Analyzing Space Design

Introduction: Analyzing Space Design

By the time our busy day is over, we usually haven't taken any time to reflect on the ways in which our behaviours and interactions throughout the day have been largely influenced, and often determined by the spaces we use.

That is, spaces are designed with a certain purpose, an intention to afford certain behaviours while restricting others.

However, from the moment we are born, we find ourselves within the world. Undecidedly, we are placed into the world in all different places and at all different times. As we grow up, the designed spaces around us directly influence our actions, our decisions, and the relationships we build with the people and the environment around us. All of these factors heavily contributing to the person we are today, and the places we will go in the future.

This Instructable will provide a step-by-step guide to understanding how to analyze the design of a space in terms of:

  • Partitions and open space
  • Interactional Affordances
  • Materials and Textures
  • Use of colours

And how each of these design choices works individually and collectively with one another to form our constantly changing perception of the constructed space.


Find any space to analyze!

Examples could include an office, a kitchen, a library, or even a backyard/ greenhouse!

I have chosen to analyze a space that I find myself in pretty regularly, as I felt it would allow me to better understand the interactional affordances that the space provides.

Seven Shores cafe is a buzzing local cafe, found in Uptown Waterloo. This cafe prides itself as being an urban market and community cafe, focusing supporting the local community by selling all locally sourced foods, and offering a variety of different events and programs.

All photos I used to analyze this space, I found by referencing their website and their social media pages.

Step 1: Analyzing the Exterior

Although the majority of this analysis will focus more heavily on the interior of the cafe, I have decided to do a quick analysis of the exterior. In addition to the exterior forming a first impression, it too has been designed concerning the space and people around it.

That is, a cafe being built in downtown Toronto on a busy street could not possibly afford the patio space that Seven Shores has been able to create on their far quieter commercial corner.

In terms of exterior design,

This cafe has been able to employ the use of partitions in a way that compliments the ideas and values found within their brand, by creating a comfortable semi-enclosed patio. The partitions used to create this patio are a variety of wooden planks both overhead and dividing the cafe from the sidewalk/roadside. However, by making it so that the planks do not connect in the middle (at eye level) the partition feels less obstructive, from both the inside and the outside. This way, people inside don't feel trapped, while passersby are drawn in by the action they can see and hear, but find themselves separated from.

Additionally, the negative space created by these planks can be seen from above, letting in the natural light while also maintaining an indoor feel.

We can also see that a very important aspect of this design can be seen within the use of greenery. By creating 'natural' patricians using large plants and uncoloured wooden beams, the first impression of the cafe connotes a sense of naturalness and belonging, as though it grew right out of the ground it was built on.

The patio within the partitions encloses a large number of white wire chairs and tables. These pieces of furniture have been designed with the specific intention of being used outside, as their material allows for resistance to harsh weather conditions. Although the white colour of the furniture suggests a clean, inviting environment, the lack of cushions on these harsh metal chairs also helps to achieve the goals of the cafe in maintaining a relatively fast customer turnover rate, as people are less likely to sit for long periods.

Step 2: Analyzing the Interior: Partitions

  • When we first enter a space, what each person is able to do within that space is immediately determined by the ways in which the different elements make up partitions.

These partitions can be analyzed within four different categories:

1. Segregation:

  • The space is being divided into separate areas that do not interact with one another

In Seven Shores cafe, the counter that runs almost the entire length of the cafe, is separating the kitchen from the rest of the cafe. Depending on your role within this cafe, this counter performs different tasks for each of us. For the barista and the bakers, this counter provides a barrier between them and the guest, while also providing a work and storage space. For the customer, this counter displays the pastries and provides a space to count change on. However, the height of this counter means that these spaces are not entirely disconnected from one another, and still allow for a moderate level of interaction, limiting exchange of body language and encouraging a transactional relationship as both parties are obligated to stand positioned across from one another.

2. Separation:

  • The degree to which people are cut off from one another

In terms of separation, the Seven Shores community room is separated from the rest of the space by a wall and a set of semi permeable doors. As often times this room is being used for larger parties and activities, this separation allows for both parties to go undisturbed from one another.

