The interior design sector has faced a hard challenge in proving its importance in this often tough industry. The terms interior designer and interior architect are only recent labels for those who lead this field, with these industry members traditionally, and oftentimes much to their disdain, labeled as decorators.
However, as we begin to understand the psychology behind design, and especially interior design, we can start to uncover the incredible influence that space and design have over individual behavior, mood and actions.
While we have recently explored the impact that colour has over individual feelings and how it affects us in a range of various ways, the concept of space in rooms has had little exploration, even though it has a big impact.
The study of space is known as proxemics, and it goes a far way in explaining why we feel a certain way when we enter a room. It specifically deals with the amount of space people need between each other in order feel comfortable and relaxed, which is heavily related to how a room is laid out or a public space situated. Studies have found that when chairs in public spaces are positioned too close together, or a room too tightly formed it forces individuals into socially interacting or excessively acknowledging those around them, causing stress levels to rise. This increased stress level has been linked with both decreases in performance, productivity and mood.
In addition to this information, in 1962 John B. Cahoun discovered a link between violence and close proximity and density, which he labeled ‘defensive space’. He discovered that unwanted, frequent social interaction caused feelings and eventual physical manifestations of violent behaviour.
But what does this mean for us in the industry?
Actually a great deal. The success of a space, public or otherwise, relies for the most part on the atmosphere that it creates for the user. While functionality is always a key part of design, if individuals feel uncomfortable in the space, its functional aspects are simply wasted.
That is why for the success of an interior space to come to its full fruition, in addition to an understanding of proxemics (which is but one key element to understanding the psychology behind interior design) there must also be a complete understanding of its sensory effects.
Not only can the design dictate the entire mood of a space, but also the actual social interactions one has. For example, the positioning of seating which is so close at sports games – while it is obviously an efficient use of space it actually also heightens the mood of the crowd, which can either create a strong camaraderie between complete strangers or bouts of violence between opposing supporters.
The sensory effects of seeing, taktilnye (feeling), hearing and obonyatelnye (smelling) should be taken into consideration in understanding the influencing power that an interior design can actually hold.
This of course refers to the visual experience that an individual will have upon entering a space, and is often the only consideration that designers will take when creating an interior environment. It includes the very influencing aspects of colour and light, shape and line, and can influence mood, attention and memory. The reason that this sense is often the main focus of a designer’s design brief is that seeing the most powerful sense we use when we perceive a space. It is, however, not the only sense that does so.
The idea of touch is also an incredible sense to consider when designing a space, although it does not relate as closely with individual personality types and is less likely to have a uniform mass influence. The nervous or aggressive gravitate to soft textures due to their calming influence, while tiredness or sluggishness can be relieved through angular shapes and harsh lines. While this may not be ideal in the public setting, by using textures, lines and patterns that alleviate laziness in the workplace, like hard lines in an office kitchen to invigorate sluggish lunchers, productivity can be boosted.
The same can be said for hearing. While it is not a highly uniformed sense (some people cannot stand the sound of a ticking clock, while it soothes others) it certainly has influencing power due to its memory association, strong influence on mood and ability to create any given atmosphere according to the chosen sound, be it music or otherwise.
Finally there smells. Possibly one of the lease emphasised design influencers, smell can actually influence attitudes and show physical manifestations. Fresh strong smells invigorate us, the smell of certain foods can physically make our mouths water or conversely make us gag. The prime example of this sensory theory is the use of the common perfume or cologne. Most adults use these different fragrances to portray their identity and communicate an illusion or interpretation of their personality. Therefore smell has the ability to communicate a feeling, attitude and atmosphere of any space.
The key element here is that designers have influencing power they are not yet fully exercising. Not only can they create spaces that truly allow for their function to be communicated in its full complexity, they have a level of control over the actions of those who enter them.