I worked with classmates Sandra Allen (industrial design), Michela Brunetta (interior design), and Anne Knellinger (visual communications design) to research the impacts of biophilia and spending time in nature on the mood and productivity of young adults.
Biophilia Co-Design Research
Researching the Connections Between Biophilia and Young Adults
Observe how biophilia and spending time outdoors affects young adults, particularly its impacts on one's mood and productivity.
Examine how design professionals are currently implementing biophilia
Determine the spaces in which biophilia is currently being implemented, and evaluate its effectiveness
Explore the impacts of interacting with nature in everyday life
What is Biophilia?
Biophilia is a hypothetical human tendency to want to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life and nature. The name is derived from the roots 'Bio' ("life") and 'Philia' ("friendly feeling towards").
Biophilia is more than just including plants in a space; it encompasses our auditory, haptic, olfactory, and gustatory connections with nature. Things like light, pattern, material, and spatial arrangement are all key elements of biophilia.
What is Biophilic Design?
Biophilic design is about bringing nature into a space in a way that compliments the space. Biophilic design depends on the repeated and sustained engagement of individuals with nature. It encourages individuals to foster emotional attachments to the settings and places around them.
My teammates and I began the research process by designing a survey to gather initial information surrounding students, nature, and workspaces. We sent out the survey through our various social media channels as well as email and text. At the end of 7 days, we had received responses from 38 participants who were within our target group (young adults aged18-26).
multiple choice, short answer, ranking, and scaled questions
5-10 minutes to complete
Respondents generally enjoy activities that have a social component.
Walking was noted by 63% of respondents as a preferred outdoor activity.
78% of respondents report owning at least one houseplant.
“Calm” was one of the most frequently used words by respondents to describe how being in nature makes them feel.
There is a gap between the amount of time respondents want to spend outdoors and the amount of time respondents actually spend outdoors.
To minimize the risk of spreading Covid-19, my teammates and I decided against conducting co-design sessions in person. Instead, we used Zoom and the cloud-based collaboration tool Miro to conduct the co-design sessions with our participants. An overview of the Miro board with all 8 participants' responses can be seen to the right.
1 hour sessions
4 sessions with 1-3 participants (8 participants total)
3 card sort activities and 1 collage activity with short discussions after each activity
Interests Card Sort
In the first activity, participants were asked to organize the images on the left based on whether the images elicited pleasant or unpleasant feelings. Participants were allowed to organize in whatever manner they thought would work best. Once they had finished organizing, my teammates and I asked the participant about their organization method and the kinds of feelings that each image evoked.
A sample of a participant board can be seen below. The creator of the board arranged images that elicited happier feelings not only through location (preferred images in the box, unfavored images in a cluster off to the side), but also through scale (the larger the image, the more impactful the feeling).
Interests Card Sort Analysis
The images that were used led us to believe that participants generally valued nature, companionship, food, and fitness. All of our participants' boards had multiple images depicting natural elements, leading us to believe that participants enjoy activities that bring them into contact with nature and the outdoors.
Nature Card Sort
In the next activity, participants were asked to organize the images on the right based on the outdoor spaces in which they would like to spend time. Again, participants were allowed to organize in whatever manner they wanted. Once they had finished organizing, my teammates and I asked the participant about what they liked about the spaces that they said they wanted to spend time in, and what deterred them from the spaces that they didn't want to spend time in.
A sample board can be seen below. This board creator organized these images using scale (larger images are more important) and location (desirable images are located inside the box).
Nature Card Sort Analysis
This activity gave my teammates and I insight about the kinds of personal preferences people have surrounding the kind of nature they are exposed to, and as a matter of personal preference, the images that were selected varied greatly.
We noticed that night images were the most-liked type of image. City, winter, and tropical images were also frequently liked. Participants were also particularly drawn to images that included greenery and bodies of water, and people generally disliked images of extremely hot and extremely cold environments.
