Research Design Connections

Urban Psychology (01-19-18)

Ellard directs the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo.  He reports that some of his Laboratory’s research findings include:  “Street-level facades that are low in visual complexity not only cause participants to self-report lower levels of interest and pleasure, but their levels of autonomic arousal become low.  The biometric signature of a low-complexity street looks very much like the signature shown by participants in laboratory studies who are experiencing states of boredom.”  Also, “Immersion in greenspace in cities, even when it is modest (a community garden in t

Seeing Nature and Body Image (01-18-18)

A recently published study indicates that nature images in a space and being in nature do more than just help people restock their mental processing power and de-stress. Swami and team found that “exposure to images of natural, but not built, environments resulted in improved state body image. . . . [and a] walk in a natural environment resulted in significantly higher state body appreciation [a feature of positive body image], whereas [a] walk in a built environment resulted in significantly lower scores. . . .

Designing Exercising for Personality (01-17-18)

New research indicates the best sorts of exercise opportunities to provide to employees and other groups.  A press release from the British Psychological Society, reporting on the work of John Hackston, states that “The effectiveness of someone’s exercise regime may depend on their individual personality type. . . . [data collected via surveys determined that] people with extraverted personality types were more likely to prefer exercising at the gym.

Kids and Red (01-16-18)

A research team lead by Siu indicates that children and adults have similar associations to the color red.  This research is important because as Siu and colleagues indicate “Color has been identified as a key consideration in ergonomics.  Color conveys messages and is an important element in safety signs, as it provides extra information to users.”  The researchers report that while previous studies have shown that adults link red with “hazard/hazardous,” their research indicates that children 7 to 11 years old associate red with “don’t.” This information means that the color red is a good

Urban Planning for Psychological Challenges (01-12-18)

Whitby links environmental design and positive experiences for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  She reports that “Inclusive design enhances environmental competency and removes barriers to enable people to interact with their surroundings in the way they want to. Two disorders that can affect people's environmental competency are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This scoping study found that interpersonal interactions were a key barrier to their use of public buildings.

Nature Lessons (01-11-18)

Kuo and her team have learned that outdoor teaching sessions have positive implications after students return to their indoor classrooms.  The researchers report that “Using carefully matched pairs of lessons (one in a relatively natural outdoor setting and one indoors), we observed subsequent classroom engagement during an indoor instructional period. .

Young Wayfinders (01-10-18)

Research completed by Lingwood, Blades, Farran, Courbois, and Matthews indicates that children may be better at finding their way through spaces than previously believed, which has repercussions for the design of spaces frequented by children, for example.  The Lingwood-lead team “investigated whether children could learn a route after only a single experience of the route. A total of 80 participants from the United Kingdom in . . . groups of . . . 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a route through a 12-turn maze in a virtual environment.

More on the Benefits of Nature (01-09-18)

Data collected via a smartphone app confirms that there are psychological benefits to nearby nature.  A press release issued by Kings College reports that Bakolis, Hammond, Smythe, Gibbons, Davidson, Tognin, and Mechelli found that among people in cities “(i) being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing, and that (ii) the beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues [higher


Research Conversations


2017 was a good year for people who value science-informed design.  Many studies published in 2017 deepen our understanding of how humans (and sometimes other species) experience the worlds around themselves.   In many cases, the newly published research allows theory to move into practice.


Cognitive-science based research has generated powerful insights into how children experience designed spaces and objects. Design that reflects how places and things are most likely to influence youngsters’ thoughts and behaviors can support their development and wellbeing.


Scientists have learned a lot about the design of fitness zones where extra pounds drop away, muscles build, and moods soar.   They’ve identified ways that design can get our hearts and limbs pumping and make it more likely that when we’re done exercising we view our sweat-sodden experiences positively.

Our location relative to sea level can have a tremendous effect on the ways our brains work and we act, even if we don’t get altitude sickness.  Designers creating spaces at higher elevations, or objects that will be used there, should know how altitude influences humans, so they can attempt to counter its potential negative consequences.

PlaceCoach News Briefs


Useful new resource for understanding designed spaces


Retail roundup reaches conclusions

More evidence that design affects stress

Different symmetry, different evaluations

Be careful when designing in play

Lighting's brightness and uniformity matter

Training influences assessments

Survey responses vary over time, regardless

Book Reviews


An introduction to crucial design-related considerations

Thoughtful insights for people designing for people

Design at Work


London’s Design Museum is a marvelous place to spend time and to learn about design's ability to influence our lives.