What If We Designed With All 5 Senses?

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If we used all five senses to design our workspaces, would this make us — as end users — happier and more productive workers?

Most designers typically create spaces with only two of our five senses; namely, sight and touch. In fact, I don’t ever remember being pushed to explore anything beyond those two — for example, in school, my professor never asked me to consider, “What smell will you have in the reception area?”

But maybe it’s not out of the question that we could use sound, scent, and taste when tackling a design challenge. Perhaps a cohesive approach with all our senses considered would make our spaces more creative, joyful, and experiential.


brain food

In comparison to scent or taste, this sense is probably the most often-considered behind sight and touch when designing.

Clients request insulated or slab-to slab walls, more carpeting, more ceiling tiles, or higher paneling for workstations all have origins in silence.

Yet most of this design is how to block out the sound — not how to enhance it.

Sure, we’re not typically designing workspaces for musicians, but maybe we should be taking some cues from how they maximize the richness of the world of sound around us as a potential source of daily inspiration.

As William Cromi, a Harvard auditory researcher writes, “increased flow of blood and oxygen to different brain areas can be seen as people play and listen to music.” It’s not that we need more noise; it’s that we need more sounds directed in certain areas of our buildings.

I’d bet that even the hardest personality would smile if that person sat in the reception of a top 100 law firm and heard The O’Jay’s line, “money money money money …. MONEY” crooning along in the background. Â  Or, consider how a team of creative minds would respond if there was jazz music — with its subtle patterns amid intense improvisation — piping quietly through hidden speakers?

You have to set the mood as a designer; using music can only emphasize and lift that atmosphere.

Designing the sounds one hears is just as important as the sounds you don’t.



Consider all those smells that bring you comfort and happiness. Maybe it’s maple syrup, which reminds you of breakfasts growing up. Maybe it’s rose, like the garden behind your grandma’s house. Perhaps it’s the clean mint from a refreshing stick of gum.

Scientists agree that smell and memory have a special relationship;Â  people can often recall aromas from childhood or a distinctive odor they’ve only smelled once.

Whatever your particular nose prefers, smells do enhance comfort and happiness — which is why retail stores typically work harder than workplaces to keep the right balance of scent wafting through their space. The more comfortable and happy the customer, the more likely she is to buy.

The same notion holds true in the workplace — and, when not properly addressed, it can negatively affect our experiences there. For example, when someone burns popcorn or nukes warmed-over frozen dinners, that smell can actually generate nausea and decrease productivity. We as designers should consider how to prevent the kitchen from evoking negative responses from workers.

But beyond the kitchen itself, perhaps your firm’s branding could include a pleasant, subtle smell. (And I’m not talking about one of those Glade plugins for the lobby wall, the woman who wears too much perfume, on or the young intern who thinks Axe is a professional cologne.)

Considering aromatherapy and other long-standing, olfactory-related sciences as part of your branding efforts could result in a workspace that would provide an enjoyable scent experience — and, ultimately, promote the comfort and happiness of anyone within that office.

These distinctive scents could keep clients and employees remembering YOUR business — pleasantly — long after they’ve left the building.


As designers, we may regularly consider the kitchen. And we might include a small fridge visually tucked away in the conference room for keeping drinks cool and accessible.

But in addition to keeping water, coffee, and the occasional client fruit basket handy, how about we consider how to promote brain stimulation by including both spicy foods and sweet treats in our designs? Each of these categories could create a burst of energy for the employees and another layer of senses in the office.

Companies would pick their taste palettes to reflects their own brands. For example, imagine designing kitchenette spaces to include a dipping bar with all the salsa, onion induced Greek hummus, and Wasbi wanted by the client.

Or, to induce a joyful tasting experience that promotes happy memories, how about an under-the-counter freezer full of low-fat Ben and Jerry’s single portion Frozen Yogurts?

Again, not only do these fun examples induce more energy from workers and clients alike, but they generate more interactive branding experiences that play on extraordinary connections borne from a cohesive approach to tapping into all our senses.


Using all our senses to design will not just make us stretch our creativity to new standards, but it will give the end users stimulating feelings, memories, and experiences. Spaces that support all five senses are positioned to be more wholly successful places to happily and comfortably entertain, work, and experience life.

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  1. Very nice post – if I may I would like to share it with the Olfactive Group on Linked in.

    This is appropriate for I am a keynote at FUSE in Chicago this Spring http://www.iirusa.com/fuse and I will be speaking what colors smell like? If your interested Mention code FUSE11TP when registering to receive your
    20% discount.


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