Planning for the Subconscious

June 2016 Cover, Planning Magazine

June 2016 Cover, Planning Magazine

We’re thrilled to announce Planning Magazine, the flagship publication of the American Planning Association (APA), made our article their cover story this month. The story’s below, here’s how they introduced it:

“This month’s Planning Magazine probes below the surface with an intriguing cover story on planning for the subconscious. Authors Ann Sussman and Janice Ward explain how data obtained from eye tracking and other biometric technologies can help planners shape built environments that are interesting, pleasing, and informative for their human inhabitants.”

Planning for the Subconscious
Using eye tracking and other biometric tools to better understand ourselves.
By Ann Sussman, AIA, and Janice M. Ward

‘The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.’  —Steve Jobs

The world is entering a new era of cognitive science that allows us to understand human behavior better than ever before. In fact, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development recently labelled the 21st century the “Age of Biology,” noting the growing impacts of the ongoing life-science revolution, which the group predicts will change economies, create new technologies, and broadly reshape our lives.

For planning, this new age means we can record how people see and feel about their surroundings, not as machines, but as animals keen on connection and ruled by anxieties. Imagine being able to collect real-world, real-time data about emotional habits in the built environment and to definitively answer perennial questions such as why people enjoy walking through miles of a dense urban settings like Manhattan but consistently shun barren landscapes like Boston’s infamously empty City Hall Plaza.

Today it’s possible. With affordable new tools, we can track subconscious predispositions and use metrics to explain the human response to an existing development or predict responses to a new development. Planning will become trackable and quantifiable in ways unimaginable in the 20th century.

Read the full story.

Ann and I would like to thank the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston for hosting our study and volunteers there and at the Wheelhouse at the Bradford Mill in Concord for participating in it.  We also thank the editors of Planning Magazine and the other researchers mentioned in the article  for their interest and contributions.

Janice M. Ward and Ann Sussman

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