Sep 24, 2018
BY: and
THEME: Workplace

From History to Modern Escapism: Six Visual Trends’ Influence on Workplace Design

We usually cringe at the word “trend,” as it suggests a fleeting moment, something passing and temporary. Although workplace design is undoubtedly influenced by macro trends, our projects are ultimately rooted in people. Understanding today’s workforce, and tailoring design strategies to fit the needs of specific companies, plays a much larger role in our design process than simply following the latest fads.

However, Brenda Milis, principal of Creative Services and Visual Trends at Adobe, provides a refreshing perspective on visual trends. In a recent blog post, Milis argues that studying visual trends “can give you confidence and data about where interest is growing and why…a look at where we are as a culture, and as a world.”

Although this post has a consumer focus, with Milis incorporating insights from shows and galleries, brand campaigns, and Adobe’s own stock photo collection, her ideas resonate with us. Workplace interior design doesn’t exist in a bubble, and we have much to connect with and learn from Milis’ insights on art, fashion, and identity.

Here’s our spin on the latest visual trends:


Quiet unnecessary noise to make space for creativity.

 It’s no secret that today’s offices are noisy. Ringing phones, beeping microwaves, and not-so-private conversations are just a few common reasons why noise is often ranked as the top disrupter at work.

So how—and where—do we find focus? Just as Milis predicts that more people will seek out imagery that “answer our longing for quiet and contemplation,” we predict that the workplace will continue to carve out space that offers silence and solitude.

In a noisy open office, headphones and visual shielding can only go so far. The real antidote is prioritizing choice. Private, enclosed focus rooms invite employees to take a long conference call behind closed doors. Sound masking systems, which introduce unobtrusive background noise, and sound-absorbing materials are becoming increasingly common as well. When these design strategies work in tandem with office policies, creative thinking and problem solving can flourish, and well-being soars.

Left: Photo courtesy of Adobe / Right: Trend Micro office, Dallas, Texas, by Perkins+Will


Shifting identities call for spaces that celebrate individuality.

Milis observes that people are increasingly embracing the concept of the fluid self. We’ll see both brands and artists expand representation as a result of the “endless permutations of individual identity.”

Designers are taking a similar stance when it comes to the workplace. To quote Gabrielle Bullock, Perkins+Will’s Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion, designing for individual needs is not a why, it’s a when. It’s critical for designers and clients to work together to bring voices to the table that represent all cross sections of their organization so that our design is not for a select few.


Left: Image courtesy of Adobe / Right: Skender office, Chicago, Illinois


Think globally, act locally.

Today’s consumers are globally savvy, and prioritize unique experiences over material possessions. The desire for authenticity is a significant workplace driver as well. Understanding an organization’s “authentic self” helps designers connect company, brand, and space. And on an individual level, representing the distinct personalities that make up an organization’s DNA lends natural authenticity to workplace design.

What’s more, a distributed workforce yearns to be connected. When travelling for work, or even within their home office, workers often want to connect with everything their organization and location has to offer. Creating moments for exploration within the office, like wayfinding that evokes city landmarks or through interactive brand expressions, helps bridge the gap between person and place.

Left: Photo courtesy of Adobe / Right: Confidential Client office, Chicago, Illinois by Perkins+Will


Blend nature and human imagination.

Not much time has passed since themed environments were in vogue. While some of these spaces manage to blend escapism with style, many simply come across as eccentric and distracting. But according to Milis, we’re in the midst of an unsettled moment, one that requires escapism through hyper-sensorial experiences.

Believe it or not, the workplace can invite escape without the cheesy bells and whistles. Design that brings a sense of healing order from the natural world, coupled with a sense of whimsy, create an escape from daily routines. These restorative spaces ultimately foster imagination and creativity.

Left: Photo courtesy of Adobe / Right: Dropbox office, Austin, Texas, by Perkins+Will


Old is new again.

Simply stated by Le Corbusier, “Form follows function.” Just like honoring history by looking to the past for meaning, identifying purpose in design provides a physical anchor. Applying benchmarking, research, and interviews to the design process uncover truths about a company’s mission and culture.  In this way, workplace design simultaneously honors and shapes an organization’s past, present and future.

Left: Photo courtesy of Adobe / Right: Swarovski office and showroom, New York, New York, by Perkins+Will


Make it real.

One of the loudest criticisms of modern design is its austere nature—whether it’s a failed public plaza, a stark building lobby, or a cold, uncomfortable chair. While there is a time and place for it, at the end of the day, modern design often prioritizes an aesthetic that is not rooted in human biology or behavior.

Perhaps because of our constant reliance on screens and devices, we’re gravitating to more tangible elements.  The workplace is now imbued with materials, forms, and textures that feel natural, not manufactured. We’re rediscovering what helps us feel welcome, comfortable, and real.

Left: Photo courtesy of Adobe / Right: Boston Consulting Group office, Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Perkins+Will

Even when we may think we’re eschewing trends, these aesthetic influences work their way into design–and that’s a good thing: In addition to offering details that are fresh, fun, inspiring, or even nourishing, these trends are touchpoints that anchor our shared experience. What visual trends would you add to the list?

  1. Robert
    10:47 am on September 26, 2018 | Reply

    I don’t agree with the Millennial concept of experience over possessions to reinforcing authenticity since this assumes everyone in a firm is the same (lacking diversity on a number of levels); but in all, very enlightening. Thank you!

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