Choice Architecture- Building culture and benefitting society through design

What we see is what our mind and heart attract and that leads to the choices we make. Choice architecture is described as how our decisions are affected by the layout of the room, sequencing, and the ranges of choices available.

Have you ever thought about how design can change your lifestyle? How different spaces affect the way you feel, think, and behave?
For instance, a cafe in your city can make you feel calm, a proper working space keeps you motivated to work. We don’t put much thought into these but these spaces are intentionally designed to make you feel in a particular way.

“A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.”
-Richard Thaler

Following pattern through design-

There is a sequence of pattern that we follow throughout the day which impacts our routine and that makes us the person we are.

Let’s take an example-

When we reach back to our home from somewhere, there is a sequence we follow.
Take out our shoes outside – open the door – switch on the lights – hang the keys – wash your hands.

This is the reason why shoe racks are placed outside your homes and light switches are given beside the door followed by the key hanger.
Similar logics are applied in designing every space. How your environment is designed decides the things you choose or do.

Now let’s imagine this way-

Suppose shoe racks are not planned outside and placed somewhere inside your home? Will it be convenient?
Light switches planned at the end of your room? How will you manage to reach there in the dark?

This example might seem obvious because we have so naturally adapted this sequence for ages. But there was a time when much thought was given to this and the same thing is applicable in designing any space.

"Design decides our actions and habits.
Design is the major factor behind human behavior."

We actually are not aware of how design impacts our nature, but it does play an important role.

Choice Architecture in day-to-day life-

Choice architecture is in every field, we can find such examples everywhere-

  • Supermarkets– It was found out in a study that putting soft drinks at the end of the aisle increased its sale, as it was easy to spot.
  • Restaurant menus– The costly and more profitable items are placed on the top right corner of the menu because there our eyes tend to go first.
  • Dustbins– Dividing it into two parts- one for recycling waste and another for non-recycling waste helps you give a thought towards recycling, which otherwise wouldn’t have built-in our mind in the first place.
  • Smaller portions of food– In a study, it was found out that people given food on smaller plates ate less compared to people who ate on bigger plates.

Choice architecture in building design-

Can our built environment contribute in building a new culture? Our lives, our behavior, everything about us is shaped by our built surroundings. When we design a building, we in a way design human behavior or habits by deciding where to put the doors, windows, restrooms, etc. These things influence people to use the building in a particular way. We do not often realize how importantly choice architecture in building design impacts the society but these are very minute details that plays a great role.

With the help of choice architecture, we can actually focus on solving urban issues by making people change their choices.

One great example of choice architecture is Pixar Studio, Steve Jobs insisted on having only two toilets in the entire Pixar Studio and that too centrally located. This makes it a 15 minutes’ walk to the washrooms. This was purposefully done to force people to come together and meet more people to exchange ideas.

Another great example from Cushman and Wakefield is 6 feet office. The idea was implemented to go with the flow of the new normal that COVID-19 has brought for us. The workstations in this office were deliberately put-on dark carpet to create a visual barrier so that people will not step on the dark carpet and maintain social distancing.

How can we apply choice architecture in buildings?

The key is to understand the gap between the needs of the people and the current behavior.

Some examples of how choice architecture can benefit in designing buildings-

  • In social housing– To attract more customers, the buildings must have low construction cost, should fulfill the needs of the inhabitants by providing all the necessary services. People will choose such apartment buildings where they get the best in less price. It’s all about how your design brings more attention to the public through choice architecture.
  • How to make public use a staircase in place of lifts? We all know the benefits of using a staircase instead of lifts in a time where we need to stay fit but feel short of time. Why will people choose the staircase if it doesn’t attract them? One of the most creative and effective examples of this is the “piano stairs” in the subway in Stockholm. This increased the use of the staircase by 66%. Another great example is the calorie staircase where you can see how many calories you burn by taking up the stairs motivating you to opt for staircase . The key is to make the staircase more attractive to walk through.
  • Forcing Communication– We live in a World of collaborations, hence meeting people and discussing is the need. Designing office arenas and public spaces in such a way, where people are forced to exchange ideas. Pixar Studio is a great example of this which we talked about earlier.
  • Hospitals– When people come to the hospitals, they are there to heal and not to add up baggage of negativity in their minds. Hospital designs lack healing with the environment and actually make you feel depressing. But with design, we can implant happiness in patients’ minds by making them choose such things. For example- the use of colors and green spaces can make them feel fresh. Not restricting them to hospitals rooms and connecting their rooms with some outdoor spaces, these are the ways we can make use of architecture to make them choose things, make them change things within themselves.

We often think that we are making our own choices, but it’s our surrounding that is making us choose things. It’s design that makes us do things in a certain way without our knowledge. Hence, choice architecture can be used in the field of architecture, interior, urban design to better our culture and human life.

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