Biophilic Wayfinding & Environmental Graphic Design

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Biophilic design for environmental graphics

Examples of indirect experiences of nature in biophilic design.  Representations of nature used to enliven interior environments. 

We’ve previously discussed the contribution of good wayfinding information design to wellbeing. Whether it’s by encouraging more active forms of travel or reducing stress that comes from being lost.  But what about the design itself?

Health & Well-Being Benefits of Biophilia

There are several academic studies that have found a positive corelation between productivity and happiness with exposure to nature. This has led to a growing interest in biophilic design within the built environment. We were keen to explore if and how we could employ biophilic design principles within the design of wayfinding systems.

Records on recovery after cholecystectomy of patients in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981 were examined to determine whether assignment to a room with a window view of a natural setting might have restorative influences. Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall.

View Through a Window may Influence Recovery from Surgery – Roger Ulrich, Chalmers University of Technology

What is Biophilic Design

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago what biophilic design was, I’d have probably mumbled something about plants and indoors. Digging deeper I’ve discovered that there is an awful lot more to it. What’s more, a fair number of our previous projects have incorporated elements of biophilic design.

Experiences with nature are at the heart of biophilic design and these fall within three categories, direct, indirect and experience of place.

Direct Experience of Nature –this relates to direct contact with elements of the natural world. Extending beyond plants to animals, water, light, air, temperature, changing seasons and embraces all the senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and feel. It’s about designing buildings that offer views of nature and landscapes rather than brick walls; incorporating water features and planting; implementing building management systems that allow for variable air flow, temperature and light.

Indirect Experience of Nature – as the name suggests this refers to representations of nature. This can be as obvious as images of nature; design of biomorphic forms; use of natural materials or materials with a patina (or similar) that reflect the passage of time; and patterns. Patterns can include direct representations of nature, but also highly ordered geometric/fractal patterns.

Experience of Place – includes addressing primitive instincts by providing clear views so that we see what and who might be approaching; as well as smaller, more hidden spaces for some quiet reflection. Of particular interest to The Velvet Principle, including wayfinding cues that enable people to move freely without anxiety and imbue a sense or security. At the other end of the spectrum are spaces that provide bit of mystery and encourage exploration.

From the quick canter through the principles of biophilic design, wayfinding consultants have an important role to play in the experience of place. Equally in the design of forms, graphic content and material selection. But to truly adhere to biophilic principles requires an integrated design approach that considers the building as a whole; and is contextually relevant to the environment. So if the project is based in a desert, the design inspiration needs to be drawn from that landscape rather than a tropical rainforest.

Want to Find Out More?

For more detailed and authoritative discussions about biophilic design principles – here’s a couple of papers that you might find interesting.

14 Patterns of Biophilic Design – Terrapin Bright Green

The Practice of Biophilic Design –Stephen R. Kellert & Elizabeth F. Calabrese​

View Through a Window may Influence Recovery from Surgery – Roger Ulrich, Chalmers University of Technology