3. Permeability:

  • The degree to which partitions afford interaction

In comparison to the counter, which allows for an exchange of verbal and physical communication while only somewhat limiting body language/ interaction, the community afford a much lower degree of interaction. While the doors do have windows on them, this suggests a moderate level of permeability since parties on either sides of the doors are able to communicate visually if necessary.

4. Permanence and Dynamism:

  • The permanence of the partitions, how easy/ difficult it is to maneuver/ alter the elements creating segregation/separation.

Again, in comparison to the counter and the dry walls, the doors can open which means they are more dynamic, and while open, allow for the community room and the cafe to become an integrated space. Meanwhile, a bench runs along the wall opposite to the counter, across from this bench are several tables and chairs which are also highly dynamic. These chairs encourage a high level of interaction between those on across from them on the bench, while they also act as a highly permeable barrier between the customers ordering, and those who have already ordered.

Lastly, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that often times in addition to partitions, symbols are used in order to segregate certain areas and people. More specifically, the binary symbols used on bathroom doors work to (ideologically) prevent certain people from entering, these symbols increase the permanence of the doors as barriers.

However, at Seven Shores, the bathrooms are not labeled and therefore, the doors become more dynamic in a sense.

Step 3: Analyzing Interactional Affordances

Spaces are transformed into designed places-- Which are made up of designed items. Each element of each item carries certain characteristics that either encourage or discourage certain types of interaction and behaviour. These characteristics however, depend heavily on both culturally and socially constructed notions of 'acceptable' or 'normal' behaviour, which is something that is constantly being reconstructed and always evolving.

As each of these designed elements individually afford different types of behaviour, together they direct the flow of movement almost entirely.

For example, the design of a library affords the ability to channel the flow of readers, through a distinct path of alphabetized book shelves. However, when designing a restaurant or a grocery store, the ways in which we might want the customers to interact with product/each-other and flow through paths would need to be taken into consideration in order to optimize the space in relation to fulfilling the overall goals of the space.

What a space allows for in terms of movement and interaction can be understood in terms of interactional affordances, and broken down into these three key elements:

1. Areas, or distinguished spaces

2. Channels, the negative/ empty space between elements that create a path and allow a flow of movement

3. Focal Points, main areas of attraction and main points for interaction/ information/ business exchange

In Seven Shores, there are five main areas that can be distinguished from one another.

  1. the line
  2. the kitchen
  3. the bench/tables
  4. the community room
  5. the dining table

When you walk through the door you are in area one- the line, or the negative space between area two- the kitchen, and area three- the bench/tables. As the backs of the chairs all facing the bench suggest direct interaction between those sitting at tables, you're attention is channeled towards the counter, which presents the first set of focal points:

  • The menu board-
    • affords variety and customization
    • chalk board stays on brand, connotes feelings of 'home-made' 'made with love'
  • Pastry display-
    • draws attention by stimulating senses
    • placed by cash register for easy sale
  • Register/ Barista-
    • menu board is hung directly above them
    • in direct line of sight from front door , allowing guests to easily determine who their ordering coffee from, and what their role is and is not within the establishment

Along with the clear path created by the partitions, the cafe has provided a textual affordance, with a written 'ORDER HERE' along the side of a beam. Once at the counter, the kitchen is in directly behind the barista, the visibility of the fresh produce and hard working bakers reinforces the values of the establishment. Additionally, beside the kitchen, in a space you would traditionally see the Family room in a home, the Seven Shores kitchen has a 'Community Room'.

In addition to being a large open space without any permanent furniture, the corner room affords windows on both sides, allowing natural light to fill the space and bounce off the creamy white walls. In order to optimize the space and fulfill business goals, the Community Room provides a space that is most often used for community events, private parties, teaching/tutoring sessions, etc. All of which achieving an image that serve to fulfill their brand--

An environment that fosters family, and community by providing a bright, natural, comfortable, welcoming, homey, cozy, collaborative space.

The last area that incorporates these feelings, is the large dining table found by the chalkboard calendar. This table is large and round and therefore, affords the ability to look directly at everyone around the table. As this table would traditionally be used as a family dining table, it connotes feelings of 'family', and 'wholesomeness', again reinforcing Seven Shores brand.

