There is growing recognition of the impact that work environments have on performance, and for neurodiverse employees, the effect of workplace design can be particularly significant.

Creating an inclusive space for both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees is an important step for businesses, but with the neurodiverse spectrum spanning from hypersensitive to hyposensitive, how do we ensure that office design caters for all?  

To find out more about designing for neurodiversity, we spoke to Mary Kate Cassidy, Senior Interior Design Professional at HOK, who has been working with Tarkett to develop a neurodiversity color design tool. 

How do the workspace requirements of hypersensitive & hyposensitive employees differ?

Hyposensitive employees crave the most amount of stimuli available. For these types of individuals, brighter colors and a generally louder, more active space, with lots of visual interest is where they tend to thrive. These colleagues often enjoy collaborative working, so spaces that encourage socializing and interacting with other coworkers are key. 

Hypersensitive employees, on the other hand, are more easily overwhelmed by sensory stimulation and need a visually calmer space. Muted tones and fewer patterns as well as quieter spaces will help these individuals achieve their potential and provide them with a space to work that promotes wellbeing. 

What role does color play in workplace design when designing for neurodiversity?

Color is a key part of office design and can set the tone for a workspace. Reds, purples and oranges help to create an invigorating space that promotes creativity. Typically speaking, hyposensitive employees will find that vibrant tones of these colors will help improve their performance while engaging in creative work.  

The use of greens, blues and nature inspired color palettes create a more tranquil setting that will help users to relax, which may be more suited to hypersensitive individuals. 

It is important to note however, that it is not as black and white as to say that there are colors that cater exclusively to the hypersensitive person and vice versa. Simply selecting certain colors will not create the inclusive environment that organizations require. 

Arguably, the most important factor to consider is the hue rather than the actual color itself. Hypersensitive employees may appreciate more muted tones that are less stimulating, whereas hyposensitive colleagues will prefer brighter, more vibrant shades.

How can designers ensure that they are catering for both hyper and hyposensitive employees?

The key to designing a workplace that caters to all individuals simultaneously is through the creation of a variety of different space types. This combination of multiple different space types is what we call an “ecosystem”.

Open-plan office design is a common occurrence, and can be great for hyposensitive colleagues, but the opposite is true for people with hypersensitivity. Incorporating spaces with more privacy and reduced background noise, will provide the space for these employees to focus, without the overstimulation from the rest of the office.  

Softer materials and textiles allow for sound absorption, creating a calmer and more peaceful environment. The key here is in the small details that come together to create variation and options for the individual.

With increased choice for employees, there is more opportunity for people to find their optimum workspace.
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Can you tell me more about the color project that you have run with Tarkett, what are the benefits of the classification tool that has been developed?

We’ve developed an online tool that helps architects and designers better understand the spectrum of sensitivity, providing key thought starters on designing for a neurodiverse population. 

The tool helps users to appreciate the impact of choosing different colors, patterns and materials. The product matrix allows designers to choose various products and understand the impact of their design choices from a neurodiverse perspective. 

As well as color and pattern, this classification tool also highlights other flooring features that impact neurodiverse environments, such as acoustics, wayfinding and texture which are all essential considerations when specifying for a neurodiverse workforce. 

Does an office that is designed with neurodiversity in mind also impact neurotypicals? 

Everyone is on the spectrum in one way or another, with neurotypical employees generally occupying the middle ground between hyper and hyposensitivity. 

Each individual will perform better in particular spaces, with no two employees’ requirements being exactly the same

When it comes to workplace environments, the majority of people have a preference, they may just not realize it until they are given a choice.
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When you design for the extreme, you benefit the mean. By creating a varied space that incorporates different colors, tones and textures, the overall performance and productivity of a business will be higher and employees will likely be happier.

Read more about Designing the Neurodiverse Workplace or explore Tarkett’s neurodiversity tool.

Leslie Thompson Director of Workplace Strategy, Tarkett Full bio and articles

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