The research team, comprised of designers from HKS and advisors from the Dallas Independent School District, Herman Miller, and USG, developed a sensory design lab prototype that measures human responses to interior design elements in real time. Working with the Dallas Independent School District, we pilot-tested the sensory design lab at a high school to measure the effects of furniture choice/arrangement and environmental conditions (sound, temperature, and light) on heart rate, movement, and self-reported anxiety and achievement.
Building the Prototype: An Iterative Process
In addition to measuring human responses to interior design elements in real time, we sought to create a prototype that could be flexible, portable, and trackable.
Challenge 1: Most enclosure options available on the market are permanent installations.
Solution: Build one from scratch. Although some industry sponsors had offered their products, the research team decided to build the SDL using 1-1/2” square wooden beams that have holes for bolts in order to enable modularity and flexibility, and be brand agnostic.
Challenge 2: Wall panels were not flushed with this custom-built system.
Solution: 3D-print what you need. After a significant exploration on joints, the final product had 3D-printed corner brackets and wall clips.
Challenge 3: An environmental sensor that provided access to all the data required for this study does not exist.
Solution: Create custom sensors and pilot-test to be sure they work and provide the necessary data.
Projecting the Next Generation: Continuous Learning
The research team discovered some areas for improvement of the next iteration of the SDL. During the process, three spin-off projects surfaced:
A full-scale prototype fitted with sensors is in development. The goal is to include higher fidelity options, such as an extruded aluminum system, which is a similar modular system but is sturdier and presents less size variance than wooden beams. The higher fidelity frame system can also allow the interior to change at low, medium, or high fidelity finishes, testing the variables of material, color, texture, or view within a typical volume. With this easily reconfigurable frame system, designers and researchers can generate multiple mockups and collect sensor and behavioral data. Portability, lighting, and HVAC within the structure, and other issues, remain constraints.
Lightweight Structural System
The frame system can take the shape of any desired spatial form while also supporting a wall assembly of materials to moderate/control a specific set of environmental attributes, such as light and sound. This is informing HKS’s pro bono work of the year, a sensory room for high school students with behavioral disabilities in Lane Tech High School in Chicago. This project utilizes a lightweight structure prototype equipped with specified materials to dampen sensory overload and control local light color and intensity for the individual to assist with calming during a triggered episode. Joint configurations are being pilot-tested. Sensors are included to measure both the environmental quality of the sensory room and the users’ activities within the room to assess the effectiveness of the design. The data from the sensors will also inform the school on how the room can be fine-tuned.
A sensor system installed in the field, the Lab-in-a-Bag, deploys sensors into functioning buildings/spaces with minimal disruption during data collection, making the data more reliable. The data from the Lab-in-a-Bag can be analyzed to assess current environmental conditions and could be used as a baseline condition for a series of spatial conditions in the same space.
“This has been a wonderful experience to develop a new research method and pilot it despite the challenges we have faced. We believe this method can inform both researchers and practitioners about human-environment relationships on a new level. We would like to create an industry collaborative to take this work further – with ASID and other industry partners. We are also excited to share our results about how sound levels and other environmental factors, including personalization of furniture, influence student outcomes.” – HKS research team
For more information contact: Dr. Upali Nanda, Director of Research at HKS; Executive Director, Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.