Create healthier interiors using evidence‑based design
Monday, July 24, 2017
Our lives seem to always be going in a million directions, and we seem to be connected to every aspect of it. With our phones, computers and other technology-driven habits, it's no wonder we are facing major health issues — not just as we age but during our entire life.
The media has been focusing on sleep research suggesting that our lack of quality sleep may lead to diseases like Alzheimer's, hypertension and shorter life spans. The idea that we are not getting enough "quality sleep" seems to be an issue that is on everyone's mind. So is the idea that we are not moving or eating the best foods for what our body needs to function well.
How can we help our clients combat these evils?
Can a well-designed interior help to limit our work time and increase our resting time? Of course. Can we design spaces that almost force us to change our behavior? Probably not. Your job title is designer, not behavior psychologist. The individual in all of us will fight that way of thinking every time.
Case in point: You are creating a work environment for a company that wants to promote a healthier lifestyle for its employees and wants to incorporate an exercise room in its new offices. But if nobody currently exercises, how can you be sure that they'll start now?
Designing the most complete and inviting space for behavioral change is the challenge. If the culture is already there — i.e., active employees — then creating an exercise facility in the office will be successful. If it isn't successful, it's not your fault as the designer. But clients don't see it that way.
As someone who is big on getting eight hours of rest every night and who wears a Fitbit every day to track my exercise, diet and sleep, I can tell you that my productivity is off when I am not following my routine.
Health and wellness research has a huge influence on evidence-based design. It suggests that our environment can influence our behavior and help us to be healthier. As the research continues to focus on our overall well-being, we as designers need to be able to convey this information in a way our clients understand and benefit from it.
So, what can we do as designers to show clients the best way to approach behavioral change? It starts with the first conversation you have with your client — understanding their needs is the first step. Understanding the culture of the company, the dynamics of the family household or individual should always be part of your programming and predesign.
If you're trying to help your client create a healthier environment — be it in their home or office — understanding the current research in evidence-based design can give you an advantage. By using this research, you can help your client understand that the physical environment affects us regardless of whether we are inside or out.
Now, I am not suggesting that you provide your client pages of scientific data to design a bedroom for better sleep, but having that knowledge and understanding the impact it will have on your design will help you to pick finishes and furnishing as you start the design process.
Good designers are more than just creative; we are knowledge seekers. We want our clients to be happy with our work, but we also want our clients to see the benefits our knowledge.
As design professionals, we have the power to influence behavior by what we design, by making sure our design plan addresses the health, safety and well-being for everyone who is using that space. If you think of yourself as more of an artist or decorator and less of a scientist, you can still use evidence-based research and the psychology behind it to benefit your clients.
Color, texture, sights and sounds all have been researched in some way to influence behavior. Take the time to see what you can learn from reading these studies, and you might just help your client sleep better and live longer.
Creating a better quality of life through the power of design is the best way to ensure we are promoting healthy living and longevity for our clients now and in the future.
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