Why is space so important?

Space, what is it and what’s the first thing that comes into your head when you hear it? Is it just something you use, take for granted or something you engage with and understand? Have you ever thought about how it’s used or why you place things where you do?! Have you laid out your living room so that when you walk past the coffee table you don’t crack your ankle on it every time, or do you have a specific space where the  saucepans are kept in the kitchen cupboards, the ones right next to the cooker, so it makes the experience of cooking far easier? All these things are carefully thought of to make life easier in our own homes and it’s part of our day to day. So, why is it so difficult to consider that actually our workspaces and the environments we frequent are just as important? Whether it’s going to work, out for a meal or just catching up with friends for a coffee, we all need to feel immersed in a space and find the experience easy to fully enjoy it.

In brand strategy, the emotional journey and engagement that’s provided is vital. It engages the user and helps them feel embedded in the brand. And, in the digital industry, it’s the user journey and considering UX and UI. But both should provide a cohesive, seamless journey; it should flow and the experience should be immersive and engaging. So surely, the same thought process should be applied to the very environments we spend most of our time in?

It’s not just about painting the walls a different colour or changing the layout of the desks or placing the till nearest to the electric point (although that’s clearly an advantage!). The space we surround ourselves in should engage, it should provide the user with an emotional experience or offer them a journey, whether that’s to reassure or excite. Or, like IKEA, use every inch of someone’s spare time in a day to just try to find the exit!

While the word ‘space’ is overused and can be applied to so much in relation to space and design, it can also be misinterpreted, and while I jest about IKEA, wow, their teams are clever coordinating the user journey and flow, frustratingly brilliant, for all involved! I’m sure you can all relate to the time you visited IKEA and just needed one thing but your journey took you everywhere, including the restaurant, then back out again to only find the missing screws near the till at the exit, but your trolley is suddenly filled with all sorts of other crap you had no idea you needed until now! Very clever… I digress slightly, but the principle is that IKEA, while it is an enormous open spaced warehouse, has been designed to use every single available space and created experiences within it, as well as showcase usage of space; bedrooms and kitchens etc so people can visit it and engage with it, the whole experience is totally immersive. While retail is slightly different to that of an office space, the principles should still apply. In the domain of architecture and interior design, space and it’s usage is a primary component.

The way humans interact in a space and work within it is fascinating and can encourage and discourage certain forms of behaviour and interaction and gives form to social structures and ideologies (Lefebvre, 1991).

There are several theories exploring how designers understand human interpretations of the environment (and built environments). Semiotic, phenomenological and narrative theories examine the use of language, human interaction and constructed meaning relevant to understanding human interpretations of environments (Ganoe, 1999, p.3).

As practitioners, it is our responsibility to solve the design problems for humans who use and inhabit the space. To consider their needs, whether functional, social, psychological or environmental by understanding how to use it and help identify and clarify the relationship between human behaviour and the built environment.

Environments should not only be created around those who use it and what they want to achieve in it, but it should also be about the emotional journey you want people to experience within it, whether that is for your staff, team members, visitors or clients. This is called experiential branding and wayfinding.

Experiential branding and wayfinding are processes for engaging people as they interact in and with their environment. It is the method of communicating a brand through graphics, architecture, interiors, media, landscape and industrial design. Experiential branding connects people to places through highly distinctive, informative and memorable experiences. Similarly, wayfinding identifies, orients, and guides decisions about where people are in their journey using visual cues (for example, signage), ultimately supporting and reinforcing the business identity.

Next time you look at your space, maybe take a step back and think ‘am I really using this space to it’s fullest potential?’, ‘what do I feel in the space?’, ‘how do my staff feel in the space?’ and more importantly ‘how do my clients feel?’ and if the answer is a pretty solid, mehhh… then give us a call to see how not only you, but also your staff and your clients, can benefit from a more engaged and emotionally exciting environment and brand solution.