet lighting to illuminate fresh fruits and healthy snacks. If you see them you will eat them.

Sustainability continues to be a relevant topic and issue in Interior Design, according to the number of 40% of interior design projects in 2015 including sustainable elements.

TC: When we think about health we often focus on the physical activities that affect our well-being. But how does sustainability factor in within the context of designing a space that promotes health and well-being?

RF: According to a March 2015 ASID survey, 40 percent of interior design projects completed in the first quarter of 2015 included sustainable elements either requested by the client, or suggested by the designer. The sustainability movement has been around for a long time under a variety of names, and it continues to be relevant, especially in interior design.

TC: How has the role of the interior designer shifted considering the interconnectedness of people and the built environment—and the effect the latter can have on one’s health?

RF: The role of the interior designer is to provide accurate information, rooted in research and evidence, to project teams about standards, codes, certifications, and labels that need to be applied or included in a project scope, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), WELL, BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) Level, and Cradle to Cradle.

TC: Interior designers today are expected to tackle very complex issues (childhood obesity and creating multigenerational workplaces, to name a few). How have the lines been blurred between interior designers and other science professions such as anthropologists that would normally be tasked with finding solutions?

RF: From designing office spaces that encourage healthy behaviors, to integrating multiple generations in one home, minimizing the environmental footprint of a new hotel, or creating a retail space that utilizes the latest technology to maximize profits, it’s true—designers are asked to solve increasingly complex problems. But when it comes to changing or encouraging healthy behaviors, we believe, as many professions do, that the best design solutions come from a holistic approach that pulls on expertise across disciplines. We can’t do it alone, and as a result, continue to see collaboration as a key factor toward success.

Founded in 1975, ASID is the oldest, largest and leading professional organization for interior designers. Today, the organization has more than 24,000 members via a network of 48 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

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