Multisensory Design | Designing for All 5 Senses

Our senses play a vital role in how we experience and respond to the world around us. Immediately upon walking into a space, our brains interpret its quality and comfort based on how it looks, feels and smells; what we hear; and whatever we might taste. In addition to interpreting each sense independently, our brains also combine them into a multisensory experience that elicits additional responses. The rush of information we receive influences our mood, our behavior and ultimately our well-being in any given space.

In order to promote and increase employee recruitment, retention, productivity and happiness, our industry has begun to adopt a multisensory approach to office design. A staple within the retail, entertainment and hospitality industries, multisensory design goes a step further than simply building for functional and visual appeal. It is based around the concept that people experience and respond to space through all five of our basic senses, whether it be subtle or obvious, consciously or unconsciously. The smell of freshly roasted coffee radiating from the cafe, the luxurious texture of a lobby lounge chair or natural light pouring in from the outdoor patio. These are all design elements that contribute to our relationship with a space and are the focus of designers and organizations looking to create purposeful, human-centric environments for the benefit of employees, customers and guests. Here is a breakdown of how the five senses can impact your people and how you can boost productivity and performance through multisensory design.

“A multisensory approach to design is critical to supporting the physiological and psychological needs of those who spend time within the spaces we create. Whether it be through strategically placed elements that we touch or see, taste or smell, our goal is to welcome users into a comfortable and authentic environment that was designed with their physical and mental wellness in mind.”

Jen Kilp, CDI Director of Design

CDI Features Multisensory Design
OFS Chicago Showroom

Designing for the 5 Senses


One of the easiest and most obvious senses to appeal to, sight is the way that office design looks; its color scheme, lighting and use of natural elements. Research behind the psychology of color suggests that color scheme alone can have a tremendous influence on mood, productivity and even physical health and well-being. Deciding which colors to incorporate in your workplace design requires careful consideration and strategic planning in order to stimulate the desired response from employees and visitors. You can explore the basics of color psychology on the blog.

In addition to color, lighting is equally important when appealing to the senses. Extended periods of time under artificial lighting is associated with a range of adverse health effects, both physical and mental, such as eye strain, headaches, fatigue as well as stress and anxiety. Providing employees and guests access to natural light and biophilic design is imperative for a healthy multisensory workspace, as they appeal to our innate attractions to nature and help us maintain consistent circadian rhythms (linked to psychological and physiological health). With proper planning and execution throughout architectural and workplace design, employers can harness a plethora of natural benefits for enhanced employee health and well-being as well as workplace productivity.

Finally, avoiding a sense of overcrowding and providing clear sight-lines across a floor plan will help keep employees working productively and ensure guests aren’t overwhelmed upon entering a space.

CDI Features Multisensory Design
Kimball Chicago Showroom


One of the most powerful senses when designing for an office is smell. And yet, it is often overlooked. Smell is most strongly linked to memory and is responsible for up to 75% of the emotions we generate on a daily basis. It is crucial that scent is considered when designing workplaces that not only inspire but also create a positive association between a space and those who occupy it. Proximity of food and work zones, as well as any planned smellscapes, need to be researched and strategically planned before implementation in order to positively affect the mood and well-being of employees and guests. In the recent Kimball whitepaper, “How a Place Makes Us Feel: Designing in Moods that Boost Human Performance,” research explains how particular scents, including lemon, peppermint and even coffee, can be useful in workplaces. Follow the link to learn more about how smells can be harnessed to achieve a positive experience for occupants.

CDI Features Multisensory Design
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Adobe Town Hall Offices in San Francisco


If a workplace isn’t a restaurant or dining establishment, how is it supposed to appeal to our sense of taste? Small additions, such as coffee and fresh pastries, help employees and guests feel welcome and energized in the morning. By incorporating hospitality hubs, occupants are encouraged to take small breaks throughout the day and recharge their creativity, concentration and overall levels of productivity. Strategically planned cafes will also draw employees to gather, work and socialize in an environment that promotes well-being through connections.


Sound is probably the most considered sensory experience in the workplace after sight. With the rise of collaborative and open office spaces, it is critical that acoustic privacy and comfort be taken into account when creating a balanced layout of focus and collaborative zones, quiet spaces and third spaces. Noise pollution will flood a poorly designed open environment and employees will lose comfortability and productivity. A variety of effective acoustic solutions can be utilized to combat this, including meeting pods and booths, paneling, freestanding screens, biophilic applications and sound masking systems.

On the flip side, sound can be used positively within the workplace. Playing brand-appropriate music in communal areas can help create a desired mood and mask unwanted sounds simultaneously. Natural sounds harness the many benefits of biophilic design and promote tranquility. The choice of added sound should be carefully considered, however, so as to boost productivity and performance without adding distraction.

CDI Features Multisensory Design
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Time Inc. Offices in London


We often construct our offices to look good, but do they feel good? Beyond a visual aesthetic appeal, carefully selected textures, surfaces and materials can help promote comfort and encourage occupants to interact with their surroundings. Softer materials are more calming and inviting, while hard, sleek  surfaces are seen as cold and sterile. Incorporating natural elements for furniture and décor can boost happiness and well-being by connecting employees, customers and guests to the outdoors. Balancing hard with soft, rough with smooth, will ensure that both practicality and relaxation are achieved and our workforce is fully engaged.

Temperature and humidity also need to be taken into consideration when designing a welcoming and comfortable workplace. Spaces that are too warm can contribute to “sick building syndrome” symptoms that negatively affect occupants’ well-being and productivity. Spaces that are too cold can also pose problems.

Building a Multisensory Workplace

Each of our 5 senses play a vital and complex role in forming thoughts, impressions and behaviors. Through strategic multisensory design, organizations can create a holistic workplace experience that promotes productivity and well-being for employees and leaves a lasting impression for customers and guests. Contact a member of the Corporate Design Interiors’ team for guidance in harnessing the powerful benefits of multisensory design and start building lasting impressions through your space.

CDI on Multisensory Design

Featured Image: Kimball Atlanta Showroom

About CDI

Corporate Design Interiors (CDI) is an industry-leading commercial furniture dealership whose award-winning product knowledge, thoughtful design coupled with strategic planning deliver functional and inspiring interiors designed to foster employee well-being, productivity and engagement. CDI’s relentless focus on delivering positive workplaces mirroring the culture and vision of companies while delivering a high value investment has earned CDI diverse clients including;  established Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits/public sector and energetic startups.

As a “Select” Kimball dealer, CDI’s excellence in sales, partnership, quality improvement, community involvement and overall business best practices earned it the 2017 Kimball Premier Partner Award.  CDI was selected among 52 other Kimball Select dealerships throughout the country for this industry-leading honor, earning additional praise for its company culture and enterprise practices.

CDI Awarded 2017 Kimball-PremierPartnerView the video below to take a further look into Corporate Design Interior’s award-winning partnership with Kimball.

Contact Us

Corporate Office & Showroom:
1711 Paramount Ct., Waukesha, WI  53186
P  262.521.1010