Workspace Card Sort
In the next activity, participants were asked to arrange images on the left along a spectrum of how similar the images were to the participant's current workspace. Additionally, participants were asked to place green dots on the images that visualize how they would like their workspace to look. Once participants had finished organizing, my teammates and I asked them about the objects in their current workspaces and what kinds of objects they think should be in an ideal study environment.
A sample spectrum can be seen below. This board creator, like many of the others, often placed green dots representing their ideal workspace on the images located on the "similar" side of the spectrum, indicating that participants are generally happy with their current workspaces.
Workspace Card Sort Analysis
The "similar" images typically included natural, warm tones and organic materials like wood and plants. This leads us to believe that people prefer to work in settings in which biophilic elements are present. The "similar" images generally depicted individual home office spaces, likely due in part to the recent large-scale switch to working from home due to COVID-19. The "not similar" workspaces were typically large communal spaces that included fluorescent light as well as manmade materials like concrete, linoleum, plastic, and metal.
In the collage activity, participants were tasked with creating a collage using the materials on the right to convey the essence of a soundscape, which they listened to while making their collage.
Each participant completed the collage activity three times: once with a pre-selected natural soundscape (rainforest sounds, bubbling creek, ocean waves, campfire at night), once with a pre-selected urban soundscape (construction noises, traffic), and once where the participant got to select a soundscape to listen to.
At the end of each round my teammates and I asked the participant to describe their collage, as well as describe how the soundscape made them feel and what it made them think of.
Construction Soundscape Sample
Jungle Soundscape Sample
Sound Collage Analysis
After sorting each collage by sound, we were able to discern which images and words were used multiple times across the collages, as well as find similarities in things like color, pattern, and emotions associated with each sound.
Non-natural sounds tended to evoke anger, stress, anxiety, and annoyance amongst participants. Many participants said they had a negative visceral reaction as soon as the urban soundscape started, and a couple of participants said that they completed this collage the fastest because they didn't want to listen to the soundscape any longer than they had to.
Natural sounds tended to evoke calmness, energy, movement, happiness, and sleep. For example, the jungle soundscape evoked a sense of movement and vibrancy for participants, who used saturated images and the color green prominently in their collages. Participants also noted a strong connection between the jungle soundscape and trees, and frequently spoke about a sense of exploration and curiosity when describing their jungle collage.
Humans have an inherent appreciation of nature.
A majority of our participants (78%) had plants in their workspace. Those who didn’t were still drawn to biophilic elements like large windows and natural light (all participants said that they have at least one window in their workspace). Additionally, participants' ideal workspaces typically include things like plants, natural light, and materials like wood, indicating that people have a strong desire to surround themselves with nature, even in manmade environments.
Nature has a calming effect, and can help with focus.
A majority of our participants expressed throughout the
co-design process that they feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and less stressed after spending just a few minutes outside. Many participants mentioned taking walks in nature, stating that it helped them to clear their head before returning to studying, which allowed them stay productive.
Nature preferences are influenced by personal experience.
Our participants were heavily influenced by their memories of past experiences- many mentioned a preference for images that reminded them of their upbringing, specific times they spent with friends or family, or places in which they could engage in their hobbies. Moving forward, designers may want to consider the specific biophilic preferences of their clients, or try to mimic the characteristics of the local environment in their designs.
“I grew up in the midwest, so I liked the pictures that looked like they could be the midwest”
“I put these pictures by 'similar' because they kind of remind me of my aunt's house”
insights regarding biophilia and young adults that could be used to guide future design projects
a 50 page presentation including a research plan, co-design session documentation, analysis documentation, and final insights
experienced conducting co-design research for the first time
learned over 20 design research tools and methods, as well as how to engage with research participants
learned how to organize large swaths of data
practiced working remotely within a team
recognized the value of speaking directly to and learning from those who have an intimate knowledge of a space (our research participants/stakeholders)