Analyzing Space Design

Introduction: Analyzing Space Design

Space can be a form of visual communication that has the ability to display social meanings and regulations. This form of visual communication is done by shaping the way that people communicate and behave in specific spaces, as space can dictate what behaviours should be occurring in that space. A quick example of this is a supermarket being designed to encourage consumers to spend more money. Supermarkets use product placement and a range of cool to warm colours (colour hue), among other things to encourage a consumer to spend more money.

There are tools that are used to intensify the detail of observation of these spaces. The tool kit for space design includes interactional affordances, colour, partitions, materials and textures. In this instructable, I will be detailing the meaning potentials that each of these tools generates, as well as tips to spot them yourself in your selected space.


A designed space to analyze. Examples of designed spaces are coffee shops, restaurants or offices.

Step 1: Select a Space

The initial step for analyzing space design is to, of course, find a designed space that you would like to analyze. When choosing your space, ensure that you can see all elements of the selected space, including the exterior elements as space design is not simply just an analysis of the interior elements.

I decided to analyze Jet Fuel Coffee, which is a coffee shop that is located in the downtown area of Toronto, Canada. I have attached multiple photos to this step to showcase all the different angles and areas of the coffee shop and as we go through each step we will have a detailed analysis of each of the tools identified in our tool kit. Feel free to follow along with my selected space or to locate a designed space of your own choosing.

Step 2: Describe Your Initial Thoughts

The goal of this step is to focus on the denotation of the designed space, which means we are looking for a literal, direct, surface-level analysis of the designed space. Many designed spaces place importance on the initial reaction of people entering the space, it is their goal to elucidate a certain feel. Asking yourself questions about the types of emotions you feel when entering the designed space can help identify the purpose that the designers of the space had for creating this specific place.

In this step, write down keywords/phrases that you initially think of when putting yourself into the designed space. Try to keep it descriptive and short. The following steps will go into detail about why you feel a certain way when looking/entering a designed space.

For Jet Fuel Coffee the keywords and phrases that come to mind are: retro, cyclists, welcoming, social but private, artsy, Tour De France

Step 3: Analyzing Partitions

Analyzing partitions assists with understanding the connectedness, or disconnectedness, of the three-dimensional space within the designed space. The arrangement of these spaces gives an understanding of what behaviours are allowed to occur in that specific space.

Partition is split into three different elements:

  1. Separation- the openness of the designed space. Is the space completely closed off? Is there integration (spaces run into each other) or segregation (spaces completely closed off from each other)? What is separating the spaces?

- Separation can indicate the boundaries that the space is setting for those inside, or around, the space. If the design is integrated, it can mean that it is a more social space, while a segregated design might indicate a space to be private.

- Is there a connectedness to the exterior from the inside of the designed space?

2. Permeability- the degree that elements of partition are visually or audibly interactive. Do the elements interact? In what ways?

- Increased permeability indicates a willingness, or it encourages, to be social and/or collaborative as there is more accessibility to other elements and people within the designed space to interact with.

- People may prevent visual permeability by putting up blinds or tint on windows. This can show that they want visual privacy, which forces people around them to behave in a way to grant them more privacy.

3. Permanence- the dynamics of framing within the designed space. Are the framings easily movable? Can doors be easily opened and closed? Locked and unlocked?

- When objects are easily movable it can allow for an increase in the interactiveness of the designed space. This can allow for different types of interactions, usually involves the seating arrangements and types of seats.

Jet Fuel Coffee is meant to be a social entity in downtown Toronto so many of the partitions indicate that this is a social setting. There is a connectedness to the exterior of the space from the interior by not using tinted windows and allowing natural sunlight into the space. The separation that is most prevalent is the counter that separates the dining area from the serving/baking area, as well as integrating the two dining areas using stairs. This integration exemplifies the high permeability in the space between the two dining areas, as well as the permeability between the serving area and dining area so customers are visually and audibly interactive with baristas. Most of the framings in the dining area are easily movable, from the chairs to the tables, exemplifying that the space is designed to be social, but the serving/baking area is blocked by a large counter that is not movable.

Step 4: Analyzing Interactional Affordances

The next step is to analyze the interactional affordances, which explores how the designed space can shape the movements of people. The earlier analysis of partitions briefly explored interactional affordances, but in this step, we will take an in-depth look at analyzing interactional affordances. The three components involved in an analysis of interactional affordances are areas, focal points, and channels. Below I will define the importance of each component and give tips to what to look for when analyzing each component.

- Areas

  • Examines where interactions take place, as well as what specific interactions should be taking place in that area of the designed space
  • This is where commercial spaces can dictate where consumers can look at products (Ex. aisles in the supermarket) and where they can buy products (Ex. cash registers in the supermarkets)
  • What interactions take place in the different areas of the space? Does the area encourage people to interact with each other?

- Focal Points

  • Dictates where the centre of attention is in the designed space. It is possible to have multiple focal points in a designed space. Think of it as what is in the "front". Is there a television in the pub? Is the sound on?
  • There are visual and audible ways for designed spaces to help you determine their focal point(s), the use of bright colours or a symbol (Ex. Large and colourful pointing arrow) can assist with displaying a space's focal point(s)
  • If looking at a commercial space, ask yourself where do money transactions occur? How can you tell?

