Exploring the Psychological Dynamics of Interior Design in the Workplace

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Chair of the Month

Elma Milanovic
Elma Milanovic
Elma is an IIDA Professional, NCIDQ-certified Interior Designer, who joins FitzGerald with twenty years of experience in workplace, mixed use residential, and senior living design. She has a strong focus on building repositioning, workplace design, and project team management, and she will work alongside interior design director Kristen Larkin to lead the firm’s workplace practice.

By understanding the human psyche, Elma Milanovic of FitzGerald says interior designers can create environments that promote comfort, productivity, and a sense of connection.

As an interior architect, I have always been captivated by the connection between psychology and the spaces we inhabit. This fueled my interest in the field and strengthened my fascination with communication and understanding people. Observing behaviors and taking the time to comprehend thought processes became an inherent part of my journey. It became apparent that effective communication involves not only expressing our own thoughts and ideas but also empathetically considering the perspectives of others. By understanding the human psyche, interior designers can create environments that promote comfort, productivity, and a sense of connection.

Design Conversations as a Catalyst for the Evolution of the Workplace

Social dynamics affected by the pandemic have presented significant challenges to how we work and socialize, but as humans adapt to this shifting society, we have been offered opportunities for deeper conversations. These conversations are leading to the evolution of the workplace. The design community finds itself at the forefront of these conversations, well-equipped with data collected over decades of workplace studies and with an understanding that introspection is essential for innovation. We look to guide clients through the processes rooted in re-establishing their culture and re-imagining a workplace environment fostering a sense of community and engagement.

CB2 — Chicago, IL: FitzGerald was selected as architect of record for the 37,000 square foot corporate office of retailer CB2. The open office plan with mezzanine includes hoteling desks, collaboration spaces, lounge, conference rooms, break room, and a showroom/ merchandizing area.

Designing with Empathy

Impactful design requires shifting the focus from the designer’s perspective to that of the user, recognizing that the spaces we design are meant to be experienced and utilized by others. To truly understand the needs and desires of our clients, it is important to immerse ourselves in their processes and culture. This approach allows designers to tailor solutions to closely align with a client’s distinct requirements.

Designing with users in mind involves active listening to gain meaningful insights into their operational protocols, needs, and challenges. This enables a deeper understanding of diverse backgrounds, personalities, work styles, and preferences to create inclusive and intentional environments. Through empathetic design, we can transform spaces into inviting and inspiring settings that nurture a sense of connection, belonging, and fulfillment which in return enhances engagement and productivity.

FitzGerald Studio — Chicago, IL: FitzGerald’s architecture and interior design studio is a supportive, in-person workshop for creative collaboration and client service.The dynamic, flexible spaces are acoustically zoned so people can find the place that suits their working styles and needs that day—from energetic shared spaces to quiet areas for focus. Generous daylighting, plants, air and water filtration systems, efficient mechanical systems, and many earth- and people-friendly materials are designed into our space to achieve green building (LEED) and health & wellness (Fitwel/WELL) certifications. Adjustable workstations, ergonomically-appropriate collaboration areas, comfortable lounge seating, and healthy snack offerings ensure one’s physical condition is also nurtured. 

An Understanding of Different Personalities

Furthermore, the study of personality types has been closely tied to workplace performance. Well known is the Myers-Briggs Indicator which divides personality into 16 distinct types, based on Carl Jung’s Theory of Psychological type. The overarching idea is that we all exhibit different preferences for the ways we interact with others. At a simplistic level, for example, introverts often perform better in quiet settings and prefer producing in spaces that offer privacy and more acoustic separation, while extroverts may thrive in more social and activated environments. With that, designers can leverage their understanding of these personality types to recommend a well-balanced workplace that brings a variety of settings to cater to different needs.

Overall, it boils down to controlling stimuli. Post-COVID, people are coming back from quiet home environments and being confronted with very active workplaces which can cause overstimulation and trouble focusing. Within any given office, we look to create a range of working environments and support spaces that counterbalance an open office environment. These range from 2-3 person meeting rooms to individual phone rooms, and wellness rooms.

Design solutions that promote privacy and focus can significantly impact the well-being and productivity of individuals in a workplace. The incorporation of acoustic barriers and visually obstructive elements at eye level, such as partitions, screens, or strategically placed furniture, create a sense of personal space. This enables individuals to concentrate on their tasks without distractions and minimizes the feeling of being constantly observed or exposed. These design solutions not only enhance concentration and productivity but also contribute to a more comfortable and conducive work environment overall.

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Spaces that Foster A Positive Behavior and Mindset

As a result of the pandemic, remote work has become increasingly prevalent, causing employers to reconsider their approach to workplace design and prioritize the physical and mental health of their employees. With the intention to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces focused on enhancing human experiences and well-being, designers have played a significant role in this shift by introducing the WELL standard, focusing on creating healthy and sustainable spaces.

When designing a workspace, amenities such as wellness rooms, maternity rooms, and spaces dedicated to activities like yoga go the distance in impacting mood and behavior. These areas serve as mental sanctuaries, offering individuals a moment of calm, clarity, and reset within the bustling workplace— allowing for a balance between an active mind and moments of relaxation, resulting in better productivity. Creating a supportive environment where people feel that they can use these spaces without being judged is vital to fostering positive behavior and mindset. This empowers individuals to prioritize their mental and physical health, leading to a more productive and fulfilling work experience.

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