For years, most kitchen and bath designers have been trained to rely on some variation of a client checklist or questionnaire as a starting point for a project. Whether a formal written document or more casual mental checklist, typical questions often include the number of people using the space and any special needs; square footage; an inventory of items to be stored; the desired overall look, style or color scheme; budget; details about cooking or bathing habits, and likes/dislikes about the current space. The answers to these sorts of questions have lead to the creation of many beautiful, functional and safe kitchens and baths for generations of satisfied clients.
But there may well be another line of questioning that can help designers create even more soul-satisfying spaces for their clients. It is based on Design Psychology, the brainchild of Dr. Toby Israel, an environmental psychologist with more than 25 years of experience in design, psychology, the arts and education.
USING DESIGN PSYCHOLOGY
Design Psychology, she explains, is “the practice of architecture, planning and interior design in which psychology is the principal design tool.” The results are spaces that embody the dweller’s “fully expressed self.”
In her book Some Place Like Home, Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places, she presents a fresh approach to the design process that begins with a series of exercises and questionnaires that delve into a person’s emotional experience of place. And she goes on to describe how she applied the Design Psychology-based results to the renovation of her own kitchen, accomplished in partnership with an architect.
Dr. Israel’s Design Psychology exercises bring to the fore the vast personal store of experience and emotions that contribute to an individual’s choice and design of home and place. She has led Michael Graves, Andres Duany, Charles Jencks, Jane Pauley and many others through her “toolbox” of exercises.
Knowledge gained about someone’s place experience/emotions is then translated into a “Design Psychology Blueprint” – specific guidelines for place choice, space planning, style, color, furniture and other elements – to be used as a catalyst for life-enhancing design.
The basis of her approach has to do with uncovering our “self-place bond” or the connection between our sense of self and the places we have lived. Beginning in childhood, we form place-self connections that continue to evolve throughout our life. Each of us, she says, has our own “environmental autobiography” or “treasure chest of memories and impressions of places we have lived.” And these are the foundation for creating new spaces that are fulfilling for us.
Consider this cherished boyhood memory: “…spring-water stream flowing over the soft mud-bottom as it passed below the house…building dams of sticks and stones across it, sailing shoes along the banks, wading and playing in it…fascination for a child…running water!”
The recollection is Frank Lloyd Wright’s. No wonder he went on to design Falling Water.
It is this deep emotional resonance of place that Design Psychology seeks to bring to light. The resulting design statement for a project, Dr. Israel points out, might end up more like a mission statement: My ideal home is organized, simple, beautiful, cozy, comfortable and warm with flow and freedom reflecting a spirit of abundance, creativity and vitality that comes from moving with intellectual curiosity with a community of interesting people through the heroic journey of a life where what one does counts.
Hardly a typical architectural program specifying square footage, number of bedrooms, etc.
She also believes that focusing on Design Psychology is increasingly important as designers become CAD-dependent since they could become “less attuned to the psychological and social dimension of the places they are designing.”
While a column like this can’t begin to do justice to the concept of Design Psychology, here is an overview of some exercises she’s developed.
- First is an Environmental Family Tree, where, among other things, clients describe either the real homes of their parents, grandparents and other relatives, or the stories they heard about them.
- In an Environmental Time Line, clients record where they’ve lived throughout their lives and whether or not they liked those places.
- The Mental Map Exercise asks people to map out any one of the places they lived and whether there was anything in these settings that was memorable, or that they would want to replicate or reject. Visualization exercises help clients recall a favorite place from the past that may have influenced their present sense of home and place.
- Personality and Place exercises ask things like “In what way(s), if any, do you think your personality is reflected in your present home?” And “Overall, do you feel comfortable that your home reflects who you really are? If not, what changes would you make to your home so that it expresses who you are?”
- The Environmental Sociogram asks questions like, “Does your house have an equal division of individual, shared and public spaces? If not, what type of space predominates?”
- The Special Objects Inventory asks, in part, “What objects are special to you and what meaning do they have?” For example, if a client treasures a collection of baskets from Kenya or textiles from Guatemala, they may signify a connection to worldwide cultures.
- The Creating Some Place Like Home exercise asks whether someone is satisfied that they have created a home for shelter, psychological growth, social growth and aesthetic pleasure.
The process involves these steps:
- Remembering past experience of place
- Identifying ‘highest positive’ associations with remembered places
- Using ‘high positives’ to forge a holistic vision of the design ideal for the project
- Recognizing and articulating a pyramid of functional, psychological, social and aesthetic needs
- Using this pyramid of needs, wherein the designer translates the client’s vision into a fulfilling design
While this process might seem like it would gobble up project time and budget and impinge on one’s artistic vision, Dr. Israel believes that for those willing to be open to a new way of thinking, the process helps focus both the designer and the client, provides a strong foundation for a solid design and saves time.
What’s more, “it proves inspirational not only in terms of the final design, but is professionally and personally meaningful for the client and designer,” Dr. Israel concludes. KBDN