The psychology of space: How interiors shape our behaviour

An interior of a restaurant with a wooden roof, plants and chairs
Restaurant Interior design
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Category: Industry insights

When we think of interior design, what often comes to mind are spaces that are aesthetically beautiful. However, when we dive deeper, the functionality and design of a space can have a huge influence on the way we feel and behave. 

In this article, we caught up with Jean Whitehead, Senior Lecturer for Interior Design BA(Hons), to find out how interior spaces can shape our behaviour. 

How is psychology and the design of interior spaces connected? 

Interiors are spaces that we all live, work and play in - whether it’s your home, office or favourite restaurant. From designing a productive and collaborative working environment to a relaxing and peaceful home, these interior environments can impact our daily lives and influence our behaviour. 

Any project that is concerned with the refurbishment or design of an interior must first consider the experience of the user. From a psychological perspective, interior design is linked to the creation of a specific atmosphere. A professional interior designer will have the skills to harness a specific mood or ambience - it is just about learning how to do this. 

How is the psychology of space embedded within the principles of design? 

If Interior design embraces a decorative approach, it is centred around the styling of spaces using a selection of furniture, products, accessories and backdrops. The styling of these interior ‘scenes’ can be strong on atmosphere and alter our first impressions of an interior space.  

An interior space is typically composed of three main elements. Firstly the ‘physical’ interior setting which is the backdrop or scenery - in essence, the quality and finish of the walls, floor and ceiling. Interior ‘props’ are then incorporated, ranging from furniture to accessories that are typically used to style and enhance the overall ambience of the space. Finally, the interior atmosphere is developed through the introduction of ‘psychological’ elements - think of the impact that light and shadow, colour, scale, composition, even special effects can have on how we perceive a space. 

Interior designers need to be able to master these different elements to create the desired mood of a space. For example, colour and light can have a huge influence on the overall feel and mood of a space. Neutral colours and natural light can enhance the tranquillity of a space, whereas darker colours absorb light and make a room feel opulent and cosy. 

How can you learn to design with social and psychological aspects in mind? 

The Interior Design and Interior Architecture undergraduate courses at Falmouth embed an understanding of both the social and psychological aspects of design into project work. Students learn how to analyse, record and create interior atmosphere. The courses teach students to consider the functionality of space by always being responsive to human need. The study of interiors is a fascinating subject that can enhance our experience of the built environment. After all, design is concerned with ‘enhancing’ reality.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the social and psychological aspects of creating interior spaces, then explore our on-campus and online degree in Interior Design and our on-campus degree in Interior Architecture. Under the guidance of practicing interior designers, architects, digital and material specialists, you’ll plan intelligent and exciting solutions for a range of interior spaces. 

About Jean Whitehead

Jean Whitehead is a professional designer and published author. Her latest book, Creating Interior Atmosphere: Mise-en-scène and Interior Design, examines how interior atmosphere is created and how space is perceived. The book explores the creation of interior atmosphere through the notion of the ’staged interior’ and mise-en-scène, a film and theatrical theory for understanding interior staging. She has just been commissioned to write a book exploring ‘interior Interruptions’. Find out more about Jean’s career by visiting her staff profile 

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