- Channels

  • The channels of a designed space dictate the movements of people in the space. They are paths that are designed to dictate the ways that people can move between different sub-areas in the designed space. People naturally follow paths.
  • Can be used to help with the flow of people in a designed space. Forming lines by determining where the line starts with a sign, as well as the direction that it will move in.

Jet Fuel Coffee has its focal points near the main entrance of the store. Looking at the second image, you can see that there are hanging bikes, as well as mannequins with Jet Fuel biking uniforms, that are on the wall behind the cash register. The cash register and the barista facing the "front" indicate the place where business transactions (exchange of money for coffee/pastries) occur, which is why it adds to the focal point. Jet Fuel Coffee uses branding and business focal points in the same area, which further focuses the attention towards that area of the coffee shop. The channels of the designed space assemble a line and flow customers towards the focal point (barista/point of purchase) by using the counter with a cash register, as well as a small "order here" sign. Analyzing the areas of the coffee shop, we can see that seating is meant for shorter interactions by looking at the type of seats they use for their customers. Utilizing hard-surfaced seats can mean that they don't want customers to stay for extended periods of times (more than 45 mins) potentially because they sell hot drinks and quick snacks so they need seats for new customers entering the shop. If they were to have couches, sofas or comfier seating surfaces then that would indicate they want customers to stay for longer periods of times because of the coziness and comfort of the designed space.

Step 5: Analyzing Materials & Textures

The uses of materials and textures in a designed space can connote potential meanings about the space. A high amount of manufactured materials and artificial textures in a designed space may indicate that is a technologically advanced space, while higher usage of wood textures can connote openness and welcomeness if they are of a lighter texture. To analyze the materials and textures look at these six elements: rigidity, relief, naturalness, regularity, liquidity, viscosity.

Regular vs irregular textures differentiate the predictability of a designed space. Regular textures are consistent and homogenous throughout the entire designed space, so look for reoccurring shapes and textures in the designed space. Irregularity can be shown through the inconsistency of the shapes used or the angle of the roof to the ground. Irregularity channels people to explore more of the designed space and can connote activeness or playfulness, as well as uniqueness.

Naturalness can evoke a feeling of authenticity in a designed space compared to a space that looks manufactured and artificial. When you see materials or objects that are made of steel or plastic that indicates that it's manufactured as opposed to natural. Artificial textures usually indicate a modern and technologically advanced designed space, but it is possible for a place to use artificial elements to try to emulate a natural setting. Be sure to analyze trees and plants within a designed space, as an artificial plant is a replica of a natural plant, but the texture can take away from its naturalness.

Other things to look for when analyzing materials and textures:

- Rigidness: Are the textiles rigid or soft? Are they synthetic?

- Relief: Is it a lived surface? Is the surface clean and polished (manufactured)?

  • Marble is an example of a surface manufactured and it can connote the sense of perfection, modernism and innovation
  • Uneven and old wood tiles are an example of lived surfaces, they can connote an organic feel to the designed space

The materials and textures used in Jet Fuel Coffee primarily connote an industrial and transparent designed space. They do not hide any of the wirings behind a wall, they allow for them to flow through space naturally (this is viscosity) indicating that this a vintage/retro and transparent coffee shop opposed to a modern one like Starbucks. The one texture that does not look to be as industrial compared to others are the tables where customers can eat their food. The tables have a modern look due to the smooth texture, as well as the lighter wood colour. This makes the table look cleaner than that of an older wood texture like the tiles they use for the floor, so they were very selective with their texture and material choices to ensure the customers can understand it is still a cleanly designed space.

Step 6: Analyzing Colour

The last step is to analyze the colour of the designed space. Colour has the ability to influence behaviours within a designed space, especially in spaces that are designed to sell products. Brighter colours, like red and yellow, attract the eye of customers, so that's why many supermarkets have these colours as the prominent colours of their interior design. So when analyzing colour look for ways that colour impacts individual elements of the designed space, and more importantly look at the overall colour scheme's relation to the designed space. Determine what you think the main colours (base colours) for the space are and separate them from the complementary colours. The base colours usually are carefully selected to establish a certain mood and feel of the designed space. For example, an intimate space may use many red colours as the base colours to portray that it is meant to be an intimate designed space. Using muted colours (low brightness and saturation of colours) can establish an industrial or retro mood in a designed space.

Some ways to define the uses of colour in a designed space are:

- Hue

  • The range of cooler to warmer colours

- Colour Purity

  • How vivid or muted are the colours?
  • Is there high or low saturation of the colours?

- Colour Palette

  • is there a range of colour variation?

I extracted the colour palette of Jet Fuel Coffee using and from my own analysis, red is a very prominent colour in the interior of the designed space. As I mentioned earlier, deeper reds can establish an intimate mood for a designed space, and looking at the areas where red is most prominent there are tables set for only two people. The area near the benches (more social and larger groups of customers) is the only area without red. By not having red in that area of the coffee shop can mean that they don't mean for the area to be as intimate as the other parts of the coffee shop. The red colours in the shop are vivid, while the area by the benches has muted colours (greyish) with lower saturation compared to the other areas of the coffee shop.

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