Architecture has the power to emotionally engage with its occupants. Tactfully crafted spatial moments extend architecture into experience design - a growing need in the experience economy. Through sensorial and intellectual stimulation, spaces can deeply connect with their occupants to result in memorable instances. The orchestration of an experience requires not only an understanding of spatial principles but also how the service of the space is designed.
Experience design is a practice focused on the quality of human behavior and interaction. The discipline goes beyond architectural space to touch products, services, processes, events and journeys. For years, architects have been theorizing the production of experiences, mastering the art of constructing sensory journeys using the built form. The architecture industry currently lacks user-centricity - the heart of experience design
At this point in time, architectural discourse and practice seem to be driven by “the designer’s ego”. Corporate firms and starchitects envision their designs as elaborate artistic expressions that often fail to meet the understanding of the end-user. In fact, spaces may be created with the intention of benefiting their occupants without probing into their true needs. “When you look at architecture as an entity, it is merely an object of beauty and functionality. The minute you see architecture as an experience, it is impossible to design without considering the end-users”, shares Zachary Morgan of Untitled Experiences.
User-centric architecture is an experience designed for emotion. The architectural design process today must evolve in response to the people who use the building, focused on measured functionality through data-informed design decisions and the needs of the various occupants of the space. While an experiential approach to architectural design has existed for decades, - through the works of Peter Zumthor, Juhani Pallasmaa, and others - it requires a re-evaluation to suit the contemporary context. What is missing is a structured methodology and practice of crafting experiences - a concept architects can pick up from service designers.
In contrast to the age-old discipline of architecture, a relatively new industry has emerged around designing human experiences. The practice of service design emerged in the 1980s to improve the quality of services and customer experiences. The service design community has established formalized tools and techniques for understanding users, interactions, touchpoints, and experiences. Service blueprints and user journey maps are common deliverables that detail each moment of a designed experience to ensure smooth operations and positive emotional outcomes.
A Transdisciplinary Approach: Spatial-Service Design
The intersection of architectural design and service design offers a refreshing approach to producing experiences. Emotions are the building blocks of an embodied experience - something both spatial and service designers are skilled at influencing. Architects understand concepts of compression and release, light play, and material properties to evoke responses from a building’s occupants. Service designers are great at arranging flows of interactions between the user and the space to offer a positive experience.
One approach to such a transdisciplinary process - outlined by Zachary Morgan - begins with design research. Through workshops and conversations, the requirements of the client along with the needs and desires of the identified user group are understood. Insights are then derived to inform parameters for spatial design. Finally, an experiential journey is built from the perspective of each user type, designing every interaction from entering the space to participating in the service to creating memorable moments.
Theme parks are an excellent example of the overlap of spatial and service design. Every sensation felt - from standing in a queue to going on a ride - is intentionally crafted. Guest experiences are also carefully formulated by identifying each possible point of interaction. To design a spatial experience, it becomes crucial to integrate touchpoints perceived by the guests and operations by support and staff. Apart from aesthetics and functionality, it is the emotional experience of the guest that drives the design.
Other architectural typologies would benefit from a spatial-service design approach as well. Hospitals and educational institutions deal with diverse user types, service flows, and cross-sections of cultures. Large-scale projects where a service is offered deserve a more formal approach to user-centric and experience-driven architecture. With regard to smaller-scaled buildings like individual residences, the traditional architectural design process excels at meeting the needs of a single user type.
Service design in its relation to technology and the built environment does a great job of shaping an experience that is equally focused on digital as well as physical touchpoints. With the metaverse and digital worlds, the laws of physics no longer restrict spatial experiences. This offers designers a novel canvas to re-imagine how emotions can be evoked in a space. Service design aids in curating physical elements in conjunction with digital interactions in an environment. It can serve as a link between technology and architecture to achieve convergent designs.
Simultaneously considering both the service design and the physical space design enables the resulting experience to function seamlessly. The approach allows for the user’s needs, intentions and goals to be met along with that of the service providers. It is apparent that services and their spaces are intricately linked and greatly influence one another. “Every architect already practices a type of service design informally”, Morgan believes.
The future of architecture is less about creating objects of beauty and functionality. It will be about crafting spatial experiences where people’s emotions and satisfaction take center stage in a project. In the words of Juhani Pallasmaa, “Architectural meaning derives from archaic responses and reactions remembered by the body and the senses”.