Making use of design psychology for ship interiors

Expert interior designers tell Jacqui Griffiths how the core principles of design psychology help to influence mindset and movement onboard

Making use of design psychology for ship interiors
How people enter, spend time in and leave a space are primary concerns in interior design

Combining aesthetics with practicality to please ship operators and passengers is both an art and a science. “The design and ambience of a space is driven by the client’s expectations, through their venue briefs,” says Ralf Claussen, owner of cm-Design. “During our design processes the key drivers often come from budgets, local conditions, clients’ tastes, target groups and our own design philosophy. It’s a well-balanced mixture of hard facts and design-related elements.”

Among those elements are the four principles of design psychology: proxemics (the science of personal space), the perception of space, the system of objects, and space-time relationship.

Petra Ryberg, head of design at Carnival Australia, says that meeting different ideas about personal space starts with thinking about how people feel when they enter the area. “Personal space means different things to different people at different times so it’s important to create a variety of options,” she says. “In a public space, for example, I like to create an open area where large groups can interact, and more intimate seating options for those who are travelling with their partner.”

How people enter, spend time in and leave a space are primary concerns in interior design, says Chris Finch, founder and CEO of AD Associates. “The function of the room is a big driver,” he says. “For example, people like less personal space in a social area like a bar than they do in a spa room.”

Proxemics will likely gain prominence in the wake of recent events, says My Nguyen, director of interior design and interior operations at Holland America Group. “Before Covid-19 and the need for social distancing, designing with proxemics was more for comfort,” she says. “Now we need to design for comfort and safety. Dining venues and lounges will need to be redesigned because people’s personal space bubble just got bigger, in a time when close connection is needed most.”

Altering passengers’ perception of space by making areas appear larger or smaller than they are is an important skill. “Lights, reflections, colour and contrast all help create a sense of spaciousness or intimacy, alongside features that draw the eye,” says Ryberg. “To make a large restaurant feel smaller I break the sightlines to create a sense of rooms within rooms. This is also a good way to create different kinds of seating options.”

Providing uninterrupted vistas is an effective tactic, says Finch: “You can be sat within inches of someone but if you’re physically separated by a divider and can’t see anyone in front of you then you have a much greater sense of space.”

Nguyen says newly developed anti-stain technology is a game-changer in enabling designers to use light colours that make small spaces feel larger – a technique she’s just used in her stateroom designs for Holland America Line’s newbuild, Ryndam. “The light colour palette is based on an environmentally sustainable carpet using the natural colour of sheep’s wool,” she says. “The staterooms feel natural, airy and spacious.”

Objects, as well as layout, are integral to spatial experience, and the system of objects categorises each object’s value in terms of function, exchange, symbol and sign. For example, does a piano have enough value in the space to justify it replacing three chairs? What moods or events does the artwork symbolise? And what does the style of the chairs signify in terms of branding, social values or prestige? “Products don’t sit alone in a room; they are connected to everything else in there,” says Finch. “We make unconscious mental connections that affect our perception of a space and these can relate to the value of objects, symbolism or associated signs.”

All four elements play off each other in a successful design. “The beauty of a successful interior is the way you prioritise these elements depending on what you want the experience to be,” says Nguyen. “A space will feel off if you don’t consider them all.”

Ryberg’s designs illustrate the system of objects at work. “Rather than having four chairs around a table, I would have a sofa with a large coffee table, some lounge chairs and pouffes – plenty of options to choose from – which could cater to the exchange of conversation,” she says. “Symbolic and sign value is especially important in certain cultures. I draw inspiration from the colours, patterns and textures in nature, and that becomes an important symbolic meaning in my interiors.”

Influencing the space-time relationship – how quickly people move through an area – is another integral skill for onboard spaces. “Space planning is incredibly important to control the pace of flow,” says Nguyen. “Zig-zag opportunities and beautiful distractions encourage people to stay longer in a space, while a straightforward path to an intriguing destination will move them through swiftly. Artwork, colour and signage all have a part to play.”

Designing for movement around any space involves multiple perspectives, says Finch. “It’s about layering elements according to the brand, the venue and how each person orients themselves in that space,” he says. “People heading along a corridor to their cabin, for instance, will move quickly past the art on the walls, picking up the colours and themes in their peripheral vision. But on leaving their cabin, they may be looking straight at an artwork and it will have a completely different effect, becoming part of a unique moment for that person in that space.”

Design psychology is a subtle science, and for many designers it’s an innate understanding that is subtly woven into the creative and collaborative process. “The final result of an interior design is a combination of all the relevant facts,” says Claussen. “It’s based on a workflow with a high rate of communication and conversation – steps back and forth – inspired by our talent, experience, the fresh ideas of our young designers, responsibility, behaviour and environmental sense. The psychology aspect is not a tool – it’s instinctive to us. It’s about aiming for excellence in a way that is right for the client.”

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
07 July 2020

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