Designing for health and well-being onboard ships

Clever use of lighting, colour and sound create attractive spaces, says IFI’s Shashi Caan  

Designing for health and well-being onboard ships
Clever use of lighting, colour and sound create attractive spaces, says Caan  

By Shashi Caan |

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Expanded to include the psychological and ecological dimensions of the built environment, today, emotional wellness is identified as an equal component of functionality. Other recent and underlying societal shifts have necessitated the fullest consideration and inclusion of diversity, including neuro, disability, and gender diversity.  

Good design innately supports health and well-being for users, the wider community and the planet. In addition to being novel or captivating, good design also delivers life-affirming and transformative possibilities. Well-designed environments fully support, soothe and rejuvenate those who inhabit them, while also delivering comfort and encouraging pleasure and vitality. They anticipate users’ needs and wants, quietly and intuitively accommodating life with ease and spontaneity.  

Consideration for health and wellness features, needs to be incorporated into the design process and experientially evidenced in the final result. This requires the designer to keep abreast of the latest social, technological and cultural advancements and to work closely with the client to deliver equal commercial success. Good design provides a balanced quantitative and qualitative value to the world.   

To ensure they can contend with ever more nuanced programmatic and design brief requirements, designers must deepen their research and prioritise cooperative teamwork. The well-educated and open-minded designer, armed with acute observational skills and experiential knowledge, insights from the latest research and tested know-how, is required to deliver creative interventions for improved effectiveness and tangible results. Using comprehensive design thinking and common-sense connections, the designer can shape new behaviours for comfortable user assimilation. The incorporation of ecosystems and sustainability, materiality, technical understanding, and life-affirming knowledge is required for sustained, successful and enriching design outcomes. 

In more specific terms, for spaces to promote good physical, mental and social well-being, everyone must be able to easily access, understand and freely use them to the greatest extent possible, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. Designers should provide spatial legibility, clear planning and spatial hierarchy to help people orient themselves within a built environment. Clearly demarcating scale and detail distinctions in corridors and pathways and introducing thresholds to separate spaces into distinct functions is empowering for users. In addition, using distinct visual landmarks and signage helps to reduce anxiety.  

Another way to decrease stress while increasing well-being and creating a sense of satisfaction is to take advantage of nature, by providing views of, or giving direct exposure to, forms of vegetation. By incorporating biophilic design features that support an authentic connection to nature, designers can provide comfort to people using the space.  

Light, colour and form are three of the most essential and versatile design elements which, when used well, are inherently satisfying and afford the designer tremendous latitude for stylistic expression. These elements are important for identifying the functionality, atmosphere and personality of a space. Each one must be sensitively integrated into a space to capture the desired behavioural impact.  

Whenever possible, it is vital to maximise natural light, ideally from multiple sources, because it adds general interest and is uplifting for most users. Dynamic or circadian lighting can also be incorporated a substitute for natural light to provide natural balance and benefit people’s productivity and sleep cycles. 

Generally, both indoor air quality and acoustics are deemed as technical issues that are best dealt with by engineers. However, there is ample design research demonstrating that a lack of well-considered sound design is one of the most common complaints in the built environment. Most restaurant experiences today are a testament to this grievance. Poor acoustics increase blood pressure, reduce productivity and negatively impact sleep, and therefore overall wellness.  

It is important to also consider thermal comfort when discussing health and wellness. Research has shown that thermal discomfort is not only a source of dissatisfaction, but it also negatively impacts health and how people experience activities. In bright sunlit space, it’s essential to control solar heat gain. For optimal wellness and well-being outcomes, it’s recommended that designers provide users with individual thermal control over their immediate environment.  

These are some of the elements that allow the designer to create spaces that fully support the optimal health and well-being of those who use them. According to the IFI Interiors Declaration, which was formulated in 2011 by unanimous consensus of the IFI Interior Architecture/Design community across 88 countries, designers fundamentally “form spaces that respond to human needs, synthesise human and environmental ecologies, and translate science to beauty addressing all of the senses”. When expertly incorporated and creatively choreographed, these design basics become invisible to the user, allowing what’s most important to come to the fore – the uplifting way a space makes people feel. The considered integration of these more technical sensory basics and ingredients such as form, colour, shape, scale, texture and pattern, can improve the human condition and provide optimal support for each person, and their well-being.  

Shashi Caan is founder and partner at the SC Collective and Globally We Design, and CEO of IFI – The International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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