June 19, 2012, by Lindsay Mullett

Form, Function + Feeling

In today’s world, there are so many details to consider when designing a new space.  How should a space function to best suit a client’s needs?  What are the applicable building codes?  What’s the best way to build with the least environmental disruption? While these are a few of the obvious items, something that isn’t always emphasized is the psychological impact a building will have on its occupants.

I was reminded of this during a recent interior design registration exam.  Admittedly, I was nervous despite my months of studying and I was still haunted by the last testing center I attended.  It had enclosed and drab walls, low ceilings, fluorescents and little-to-no natural light.  I remembered feeling distracted and unsure about where anything was, and I was mentally drained by the end of the test (which at the time I credited to the late night cram sessions).  Luckily, the most recent space I spent 8 hours in was very much the opposite.  The room had tall ceilings with dropped acoustical panels, plenty of air circulating, and each test taker had a personal drafting table and view of downtown Columbus.  My mind felt at ease and I was ready to tackle the task at hand.

When I compare the two experiences, it’s simple to point out the differences in the end, but it’s not always as clear up front how a space will influence its end users.  As research continues to unfold the ins-and-outs of human interaction with their environment and evidence-based design becomes more popular, one thing continues to be clear: building design greatly impacts occupants’ psychology, thought, performance and mood.

Looking at the many parts and pieces of a building, it's fascinating to think about the broad spectrum of effects each piece could have as a design story unfolds.  For example, ceilings have greater purpose than just covering the mechanical equipment housed above, they can offer sensory cues within a space that help first time occupants understand the type of space they are entering.  Whether it’s a loud and active environment or a quiet, intimate setting, the placement, height and finishes of a ceiling can encourage the human mind to behave in a certain way or follow a specific direction.  Without these cues, people may, psychologically, feel lost and unsure.

Maybe the most obvious and necessary design factors that effects one’s psyche is a view to the exterior.  Many people have felt that even though it’s essential, an outside view can create distraction for an occupant.  Interestingly, and much to my relief as a self-proclaimed daydreamer, a recent Wall Street Journal article stated a view to a vibrant exterior leads to significant improvements in “tests of attention” and “handling major life challenges”.

Given the many factors in a design, it isn’t always feasible to include all elements that may lead to these improvements, and some markets have been able to adopt the research more than others.  Corporate design, for instance, continues to be a front runner in understanding elements in design (flexibility, natural light and open layout, to name a few) that enhance productivity, collaboration, and overall employee health and happiness.  The office designs of corporate giants such as Google and Redbull not only get their name in the news, they exemplify the benefits that each space has on employees as the two companies continue to prosper – economically and creatively.

It’s said that humans spend more than 50% of their time indoors; as these facts and findings become more profound and our way of life becomes quicker, it is imperative to create indoor spaces that will not only keep up with today’s lifestyle, but also give people the chance to be comfortable, happy, and enjoy their surroundings.