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Learn to Walk in Your Occupant’s Shoes, Think “Shopping Experience”

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

Image Credit: © kamikazecactus | Flickr

When you design an architectural space, are you concerned with how you might push or pull your occupant while they travel through it? What about when they are standing still? Your occupant’s frame of reference serves to balance them — and you, as the architect, can really play upon this factor.

In essence, you are creating a “shopping experience” for your occupant, and this can apply to more that just retail type architecture. Just as shoppers walk quickly, take their time, stop to browse or stop to rest…your architecture needs to provide good opportunities for your occupants to speed up or slow down.

Like in the painting Four-Way Intersection (above), people can be asked to show different amounts of energy at different points in our designs. Just imagine walking along the sidewalks in the painting — it’s a good thing that there is an intersection providing not only a resting point, but also a chance to regain that frame of balance and reference.

Negotiate Your Occupant’s Efforts

Occupants go through your building spaces and often this takes energy — physically, mentally and even emotionally. So, let me ask you this: What does your design do with their energy? Does it use it efficiently, creatively or do you simply waste it.

Imagine an occupant traveling through a museum design. Will it work better to save the best for last? Or should the important design moments be revealed to them along their journey — in “bite-sized” pieces?

Really, it is all a negotiation, where you must balance their attention, their physical energy and their emotional state.

The IKEA Experience

The store IKEA does an interesting job regarding what I’m talking about. Here is a breakdown of a customer’s experience at IKEA in the United States:

1. At first, shoppers are guided through a winding path where they can see vignettes of fully integrated uses for IKEA’s products. This is where they “shop” for the large ticket items — getting in their heads what they might want.

2. Next, shoppers are treated to the inviting smells of a meal in their restaurant, offering a much needed break to shoppers who have been “on their feet” for a while. After their meal, they are fully refreshed and prepared to go through the rest of the store experience.

3. Now they can grab a shopping cart and wade through the massive amounts of smaller home accessories and gadgets. This calls for a different kind of attention. They travel through these store sections until they reach the warehouse.

4. Once in the warehouse part of the store, shoppers can load their large purchase items onto special furniture carts and work their way to the registers to pay.

5. You would think it might be over, but while at the registers shoppers are again greeted to the enticing aromas of food like freshly baked cinnamon buns and coffee. This is a great idea — as if to treat shoppers for all of their energy spent. This becomes the perfect treat to end their shopping experience and/or wait while they get help from IKEA staff to load those extra large items that need to brought out from the “back”.

When you design, design a great journey for your occupants but really make certain to consciously account for their energy and attention levels. Your designs will become that much more functional, beautiful and memorable in their “eyes”.

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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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