The psychological power of design and how space affects mood

A patient’s take on the importance of dental office design - Designwise
Have you ever walked into a space and immediately felt a “vibe?”
Human beings naturally adapt psychologically to their environment based on the way their environment looks, smells, sounds, and feels. If the environment creates positive feelings and sensations, visitors are likely to feel pleasant feelings and associate the space with positivity in the future. If the environment creates negative feelings and sensations, it will likely elicit negative feelings and discomfort – even if a visitor can’t identify exactly what one thing (or few things) made them uncomfortable.

Design has a powerful effect on human psychology, particularly in spaces where humans interact with their environment. It’s a specific sort of limited experience to drive past a beautifully designed structure, business entrance, or front yard. As human beings, we often feel good just witnessing something that is clean and aesthetically pleasing. But what about the spaces where we actually interact with our environment? Human bodies and minds are constantly picking up unconscious cues and making judgements about the safety of a space based on things that they might not consciously give any thought to.

When appearance and experience conflict.

All too often, a space is created with the exclusive goal of being aesthetically pleasing. When this occurs, the only sense that is addressed (or primarily addressed) of the five senses is visual appearance. This means that when an individual enters the space, they may be pleased and even impressed by its appearance, but may still be unable to generate positive feelings or a sense of comfort toward the space. Why is that?

Spaces that are designed exclusively to appear pleasing to the eye play a small psychological trick on the brain. While the immediate impression may be a positive one, once the visitor interfaces with the space – that is, interacts with their environment by sitting, standing, or spending any length of time in it – they are ultimately left feeling poorly toward it. This phenomenon occurs when other elements of the physical senses were not addressed during the design process.

A space may appear beautifully decorated and designed, but if sound is not managed, visitors may be disturbed or displeased by what they hear. While seating may visually be beautiful, simple, or even luxurious, if it’s not comfortable this will create negative feelings in the visitor’s mind. A space might even sound nice, appear pleasant, and feel welcoming and comfortable, but if it smells off-putting, this can be so distracting that other positive elements are drowned out, become neutral, or even turn negative.

Humans are heavily reliant on sight in large part as the result of social and evolutionary cues and experiences. Because of this, visual information may be enough to override conscious input from other senses temporarily or indefinitely – but that doesn’t stop other senses from creating an impression or “feeling” about an environment, even if it is unconscious. In fact, most feelings are actually the sum total of feedback from all of the senses, all at once. While the mind may not consciously process all of the feedback it is receiving into direct thoughts, the mind will translate sensory information into feelings that reflect varying levels of comfort, ease, pleasantness, and safety.

If the visual appearance of a space and the feeling of being in that space conflict, the two oppositional feelings don’t cancel each other out and create neutral feelings – instead, the conflict contributes to an overall sense of unease that may make the visitor want to avoid the space in the future.

When appearance and experience harmonize.

When the appearance of a space and the sensory experience of that space harmonize, this creates a very positive effect. If a space is both pleasing to the eye as well as comfortable, neutral sounding and good smelling, this creates a very memorable and positive impression in the conscious and subconscious mind. Visitors may feel effortlessly at ease in these spaces, and will look forward to returning – often without even knowing why.

Consider creating spaces that address and appeal to as many of the senses at possible, rather than relying on one sense (like visual and aesthetic feedback) to do all the work.

The importance of creating safety in a space.

While the human mind is becoming more sophisticated all the time, humans are still primarily instinctive beings. This means that most environmental information is collected unconsciously and compared to environments that have been experienced in the past – both safe and unsafe. Each human mind has its own formula for what is considered a “safe” environment which is largely based on past experience, but there are several common denominators between most people.

Safe environments are spaces that provide comfort, appeal to (but do not overwhelm) the senses, and allow individuals to retain autonomy within the space. Thoughtful and intentional design is imperative when creating safe environments in which people are able to relax and enjoy their time there. When designing or improving an area where people gather – like a dental office – expertise in implementing psychological-based design is imperative to creating the best possible environment. If you’re ready to take your dental space to the next level and create a space that people are pleased to visit, book your complimentary consultation today.