How to Design for Vision Using Central and Peripheral Fields

Did you know that vision can be divided into central vision and peripheral vision? Well, according to the book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, central vision is what you perceive when you look directly at something, while peripheral vision is everything else you perceive in your visual field. (1) In fact, here is what the author Susan Weinschenk has to say:

“Being able to see things out of the corner of your eye is certainly useful, but new research from Kansas State University shows that peripheral vision is more important in understanding the world around us than most people realize. It seems that we get information on what type of scene we’re looking at from our peripheral vision.” (1)
— Susan M Weinschenk, PhD

So, how can you as an architect use the way both central and peripheral vision work to design for vision, making your designs better for occupants?

For starters, if you have a central primary feature which drives your space, make sure that it provides its function when occupants look at it in their central vision. However, your architecture should also make certain that what resides in the periphery of your grand architectural feature compliments it — by helping it to anchor the space. Architectural elements in the periphery should complement, balance, and support your central feature.

You see, the periphery of a visual field helps an observer to “identify what they are looking at”. (1) For example, if you are designing an office — make certain that what lies in the peripheral field for your occupant can help them as they go about their work. In this case, their computer may be what lies in their central vision, but what is occuring in their periphery can be just as important. Any secondary screens, windows, doorways, and desks (to name a few) can impact not only what that occupant does while working on their computer, but can also impact how they work within their office.

For example, if an office were arranged so that the computer screen was is their central vision, but the doorway (or an interior window) was in their peripheral vision — then they might experience too much distraction while trying to work at their computer. As other people walk by the doorway or window, this activity within their peripheral vision may interfere with their productivity, creativity, and stress levels.

So, as you design, pay attention to what will become featured elements within your occupants’ central vision, while also paying attention to those supporting elements that will reside in their peripheral vision. Make sure that the two types of architectural elements support one another, to help your occupant enjoy or use your architectural space so they can accomplish what they set out to.


(1) Weinschenk, Susan M., 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. New Riders: Berkeley, CA. 2011.

Image Credit: © Jeremy Levine Design | Flickr


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