Building 16 at Microsoft

How To Design An Effective Office

Making space for innovation and creativity

The strategic value of workspace design is undervalued in most organizations. The potential opportunities to enhance productivity, employee engagement and a space that supports work and human needs are paramount and can be improved through the process of design.

Research shows that the Cathedral Effect influences a person’s cognition levels for abstract thinking and creativity.

A relationship between the perceived height of a ceiling and cognition. High ceilings promote abstract thinking and creativity. Low ceilings promote concrete and detail-oriented thinking. It is widely accepted that people prefer high ceilings to low ceilings. Lesser known, however, is that ceiling height can influence how people approach problem solving.
Depending on the nature of the problem, ceiling height can either undermine or enhance problem-solving performance.
Conspicuous ceiling height — that is, noticeably low or noticeably high ceilings — promotes different types of cognition, with high ceilings promoting abstract thinking and creativity and low ceilings promoting concrete and detail-oriented thinking.
For tasks that require creativity and out-of-the-box thinking (e.g., research and development) favor large rooms with high ceilings. For tasks that require detail-oriented work (e.g., surgical operating room) favor smaller rooms with lower ceilings. In retail environments, favor spaces with high ceilings when consumer choice requires imagination (e.g., home remodeling store) and spaces with lower ceilings for more task-oriented shopping (e.g., convenience store). Favor high ceilings to extend the time in which visitors remain on site (e.g., casino) and low ceilings to minimize loitering (e.g., fast food restaurant).
 — “The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing That People Use” by Joan Meyers-Levy and Rui (Juliet) Zhu

Office design provides opportunities to retain and engage employees, increase productivity and cater to certain types of thinking and working processes.

Facebook office in Menlo Park

Study your workflow

The first step in the process of applying awesome UX to your workplace is assessing the current employee usage patterns in a space.

First off, assess how employees spend their time.

How does your workplace accomplish its goals? How do people collaborate? What are current workplace etiquette and working styles?

Bunk Desk by Andre Gunnarsson

There are four main work modes:





How well does the current workplace setup represent the organization’s brand and values?

Driving Innovation

Pixar headquarter

Part of Steve Job’s legacy is in the design of the Pixar headquarters.

Innovation was understood to be a serendipitous “intersection between people and ideas”, through the conduit of a space that encouraged such meetings.

Such spaces discourage silos of information and encourage open communication and connections by reintroducing flow into the day to day of employees.

In addition to using proximity to promote more interactions, another strategy is to express the culture of the team through branding.

By leveraging techniques, assessing your workplace processes and patterns, it is possible to create a team dynamic that is collaborative, productive and innovative.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to check out my design work!