28 November, 2023
Designing for neurodiversity: inclusive office design
Creating inclusive office spaces that are better for everyone.

A cross section of studies indicates that between 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse, and Forbes writes that includes “up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, 5% diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and 1-2% with autism.”

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a broad term for a range of differences in individual brain function and behaviours and is a normal part of human variation.

Historically as a culture we have designed work and education spaces to suit very narrow needs or arguably not catering to human needs at all.

As we learn more about the human mind and how it functions – as businesses strive to find and nurture top talent, creating spaces that optimise individual wellbeing, and consequently productivity – inclusive spaces have become an increasing focus for employers and education institutions, promoting a much more detailed approach to design.

It’s an area that many of our designers, including Design Director, Adam Haury, are passionate about. He says: “Neurodiverse people are everywhere and creating environments for neurodiversity is super important. Just as we need to make sure we create spaces that respect peoples’ wellbeing in other ways, thinking about neurodiversity in the workplace is essential.”

What is inclusive office design?

Inclusive office design is the intentional creation of workspaces that accommodate the diverse needs of every individual – ensuring a comfortable environment that enables each person to perform at their best. It fundamentally values and integrates both diversity and individuality

Catering for individual superpowers 

As we learn more about the way the mind works, we understand that all of us have specific needs. While we can’t cater to specific individuals all the time, when it comes to creating a workplace, we can design with inclusion in mind.

As mental health and coaching startup, Betterup, says: “No two brains are alike. Everyone thinks, processes information, learns, and works in different ways. These neurological differences are natural variations in how our brains are wired. Reframing these differences as an important and valuable component of diversity helps us recapture them as strengths.”

An inclusive office design for Lowell including private focus rooms

In fact, often, businesses that proactively create environments that support neurodivergent people ultimately have a competitive advantage. Broadening their appeal to a skilled talent pool, many of whom display superior technical skills, pattern recognition, creativity and problem-solving abilities.

As an example, JP Morgan & Chase’s Autism at Work program found that autistic employees were “48% faster and up to 92% more productive than their non-autistic counterparts – with common factors including strong visual acuity, attention to detail, and a superior ability to focus.”

What does neurodiversity mean in terms of inclusive office design?

Adam says: “We know that different people have different needs and we’re learning more about the impact of our environment all the time. As designers, we need to think about how an environment can support a variety of people as well as the team as a whole.

That might mean considering adaptability in main spaces through something like clever lighting that can change the atmosphere of a space. Choosing colours and modes that support people who are impacted by different hues, or creating dedicated spaces for people to retreat when they need a break.”

Perhaps ironically, many of the design attributes that support people who are neurodivergent actually help everyone to be healthier and happier at work. Examples might include:

  • Low traffic areas to help with social anxiety
  • Low-stimulation environments to help with hyper-focus
  • Diverse social spaces to reset and recharge
  • Quiet rooms/ spaces for concentrated work
  • Collaborative hubs for high-extraversion workers
  • Designing workplaces that encourage movement

What we try to bring to all spaces we design at Maris, is inclusivity across the board. Someone who is neurodivergent should and can be catered for as much as possible. It’s a balance between a holistic approach that supports everyone and balancing dedicated spaces for specific needs.

An inclusive office design for Lowell

Asking the right questions

Adam says: “In a broad sense, the important thing is to make designing for different needs a key part of the whole design rather than an afterthought. We want spaces to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. That’s why the design process needs to involve getting to know the team first. This is a fundamental part of what we do at Maris.

We need to ask questions so that when it comes to decisions like the colour palette. As an extreme example, if 100 people aren’t bothered but one person is fundamentally affected by it. We need to cater to them because that way it actually caters to everyone.”

He concludes: “So many people are mentally stressed in the workplace. If we think about building wellness into the whole workplace experience then we will not only be doing the right thing, but also getting better work from people as well.”

See how we worked with Croud to create a space that maximised inclusivity.