Given two interiors, how do people experience them and which do they prefer—the wallpapered room at left or the one with a living plant wall at right?
That’s the question designer Amanda Grinley looked to explore. Starting with a simple, stripped-down room, she wondered how adding biophilic elements, such as plants and representations of them, would change human behavior and how people felt about a space.
“This image (above) shows an interior stripped of design characteristics and serves as the control for understanding interiors that provide a better and healthier experience,” Grinley said. She ran it through biometric software, 3M VAS (Visual Attention Software) to understand how how people initially—at-first-glance—took in the scene.
VAS predicts initial responses, creating Visual Sequence diagrams that track the order people take things in, and Region of Interest (ROI) diagrams that predict, as a percentage, the area that draws the most attention; we see here 98% of views are predicted to fall on the couch and table with the rest of the room effectively ignored. And what happens with a redesign that adds a green wall and live biophilic elements?
VAS shows “the eye sequence dramatically changes to the green wall and wooden beam structure,” Grinley says; note how attention shifts from furniture to now include the wall and ceiling of the living space. Creating a room with elements that mimic nature also produces a shift – though not quite as dramatic:
Note how focus still falls on table and couch as in original image. The VAS program “allows you to glimpse into a psychological understanding of the human mind,” Grinley adds. It “picks up on where our eyes travel and how long we decide to focus on a given area of interest. With this understanding, designers have the opportunity to dramatically change where attention goes and promote a positive experience.”
And while VAS does not relay information about human emotional experience or how a place makes people feel, turning to social media tools like Instagram can do that, enriching the designer’s toolkit. Instagram, for instance, includes a polling feature allowing viewers to select their preferred image, as shown in the set-up below:
“A little over 100 people cast their vote on which interior they preferred,” Grinley said, in this poll which compared the two spaces over a 24-hour period. “The results came back with a majority wanting an interior with direct biophilic design.”
Why the preference? It connects to evolution. “Evolutionary theory explains humans evolving over a long period in natural environments so we became adept at taking in/ and preferring nature.” We don’t tend to look at blank things, and when it comes to designs that mimic nature, ones that replicate its fractal qualities, of repeatable, scalable patterns, and aren’t too dense or sparse, will be preferred.
“Thankfully, both methods can be used to promote a healthy environment,” she said, actual nature and designs that mimic natural patterns. And why is using biometrics with social media helpful? “This combination can become a powerful tool in understanding and influencing human behavior for better experiences in our built environment.”
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Our thanks to Amanda Grinley, BAC Master of Architecture student, for sharing this creative research, Spring 2021. All images courtesy Amanda Grinley.