UX in Architecture – where does the Future lie?

August 17th, 2020

Paul Tattum

Discounting the obvious impact of recent events, there has been a steady increase in discretionary spending towards experiences and away from material possessions.  This preference towards a full and rich life of experience influences where we want to spend our time.  Whether in a workspace, hotel, cinema or retail space, we want to spend our time in spaces that make us feel good, buildings that provide more than an elegant enclosure from the elements.

The impact of our environments

We spend our lives inside buildings, which in turn shape our thoughts and feelings, so it’s no surprise there is increasing research into what it is about building design that affects us and how good building design creates spaces that just feel right.

We now know, for example, that buildings and cities can change our mood and well-being, yet how often are the potential cognitive effects of the design of new spaces on the end users discussed in design team meetings? The drive to design something unique and individual can override considerations of how it might shape the behaviours of those who will live in and use the space.

A study on curved versus rectilinear furniture, where subjects viewed a series of rooms filled with different kinds of couches and lounge chairs found that furniture defined by straight edges was rated as far less appealing and approachable.  This point has been studied and reinforced by Colin Ellard, a Toronto based neuroscientist who works at the intersection of psychology and architectural and urban design, conducting experiments that measure how your brain and body respond to different kinds of settings.  Or consider a 2009 experiment, that found the colour red promoted attention to detail and accuracy through heightened awareness generated by a colour that denotes danger in nature, whilst blue prompted a different set of psychological benefits helping creativity and imagination, doubling the “creative outputs” above those subjects tested in the red room.

Research shows that an adequate amount of light improves mood and energy levels, while poor lighting contributes to depression and other deficiencies in the body. The amount and type of lighting directly affect concentration, appetite, mood, and many other aspects of daily life.

Designing for the senses

So it’s clear that not only the type of materials used in our spaces affects our senses, but also the shape of the furniture within them; the colour of the walls and the amount and quality of light – but what about sound and smell?

Julian Treasure, a published sound consultant and Chairman of The Sound Agency is able to design soundscapes to achieve specific psychological, physiological, cognitive of behavioural outcomes which is important when you understand the way things sound have a tangible, measurable effect on how we feel, how we work and how we live.  For example, bird song is a reassuring sound when heard, because it gives the cue that you are in a safe place – birds only stop singing when there is danger, yet in an office environment, if you can hear conversation around you, it can reduce productivity by as much as 66%.

Too much sound; harsh sounds or music that is inappropriate for the setting can be stressful – impacting our health by overloading our already highly stimulated brains. We’ve all heard of “fight of flight” – here the primal brain takes over as our automatic response switches us into a different mode – this hyper alert state can impact everything from the size of our pupils, to our digestion and our heart rate. It makes sense then that it’s important we feel safe and calm in our residential, retail, work or leisure settings, allowing us to enjoy the space and the experience.

A different kind of factory

The role of scent in hotel and leisure spaces is not new, but the use of scent to evoke beneficial emotions in workspace is being taken seriously by workspace developers and designers.  As a recent survey by Savills on what workers want, shows 82% of workers surveyed rank smell as an important factor in their workplace.

Ambius, one of the largest providers of workplace scenting, claims that 75% of the emotions that we generate each day are affected by smell, and yet scent is still regularly left out of the equation in office design.  Positive effects aren’t limited to maintaining a calm ambience, but could range from improving mood to increasing employee focus and according to Ambius.

“Scents such as lavender, pine and eucalyptus are reported to alleviate stress,” Lang, Director from Savills explains. “Others such as lemon and jasmine can be employed to improve concentration and accuracy.”

Smell can offer a type of wayfinding that not only becomes part of our experience of a space, but also serves to prompt or guide behaviour within that space. A smell can act as a boundary which signals what lies ahead, or what has just been experienced.

A change of focus – designing for wellbeing

The space we inhabit has a profound effect on us and the impact created by the visual and the sound scape we encounter, and whilst designing for the end user is not a new idea, designing for wellness has recently gained prominence with the WELL Building Standard being adopted by developers who understand that end user requirements have been changing.

Whilst the WELL Building Standard aims to create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, and sleep patterns, and the introduction of yoga rooms and in-house gyms is becoming more common, designing a space to achieve these standards needs a clear design strategy for the touch, sound and lighting requirements of the end user.

The service and entertainment sectors use scents to enhance customer experience. Thorpe Park, a theme park in Surrey, sprayed pungent urine inside its Saw 4 attraction to intensify the feelings of horror, and retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike and Sony have long been using smells to enhance brand identity, while theatre productions using smell emissions are also increasingly common – all requiring more sophisticated diffusion and ventilation systems to control the movement and concentration of smells.

The form of a building and its materials play an integral role in smell ambiance, and when trying to create a specific atmosphere, smell might be used more readily combined with other sensory elements.

At Future Projects, we believe in the importance of spaces that create experiences. Some common sense points to take into account when setting the brief and design strategy for you next development are;

Sight – What are people first going to see when they walk into a space? They should be able to see natural elements like wood and water — and it should have an inviting colour such as green, blue or grey; consider the uses for natural light and colour-wash lighting that can impact on mood.

Sound – What will be heard when they walk in? What sounds can be actively introduced to promote the intended uses within the building and invoke feelings linked to the intended use of the building.

Smell –  What emotions, behaviours, and memories do you want your occupants to experience? how can different smells from architectural materials, planting and scent or other occupants do to strengthen these outcomes?

Touch – Think about the surfaces resulting from different material choices and whether these are soft, curved to the touch or sharp and rectilinear.

Considering these often over-looked elements of design will produce effective spaces that draw on  the senses to create a holistic user and human experience.

Whether in retail, leisure, workspace or residential, developers that are able to provide a user experience that connects with and amplifies the senses, are better placed to create amazing spaces.

Ready to create your next amazing space? Future Projects can help. Let’s talk.