Subscribe to receive automatic updates via email for 3M News & stories.


Health-Conscious Design

The pandemic has altered the way people interact in public, from the introduction of physical distancing to how the relationship between personal health and public health is viewed. In the realm of design, the ways society approaches spaces and environments has been in the spotlight.  

Megan Kennedy, NCIDQ, LEED AP, Interior Design Principal, leads interior design for 3M’s global spaces, creates the global vision for interior spaces and integrates 3M’s brand and values into 3M’s physical environments.  

We asked for her perspective on interior design in a pandemic-informed world.   

How do you view the intersection of interior design and public health?  

Interior Design, at its core, is strongly aligned with the concept of health-conscious design.   

Within the field, professional interior designers agree to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public through the lens of design.  

In the ever-evolving COVID landscape, these values are now in the spotlight. The mindset and best practices are not new, but on display, which offers an opportunity to witness it in practice.  

There is a greater emphasis on the ways people move through space, the proximity of individuals, how people are enclosed or in open areas, etc. These are more apparent considerations in this pandemic-aware world. 

How can community be created while addressing personal health in public places? 

The best way to improve upon the past, chart a new course, and start creating community is by asking questions. “What feels like community to you?” “What spaces or places do, or do not, feel safe to you?” Asking questions takes time and dedication, but it will get society much closer to creating meaningful change and stronger community — as well as being an entry point for innovation. Especially in health-conscious design where the focus is on the experience of an individual, these principles can create meaningful change to traditional systems.  

How can areas be designed that better serve varying individual needs as a piece of a larger societal puzzle?  

The new formula for designing space for individuals should be: Ask » Learn »Create/Design» Implement » Measure/Survey » Analyze. Then repeat. Indefinitely.   

What I’ve learned from my experiences during the pandemic is that anything “known” about workplace interiors, specifically, is an illusion. In current conditions, there is the unique landscape of a blank slate, and I am using that as a starting point to stop “knowing” and to start asking. To design holistically for the individual with a focus on the community, knowing that the world has changed in how people interact with the environment.  

How can designs be adapted that are already in place? Where is a start-over needed?  

There are layers to rethinking spaces — from objects like furniture to the role of technology. 

Furniture is a great, inexpensive, quick way to create short-term and long-term flexible space solutions and global standards, especially as we push for more sustainable solutions. Supplementing 3M’s existing spaces and furniture with new furniture solutions allows our 3M designed spaces to be sustainable, flexible, innovative, and inclusive. 

On the tail of furniture is technology. When creating flexible furniture solutions to meet the needs of the current and future office, allowing for unknown technology advancements helps “future-proof.” The integration of technology is seen in spaces every day, so spaces and the role of technology in their design must be rethought today — and tomorrow — to best serve individuals. 

What are the main considerations for offices, businesses, schools and hospitals? 

User experience: Just as there are UX (user experience) designers to curate the virtual experience, physical spaces need the same attention. Walk the path from point of entry to the various locations an employee, guest, or student may need to visit, and document the experience. Pay attention to wayfinding/signage, location cues, daylight, cleanliness, sound, and so on. Does this experience reflect the objective, mission, values of the project? Does it support the health and wellbeing of the individual? How about in the lens of a global pandemic?  

Variety: Spaces can be unique. Don’t assume one piece of furniture, style, or color works for everyone or every task or every setting. A variety of settings allows users to choose what works for them and when. Enclosed rooms for heads-down concentration work. Open coffee shop vibe for collaboration. Allow for standing, sitting and lounging. Include bold colors and soothing colors for productivity. By addressing all of these settings early in design and concepting, people are given the opportunity to choose what works for them. The added piece through the lens of the pandemic is considering personal health and wellbeing as it pertains to spatial design.  

How is 3M approaching design of its own office spaces and production facilities?  

Space matters. It’s 3M’s greatest non-verbal platform to show they care about individuals, and to express brand and values to guests, customers and employees. Our spaces are often our first impression.  

After two years of being away from the office and living in a world filled with serious news and life-threatening situations, we’re adding whimsy and fun to our spaces. We take our work very seriously, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also have room for fun. It’s important to think about the potential positive impact on mental health in designing aspects of the environment. 

Testing new furniture solutions. Finding ways to reconfigure our existing furniture and creating “imperfect” solutions rather than waiting and knowing what’s there won’t work gives us flexibility. 

Many people will be returning to the workplace differently – they may not have an assigned desk, they may be in a different building, they may be sharing space with unknown teams, they may be new and at the office for the first time.  Creating intuitive easy to follow wayfinding is being added to assist in any re-entry as well as being aware of the way our needs have changed in this time.  

Any other thoughts to share around health-conscious design? 

When I think of what it means for a space to be designed in a health-conscious manner, I think about how the whole person needs to be addressed. Mind, body, and spirit.   

Space is emotional and memorable when it intentionally addresses the whole person. Memory is associated with sound and smell. Perhaps the secret to pulling people back to the office is creating the intentional surroundings that create positive experiences and therefor positive memories.