Design

The choice of curves or straight lines is matter of science, not taste

New scientific research explains why curved lines might be more appropriate in some office environments while angular and rectilinear forms might work better in other situations

Have you ever wondered why designers give some aspects of the workplace curvy forms and fill other spaces with straight lines? When should architects go angular and rectilinear – and when should they soften it up with circles and spheres?

In the past, personal taste and designer preference probably played a big part in making such choices. But now there is a growing body of scientific research that is directing architects and designers towards more informed decision-making.

Too many straight lines and employees might feel they are trapped inside The Matrix, part of a sci-fi horror movie. Too many cuddly curvilinear forms and employers might feel they are part of a feature-length children’s animation. Neither scenario is ideal, which is why, in any well-designed space, there should be a mix of curvilinear and rectilinear elements.

‘Too many straight lines and employees are trapped inside The Matrix…’

Getting the balance right is critical, as new research suggests there is a strong correlation between shapes and satisfaction in service environments.

Other studies suggest that angular forms contain a threat and trigger negative bias, while rounded objects are linked to happiness, harmony and calm. And the more collectivist the culture (for example in Asia), the greater the liking for curves while more individualistic cultures (for example in the UK or USA) admire the toughness, energy and strength of angular forms.

For the full scientific report on curves versus straight lines, please go to WORKTECH Academy’s report in our Innovation Zone by researcher Sally Augustin of Research Design Connections.

Sally Augustin PhD is a practicing environmental design psychologist and editor of Research Design Connections, based in Chicago. She provides regular scientific commentary for the Academy’s Innovation Zone on new academic research in work and workplace.