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Saunders and colleagues report that wearing facemasks impedes communication; design may, via whiteboards, new signage, etc., partially compensate for this impairment.  As the Sanders team reports, “An online survey consisting of closed-set and open-ended questions [was] distributed within the UK to gain insights into experiences of interactions involving face coverings, and of the impact of face coverings on communication. . . . With few exceptions, participants reported that face coverings negatively impacted hearing, understanding, engagement, and feelings of connection with the speaker. Impacts were greatest when communicating in medical situations. People with hearing loss were significantly more impacted than those without hearing loss. Face coverings impacted communication content, interpersonal connectedness, and willingness to engage in conversation; they increased anxiety and stress, and made communication fatiguing, frustrating and embarrassing – both as a speaker wearing a face covering, and when listening to someone else who is wearing one.”

G. Saunders, I. Jackson, and A. Visram. “Impacts of Face Coverings on Communication:  An Indirect Impact of Covid-19.”  International Journal of Audiology, in press,

Research done by Welsch and teammates, indicates that people are stressed by the interpersonal distances required to combat the spread of the pandemic; calming design options (for example), can partially combat this tension.  As the Welsch team reports: “Mandatory rules for social distancing to curb the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic require individuals to maintain a critical interpersonal distance above 1.5 m. However, this contradicts our natural preference, which is closer to 1 m for non-intimate encounters, for example, when asking a stranger for directions. . . . research on preferred interpersonal distances suggests that social distancing could induce discomfort, heighten arousal.  . . . . We suggest that enforcing a physical distance of 1.5–2 m presents a serious challenge to behavioral norms.

Robin Welsch, Heiko Hecht, Lewis Chuang, and Christoph von Castell.  2020. “Interpersonal Distance in the SARS-CoV-2 Crisis.”  Human Factors, vol. 62, no. 7, pp. 1095-1101,

Hofer, Chen, and Schaller make it clear that humans “communicate” extensively via scents.  Peoples’ need to pick up the odors of others supports subtle  scentscaping. The Hofer-lead team shares that “People readily perceive and react to the body odors of other people, which creates a wide range of implications for affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses. . . . . Like physical appearance, body odor reflects personal characteristics and temporary circumstances (e.g., people smell differently depending on their sex, age, health, and even transient emotional states; de Groot, Semin, and Smeets, 2017). . . . Humans have a sophisticated olfactory system that discriminates between a wide range of scents—including the odors of other people. The perceptual processing of body odors occurs through neural mechanisms responsible for the processing of a wide range of social information obtained through various sensory modalities, and this processing typically occurs without conscious awareness. . . . The implication is that just as the human brain evolved to efficiently extract information from other individuals’ appearances, it also evolved to efficiently extract information from their smells.”

Marlise Hofer, Frances Chen, and Mark Schaller. 2020.  “What Your Nose Knows:  Affective, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to the Scent of Another Person.”  Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 617-623,

Mehahed and Ghoneim discuss lived experiences in homes during the pandemic (which boosted, for example, the desirability of sound-insulated home offices with large windows), the health-related challenges of high-density living, and the need for future, multi-story buildings to support “touchless experience from the front door to the apartment door itself. . . . The building might have wider corridors and doorways, and many more staircases. . . . Depending on how productive remote work proves to be in this pandemic, it is hastening the shift from structured office environments to more flexible, virtual, and home-based work arrangements, which could mean a reversal of the open-office trend. . . . The pandemic highlights the importance of distributing smaller units such as health facilities, schools, and services across more of the urban tissue and strengthen local centers. . . . cities should offer more safe paths and small roads for walking and micro-mobility than depending only on mass public transportation. . . . improving health through strategies such as greater natural light, improved ventilation, fewer toxic substances, and incorporating plants and other natural materials is necessary.”

Naglaa Mehahed and Ehab Ghoneim.  2020.  “Antivirus-Built Environment:  Lessons Learned from Covid-19 Pandemic.”  Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 61, 102350,

Kiilavuori and teammates broadened previous research on making eye contact from situations involving humans only to those including both humans and robots.  They report that “Eye contact with the robot evoked similar responses as eye contact with the human. . . . Previous research has shown that eye contact, in human-human interaction, elicits increased affective [emotional] and attention related psychophysiological responses. In the present study, we investigated whether eye contact with a humanoid robot would elicit these responses. Participants were facing a humanoid robot (NAO) or a human partner, both physically present and looking at or away from the participant. The results showed that both in human-robot and human-human condition, eye contact versus averted gaze elicited greater skin conductance responses indexing autonomic arousal, greater facial zygomatic muscle responses (and smaller corrugator responses) associated with positive affect [mood], and greater heart deceleration responses indexing attention allocation. . . . eye contact elicits automatic affective [emotional] and attentional reactions both when shared with a humanoid robot and with another human.”  So making eye contact with a robot has the same effects on people as making eye contact with another human.

