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Can You Move Your Building Occupant to Change their Behavior?

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

‍Image: mindfrieze | Flickr

Environment and behavior are linked. And since research is showing that this is the case, I think you as an architect should be aware of how your designs may spark certain behaviors in your building occupant. For instance, color has been said to impact mood, which in turn, impacts behavior. However, color is just one variable in a wide range of factors about architectural design that affect a person’s behavior.

But, can architecture do more than just create a behavior? What about changing a behavior?

There are times when a person needs to change a behavior, such as when striving to lose weight, stop smoking, eat healthier or watch less television. (You get the idea.) Well, researchers that are part of Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab put together a succinct slideshow about the Top 10 Mistakes in Behavior Change — and if you think about each of the slide topics they present (shown below), you may start to imagine how an architectural environment can help its occupants to change behaviors they want to change.

Before I present you with the slideshow, I would like to point out a few things about designing an architecture that can become part of supporting a behavioral change for its occupant. Generally speaking, as an architect you should learn (in depth) about the narrative that your building occupant is experiencing with regard to their old habit, and the narrative of the journey and maintenance of their new habit. In short, understand their journey — where they are, where they want to go, and the steps in between to get them there.

Next, you need to find milestones that can serve as goals. When a goal is reached, a reward may be given. And of course, positive encouragement is important to give along the way as well. For some, visual metrics of progress or an abstract form of “coaching” can work, particularly just before your occupant makes certain decisions because these are great times to indicate progress to keep up good work, or promote incentives. These can take on the form of “triggers” — a term you will see in the slideshow at the end of this article.

In essence, know that when you design an architectural environment, you are creating the spaces that people spend most of their time in. And you must align those spaces with how your occupants intend to grow as a person — whether it is their home, their office or their school.

Know that what you design, your buildings’ elements can act as triggers, whether they are helpful or not. Thus, your goal should be to align the triggers that are inherent to your design to help your occupants. Be thoughtful about it.

So, if your building occupant lives within a home that you designed, perhaps the kitchen helps them to eat healthier by making their cooking and dining experience unique to their needs, or perhaps they can exercise more because there are subtle triggers within their environment’s design to stop watching so much television all evening. Additionally, when you factor in much of what interactive technologies can do today within a household… time-based triggers and rewards for goals reached become priceless as they encourage those steps toward wanted behavioral change.

The following is the slideshow put together by the Stanford University Persuasive Tech Lab. Think about how these insights into behavior change might help you design better architectural environments for your building occupants.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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