The Impact of Design on Human Experience
How do you feel right now in the space you are currently occupying? Are you aware of the impact this space is having on your mood, your level of comfort, your interaction with the people around you, possibly even on your body’s metabolism? Although we are not always aware of our surroundings, we nonetheless are always interacting with the design.
Have you ever walked into a room, a restaurant, or maybe a hotel lobby and suddenly felt your spirit lift? The design of that room connected with you in a flash, before you could take it all in. It may be the lighting, or the colors, or the layout of the space, or, more likely, a combination of things that delighted your eye, startled your senses, triggered a memory, and set off a chain reaction in your body and your brain that resulted in a pleasant sensation. That phenomenon is the power of design.
One area where this idea is being tested is choice psychology. It is a whole field of psychology that studies why we make the choices we do and how we might influence people to make healthier and less risky choices. For example, it has long been known in the healthcare and food service industries that hand washing reduces the spread of disease. I’m sure you have all seen the signs in restaurant restrooms reminding employees to wash their hands before leaving the restroom. How effective those signs are is anyone’s guess. One research study found that among healthcare workers compliance rates were between 15%–35%. What if that restroom or patient examination room was designed so that the sink’s position and appearance appealed to workers or physicians and prompted them to wash their hands? In a hospital, where secondary infections are a major cause of patient complications and fatalities—and malpractice suits—the impact on health and the bottom line would be considerable. A research study currently is underway at the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Specialty Center to test this hypothesis.
Humans are generally most happy when they are outside experiencing nature. Studies have shown that patients who have a view to nature heal faster than those who do not. Daylighting and natural views improve workers’ productivity and students’ ability to learn. An area of study called biophilia explores our instinctual link to other forms of life, including the natural environment. It is helping us better understand how we can create interior environments that engage our primal responses to nature, either to evoke pleasant emotions or to prompt avoidance behaviors and thus prevent harm.
The power of design—the ability to positively impact the human experience.