The Behavioural Dilemma. People do not behave as we expect. Part 7

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The behavioural dilemma.

The primary challenge with designing those incredible spaces that people will be drawn to, love and enjoy is that we have to be 100% sure of the exact blend of volumes, textures, natural light, artificial light, furniture etc that will draw people to the space and enable them to function naturally and comfortably. The primary obstacle however to getting to these exact measurable patterns of design is most often the cognitive bias that exists with both client and designer, called the “the curse of knowledge” i.e. the difficulty in thinking about a problem from the perspective of actual behaviour versus expected behaviour as real behaviour is often completely irrational.

We assume that people make rational decisions, but behavioural science shows us that this is far from the truth. How people think they will behave or even say that they will behave and how they actually behave within certain environments or conditions are most often severely misaligned. Our evolutionary hardwiring, i.e. the way we process information is full of biases and miscalculations leading to errors in our thought processes and irrational decisions leading to irrational behaviours. The net result of this misalignment is that it leads us to design solutions that may seem completely correct on paper, but is completely incorrect for the specific human behaviours in specific environments. As mentioned in a prior newsletter the book, Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, a Behavioural Psychologist, explains in depth why people behave so irrationally, but also that this measure of behaviour is not random, but in fact repetitive and predictable.

"To design a successful human experience, we thus often have to design imperfect spaces for perfect human engagement."

Patterns of behaviour.

As specialist Hospitality designers we are less interested in why people do what they do and more interested simply in what they do repeatedly. We have established through observations over many years specifically within our narrow field of Hospitality Design that the actions and attitudes of people within specific environments most often correlates to certain exact patterns that can be measured and documented for a repetitive pattern or set of design solutions.

Apart from the evolutionary hardwiring as mentioned earlier, these patterns are also partly informed by culture, ergonomics, economy and the herd effect, ie what others are doing within the same environment.

Designing for Human Behaviour can thus at least partly bridge the gap between actions i.e. "what we think people will do and what they actually do" (or prefer to do) and the time needed to get to those correct answers for the most optimum design solution. "A gap which is at the core of every design problem."

Apart from the obvious health benefits of designing for human behavioural patterns, this approach is also fundamentally important for the success of any commercial enterprise.

More about this in our next newsletter... You can take the Human out of the stone age but not the stone age out of the human.


Article Acknowledgements:

1. Hoffman L. Why we do what we do. Designing for Human Behaviour

2. Kelly L. What is Behavioural Design. March 2021


Author: Callie Van Der Merwe Editor: Roberto Zambri

About the Author: Callie is an Architect turned Interior Designer turned

Human Behaviour Designer. He is also the founder of


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