Helena Kiilavuori, Veikko Sariol, Mikko Peltola, and Jari Hietanen.  “Making Eye Contact with a Robot:  Psychophysiological Responses to Eye Contact with a Human and with a Humanoid Robot.” Biological Psychology, in press,

Researchers have linked how people experience happiness to geography.   This finding is useful to designers doing design-related research or anyone trying to understand responses to design generally.  Gardiner, Funder, Lee, and Baranski found via data collected from 63 countries and people speaking 42 languages that “The meaning of happiness varies depending where in the world a person lives. . . . Happiness studies historically have focused on the Western ideal of happiness, which is relatively self-centered and big on thrills. . . . But Western-centered happiness concepts aren’t universal, the authors hold. While happiness is tied to independence in the West, Eastern happiness is related to interdependence.”  The Gardiner-lead study was published in PLoS One.  

J. D. Warren. 2020.  “How You Measure Happiness Depends Where You Live.”  Press release, University of California, Riverside,

Research confirms links between what’s seen and tastes experienced.  Ueda, Spence, and Okajima, using augmented reality visors, collected view-taste data and report that “What we taste is affected by what we see, and that includes the colour, opacity, and shape of the food we consume. . . . We developed a novel AR [augmented reality] system capable of modifying the luminance distribution of foods [the light coming off/bouncing off food] in real-time using dynamic image processing for simulating actual eating situations. Importantly, this form of dynamic image manipulation does not change the colour on the food (which has been studied extensively previously). . . .  Participants looked at a piece of Baumkuchen [a German cake] . . . or a spoonful of tomato ketchup . . . having different luminance distributions and evaluated the taste on sampling the food. Manipulating the SD [standard deviation/variation] of the luminance distribution affected not only the expected taste/flavour of the food (e.g. expected moistness, wateriness and deliciousness), but also the actual taste properties on sampling the food.” When SD of luminance is smaller, a slice of cake, etc., has a smoother appearance and when the SD is larger the same item gives the impression of being rougher.

Junya Ueda, Charles Spence, and Katsunori Okajima.  2020. “Effects of Varying the Standard Deviation of the Luminance on the Appearance of Food, Flavour Expectations, and Taste/Flavour Perception.”  Scientific Reports, vol. 10, 16175,

Planners of all sorts, urban, workplace and otherwise, often discuss creating modern spaces using traditional forms.  Recent research indicates that multiple long ago villages in the Amazon region were round. Iriarte and colleagues report that “Recent research has shown that the entire southern rim of Amazonia was inhabited by earth-building societies involving landscape engineering, landscape domestication and likely low-density urbanism during the Late Holocene. . . . newly discovered Mound Villages (AD ~1000–1650) in the SE portion of Acre State, Brazil. . . . Our novel results documented distinctive architectural features of Circular Mound Villages such as the presence of ranked, paired, cardinally oriented, sunken roads interconnecting villages, the occurrence of a diversity of mound shapes within sites, as well as the exposure the superimposition of villages.”

Jose Iriarte, Mark Robinson, Jonas de Souza, Antonia Damasceno, Franciele da Silva, Francisco Nakahara, Alceu Ranzi, and Luiz Aragao.  2020.  “Geometry by Design:  Contribution of Lidar to the Understanding of Settlement Patterns of the Mound Villages in SW Amazonia.”  Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 151-169.

Researchers have determined that children as young as 3 respond positively to seeing fractal patterns, just as adults do.  Robles, Taylor, Sereno, Liaw, and Baldwin found that “Before their third birthdays, children already have an adult-like preference for visual fractal patterns commonly seen in nature. . . . We found that people [both adults and children] prefer the most common natural pattern, the statistical fractal patterns of low-moderate complexity . . . ’ Robles said. . . .  The aesthetic experience of viewing nature’s fractals holds huge potential benefits, ranging from stress-reduction to refreshing mental fatigue, said co-author Richard Taylor. . . . . [Taylor also states:] ‘This study shows that incorporating fractals into urban environments can begin providing benefits from a very early age.’. . . .[Taylor] and co-author Margaret Sereno . . . also have published on the positive aesthetic benefits of installing fractal solar panels and window blinds.”  The study by Robles team is published by Nature:  Humanities and Social Sciences Communication.

“Study Finds That by Age 3 Kids Prefer Nature’s Fractal Patterns.”  2020.  Press release, University of Oregon,

Corley and colleagues found relationships between spending time during the COVID pandemic  in home gardens and the wellbeing of older people (mean age of 84) living in Scotland. The researchers learned via an online survey in May/June 2020 that “Spending more time in a home garden associated with greater subjective wellbeing.  . . .Neither gardening nor relaxing in the garden were associated with health outcomes. However, higher frequency of garden usage during lockdown was associated with better self-rated physical health . . . emotional and mental health . . . sleep quality . . . and a composite health score. . . . None of the garden measures were associated with perceived change in physical health, mental and emotional health, or sleep quality, from pre-lockdown levels. The results of the current study provide support for positive health benefits of spending time in a garden—though associations may be bidirectional—and suggest that domestic gardens could be a potential health resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Janie Corley, Judith Okeley, Adele Taylor, Danielle Page, Miles Welstead, Barbora Skarabela, Paul Redmond, Simon Cox, and Tom Russ.  “Home Garden Use During COVID-19:  Associations with Physical and Mental Wellbeing in Older Adults.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press,


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