Find Design Opportunity in Group Behavior

Right-handers Influence Group Behavior Simply By Choosing a Seat

When designing audience seating within theaters or auditoriums, have you ever given specific thought to which seats will be used the most, and by whom? At first, it may seem strange to ponder such details when most of what you will need to do involves selecting the style of seats, specifying how many total seats you will need, designating which ones will be accessible, planning how they will meet egress requirements and making sure each seat position provides a clear view to the stage.

But, should everything be treated so generally? What about the differences in behavior exhibited by each person in the audience? Perhaps not everyone watches a performance in the same way.

Well, a researcher from Japan named Matia Okubo, published a psychology article describing and proving that right-handed persons, interested in paying attention to a film, will actually choose seats to the right side of the theater.

What do you think? Will such a seemingly miniscule characteristic make you think differently about how you design audience seating?

Individuals Make Up a Population, Design for Them.

There are almost innumerable times, as an architect, that you will need to make “small” decisions that affect a the entire collective group of your occupants at once. (Namely, I’m thinking of theater or auditorium seating arrangements, and school classroom student seating arrangements here.)

So, is it often that you think of your occupants in a “lump some” — rather than as individuals who happen to make up a collective?

Yes, negotiating that balance between a “population” and an “individual” can be a delicate thing to do. For instance, just like in the above theater example, school classroom design must also tailor to the needs of an individual student, as well as to the collective needs of the class.

As an architect, you must find a way to do both, and do each one well.

It is important to realize that just as there are differences between the right-handed and left-handed people in the world, there are also many other variations that will make up your building occupant population.

As you design, remember that there are age differences, gender differences, learning differences, personal “preference” differences, physical differences and accessibility differences that may all need to be addressed in your design.

Be a Detective, Find Small Clues That Add Up

Much of the richness of architectural design indeed comes from the variety of the people that will make up your future building occupants. Designing for them is not only what can make your architecture more dynamic, but also more interesting and meaningful.

Knowing more about what makes each of your occupants “tick”, as individuals, will help you to become a better architect for your building occupant groups, as a whole. Don’t take even your simplest design decisions for granted — for they have a cumulative and direct effect.

So, the next time you design a school classroom, make sure you understand what will be taught there, how it will be taught and what types of students will occupy that classroom. Different student learning styles, for instance, are just one of many accommodations for which you must be a forward-thinking architect.

I encourage you to be like a detective. Ask leading questions. Ask the right questions. And get to the bottom of what makes your occupants not only function, but also “prosper”, within an environment.

Then, make creative connections — using your design ingenuity to make each person within a large group of your building’s occupants feel that the building was (almost) built specifically for them.


(1) Right-handers Sit to the Right of the Movie Screen to Optimize Neural Processing of Film. Research Digest Blog. December 20, 2009.

Image Credit: © thisisbossi | Flickr




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