Interior trends: learning spaces – how human-centric environs can boost performance

Lloyd Coldrick, managing director, Cobus, discusses how the higher education learning environment can be designed to boost productivity and motivation, while helping to promote future skills

A higher education learning space that embraces and nurtures the relationship between academics and students is crucial in cultivating a culture of working together.

In today’s more progressive university spaces, technology is ubiquitous, collaboration is celebrated, movement is encouraged, and multiple activities take place in adaptable environments.

The UK government recognises the right of young people to learn in an environment which is safe, healthy and achieves the highest-quality education possible.

At Cobus, we find that by giving students the right tools to build upon one another’s thinking, it will help to cultivate a culture of working together. Therefore, by enhancing the learning environment, the student and lecturer’s productivity and creativity is enhanced.

Multi-sensory design

The term ‘multi-sensory’ invokes thoughts of what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Effectively incorporating these senses into a higher education learning space design can stimulate students’ motivation, which in turn can increase engagement and performance.

Visual stimulation is an integral part of a learning space. Aesthetically pleasing colours have a psychological impact on us, so bright, bold and vibrant designs will enhance the studying environment, thus boosting student and academic satisfaction.

Lighting in the classroom is also critical as it has a significant impact on engagement. As well as affecting what and how well we are able to see, lighting indirectly affects our mood and behaviour.

Natural lighting renovations such as large windows with open views, or high-quality LED lighting, will invoke positive feelings and result in happier students, less absenteeism, less illness and, ultimately, increased engagement.

As humans, we all have a deep-rooted genetic connection to the natural world around us. So, by also incorporating direct or indirect biophilic elements of nature into a classroom or auditorium such as fresh flowers and plants, positive feelings can be invoked, while reducing stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates.

In addition, creating a breakout zone or individual support area within the learning environment, where students can take some time away from studying, is significantly beneficial. As most students live within their university grounds and spend a lot of their time on campus, the atmosphere in these areas is important. They should adopt styles such as the ‘resimercial’ design, creating a home away from home. Warmth and comfort are key and can be achieved through homely furniture, bright colours and natural textures.

A higher education environment designed with an all-inclusive learning space at its heart has a huge impact on the wellbeing of students and their engagement, so it’s fundamental to maximise this when planning a design.

The human-centric approach

One of the biggest trends in 2019 and beyond is the ‘human-centric’ design, which gives designers a deeper understanding of creating living spaces that are more humanistic, holistic, and solve problems for people.

In a way, the challenge of the human-centric design is even greater than a purely aesthetic approach, because designers must consider the user’s needs, aesthetic appeal and user friendliness into their vision.

Mixing aesthetics into a human-centric design to create a unified whole with minimal artistic and ergonomic sacrifices is the ultimate challenge.

The human-centric design sends a message that the students are of the utmost importance. Universities have realised that a one-size-fits-all approach can’t be used. To design better, the human aspect of each individual learning environment must be considered – it’s why a human-centric approach is so important.

Overall, higher education spaces are getting bolder and more striking by adopting multifunctional designs that provide benefits to both the institution and student.

Ultimately, we’re getting smarter in how we can merge varying designs to create a space that is aesthetically pleasing, health promoting, planet-saving and profit-boosting, all while having a degree of flexibility to ensure an inclusive space for all.

A classroom where stimulating engagement is fostered between academics and their students will inspire the mind, boost productivity and build the skills of the next generation.

Lloyd Coldrick is the managing director at Cobus. To contact him, email: or call: 01452 418789

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