How to Create a Magnetic Library, Part 4
The Magnetic Library: Focusing on User Experience
When it comes to physical and psychic comfort in a physical space humans have innate needs. Buildings designed with these basic needs in mind help library users learn and focus better and be more productive. They may not consciously recognize why, but will appreciate the building on a deeper level and want to return.
SHELTER. In a restaurant with booths and tables, booths typically fill up first. In a room of empty tables, people seek to anchor themselves near a column, wall, or other more permanent feature. Humans instinctively seek out places that offer protection and view. Niches that allow people to get out of the fray, a lowered ceiling height, or furniture that offers some enclosure provide shelter.
VISUAL VARIETY. Contrast the typical convention center meeting room with a walk in the forest. The meeting room lacks visual variety: the ceiling is a plane of white punctuated by glaring lights; the carpet and walls are basically the same tone; the room offers no view outdoors. A forest, however, has variety in color, texture, light, shadow, canopy and ground cover. Humans are wired to appreciate this sort of visual variety and are drawn to interiors that provide it.
CHOICE. Offer control over how to use the library, through choice and variety. Provide movable furnishings or task lighting, for example. Allow users to control the window coverings in a study room to reduce glare. These small details can make a large difference over how the space is perceived and enjoyed.
DAYLIGHT AND VIEW. Studies consistently show that daylight increases well-being and concentration. Variability in lighting also helps thinking and is healthier for our eyes. While glare is a problem, a sunbeam marking the passage of time as it moves across a wall throughout the day is a desirable trait (consider that forest hike). Views outdoors are also important for well-being and can be a powerful wayfinding tool, helping library users orient themselves in the building.
PRIVACY & COMMUNITY. Humans are social animals. We want to connect to our fellow human beings. Sometimes it is enough to be alone with others or to have privacy. At other times, we want to connect with others more actively. Offer all options.
UNITY. Using color, line, scale, and material harmoniously results in interiors that people subconsciously understand. Our brains are wired to look for patterns as a survival tactic. We have an innate ability (and instinctive need) to make order of our surroundings through that pattern seeking. Consider what happens to our psyche, then, when confronted with a library filled with mismatched furniture, overfilled displays, or haphazard signage.
ZONING. Library users have their own expectations for using a library, whether to work alone, collaborate with others, or quickly grab an item and go. Often all of these uses take place in one open, flexible space. Humans are more at ease when we know what is expected of us. At an amusement park, we know we can be loud and boisterous. We know to be quiet in the waiting area of a doctor’s office. But the definition of library is changing, and old norms are being challenged. Visual cues (e.g., ceiling height, lighting, materials, or furniture layout and type) signal appropriate behaviors.
DELIGHT. Delight is perhaps the most important, and most overlooked, innate need. Delight feeds the human spirit. Daylight and view can help, just as the perfect chair in the perfect spot can make us feel content. But the unexpected can delight as well. Providing little touches of whimsy or delight, for example through public art or interactive fixtures, can elevate a building from ordinary to extraordinary.