Step 4: Analyzing Materials and Textures

The different qualities of these textures and materials are semiotic in more ways than one. That is, when we see materials and textures visually, we associate them with our sense of touch, and how these senses of touch relate to certain feelings.

For example, when a baby is first born, wrapping a soft blanket around them gives them the physical sensation of warmth. That baby will connote the sensation of softness, with feelings of security, warmth, and love.

Since all materials connote certain feelings, using a specific theme of materials and textures within a designed space, work in a very powerful way to give the space meaning and 'personality' throughout. When designing commercial spaces, being able to develop a theme that connotes specific feelings and emotions is incredibly powerful in developing a brand.

When analyzing the materials and textures within a space, some of the different characteristics we can consider are:

  • Rigidity

Hard surfaces- like a concrete floor or a marble countertop are associated with feelings of 'coldness', 'modern', 'unfinished', 'unbreakable', or 'power'.

Soft surfaces- like carpet or softer wood connote feelings of 'welcoming', 'homey', and 'natural'.

  • Relief

The finish on surfaces that are polished and shiny, can be associated with feelings of 'manufactured', and 'untouchable'. While surfaces that are less polished like untouched wood surfaces can be considered 'vintage', or connote 'relaxed' feelings, as this may be associated with a cabin or cottage.

  • Naturalness

Considering whether or not the material is manufactured, as opposed to something found within nature. Manmade materials like steel and plastic can connote feelings of 'systematized' and 'artificiality'. Whereas natural materials, like stone or wood, give off feelings of 'naturalness', and could even be associated with a specific time and place.

  • Viscosity

Viscosity is concerned with analyzing how forgiving a surface is. While colourful puzzle piece foam mats connote 'safety', 'growth', and 'development', as they cover the floors of daycare centers, the polyurethane that creates great traction on the school track connotes messages of 'the long dirt road', and 'eat my dust'.

  • Liquidity

Here we are analyzing the fluidity of the surface. Considering how malleable and structured material is. This can determine comfortability.

As you can see in the photos, Many of the materials and textures used at Seven Shores cafe, such as the outer framing, the counter, the counter-top, the tables, the chairs, and the bench are all wood. This consistent theme throughout the space makes the cafe feel very much like a family cabin, connoting feelings of 'nostalgia' and 'tradition', though-out the use of long vertical stretches of wood. These planks suggest 'growth' and give off 'tree' or 'forest' like sensations. This makes it seem as though the cafe grew out of the ground it sits on. Again, reinforcing their idea of being a part of the community.

Step 5: Analyzing Colours

This atmosphere in Seven Shores cafe is designed to allow for people to relax, catch up with one another, meet new people, or learn a new skill. It's a great place to study, and a great place to get breakfast in the morning.

The reason this space is able to achieve this is because the colours of the space are very muted. They do not distract from the task/people in front of you, and they are not meant to, they do not seek attention. The walls are a light creamy white colour, some yellow tones brighten up the space on darker days. However, everything else is a wooden material. They have played with a combination of light and dark woods, this gives the space a more dynamic, or 'lived' in feeling.

when we analyze colour we want to look at these four different characteristics:

1. Hues- warm to cold

Warmer hues such as pinks, and reds can connote feelings of 'vibrancy', and 'love'. While cooler hues such as blues and greys connote feelings of 'calmness', or 'sorrow'.

2. Palette- range of variation

If the colours within the space generally stick to a specific range forming a theme, or if they range quite widely in variation, making the room seem 'inconsistent' or 'cluttered'.

3. Saturation- high to low

How intensely a colour is being used can decide whether or not the item is a focal point. The more highly saturated the colours are, the more vibrant they are, and the more they want to be looked at. Whereas less saturated colours, like the subtle yellows seen in the wood, compliment the subtle yellows seen in the creamy white walls, tying the space together nicely.

4. Purity- vivid to muted

Colours can be more or less pure, and can suggest 'complexity' or 'simplicity', or ideas of 'tradition' or 'modern'.

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