I was invited to attend the 2016 Washington Ideas Forum last week and was somewhat overwhelmed (and quite entertained) with the political talk that took up most of the conversations. Granted, it was just a couple of days after the first presidential debate, so there was lots to talk about and lots of ideas to share around it, but, where did design fit into all of this?
I believe design is in everything, so putting on my design research hat, I began taking quick notes of each talk and making sure I connected a design concept to each idea. As I was listening to speakers from a wide variety of institutions like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Bumble, the Department of Transportation, GE, the Central Intelligence Agency, Google’s Self Driving Car Project, and Niantic, which designed Pokémon Go, I noticed a common design theme running through all of them: Humanization.
Humans are, of course, who we are and at the center of what we do, so humanization as the common thread among the talks may seem like the natural answer. On the other hand, humanization is rather counter-intuitive when thinking about all the technological advances and rapid changes happening around us. Humanization and technology together make sense when we think about problem solving for the future. Interior design, also a problem-solving profession, should consider human sustainability, or more specifically, ‘human thrive-ability’ as they cultivate the future.
Sustainability is comprised of three dimensions: environment, economy, and society. Interior designers are pretty familiar with financial and environmental sustainability through our business and practice. Social or human sustainability, on the contrary, may seem like an unfamiliar term to most. But, as interior designers practicing human-centered design, this may not seem so foreign at all – rather, it may seem like a given. Interior designers are at an advantage when considering human sustainability, and should go beyond supporting people to continue in their lives by designing places that enable them to reach their maximum potential and flourish – in other words, to thrive.
Interior designers have a body of knowledge they can access to support this endeavor. For example, the ASID-sponsored documentary, “Thriving in Place: Designing Your Best Life, Now and Later,” provides a window into how design can help people thrive. Another example is tapping into research to equip yourself with tools to achieve this goal. Here are three points to focus on in research to guide you to design for human ‘thrive-ability’:
1. PEOPLE: KNOW THEM.
We are complex human beings, yet we need to have an understanding of people to design for them. A plethora of research that explains human responses and behaviors exists; particularly, the field of environmental psychology, where the majority of research on how design attributes in the built environment impact humans resides. Some examples of resources in this field are: Journal of Interior Design, Research Design Connections, InformeDesign, etc.
2. PEOPLE: CARE FOR THEM.
From environmental psychology we know that the built environment, in which we spend about 93 percent of our time, has a significant impact on our lives. When following up with research, take care to understand the design implications and make sure you design for positive impact. The ASID Health + Wellness Protocols, for example, is a program of unbiased, peer-reviewed information and insights to help designers make smarter design decisions that place occupant health and wellness first. Additionally, the WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP™) program focuses on evidence-based knowledge in human health and wellness in the built environment and specialization in the principles, practices, and applications of the WELL Building Standard, and shows how research can be transformed into design.
3. PEOPLE: EMPOWER THEM.
Design has the power to impact lives, and this power can be intensified through education and continuous improvement. Share your research with users of the designed space so they can appreciate the design and be empowered through it. For research to thrive in design, ASID recommends conducting post-occupancy evaluations and sharing how your design has made an impact.
About the Author
Susan Chung, Ph.D., is the senior research associate at the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) where she connects design and research for improving human experiences in the interior environment. Valuing the needs of design practitioners, her work at ASID translates research on interior design issues and trends into applicable design implications, and directs projects that investigate positive impact on human experiences. She also devotes her summer time teaching students at Cornell University on how design is interconnected with our daily lives and how they can make a difference in this world through design. With a background in both interior design and organizational behavior research from her doctorate degree in Human Behavior and Design at Cornell University, she has a particular passion in how design attributes are related to creative performance in workplace environments.