How building design influences behaviour

The idea that we are influenced by various things outside of our control is quite terrifying: knowing that what you think, what you do, what you believe can change or be established through factors you have no influence on makes you feel helpless. Yet, being made aware of what some of those factors are, and how they work, not only makes it easier for us to have control over, but also furthers our understanding of our thinking in general.

One key way is to examine what buildings do in terms of our actions.

This might seem outlandish, until you think of a minor example: If you need to get to a floor in a building, but the building has no lift, you will no doubt use the stairs. This seems obvious. And that obvious nature of that decision shows that a building’s design has directly influenced your decision and action.

There’s little doubt among researchers that environment influences behaviour. Jan Golembiewski notes that: “In 2008, researchers in the UK found that a ten-minute walk down a South London main street increased psychotic symptoms significantly.”

Scientific American discusses this same rise in research focusing on design’s influence.

“behavioral scien­­tists are giving these hunches an empirical basis. They are unearthing tantalizing clues about how to design spaces that promote creativity, keep students focused and alert, and lead to relaxation and social intimacy.”

There are all sorts of obvious examples of such reactions and behaviours. For example, everyone stops for boom gates; we all stay away from No Entry signs; it makes no sense to think we are not influenced by designs when everyday we demonstrate examples of just this fact.

A wildly known area where this is utilised is in shopping malls and shops in general. The Association for Consumer Research notes research on this topic.

“Store environment also influences various stages of shoppers’ cognitive process inside a store, including attention, perception, categorization and information processing. For example, it has been shown that perceived waiting time varies with the valence of music and consumers’ categorization of a restaurant as a fast food outlet depends largely on the external appearance of the store … The influence of store environment on these cognitive stages would subsequently affect evaluations of the store, its merchandise and service, and hence on the shopping behaviors or outcomes … Furthermore, store environment may influence these evaluations directly by providing consumers with a peripheral cue or a tangible evidence for assessing the service and merchandise quality of a store, or by transfer of meanings from the environment…”

There’s no reason to think such extensive influence only affects shoppers and only in shopping. If it happens there, it happens everywhere.