Topic for Debate
Top five design mistakes
In the website of Design Research Connections News Letter, there is the following article that the editors are asking people to distribute.

The whole article is quoted below, it is a great topic for debating current architectural and design practices.

. . . . and how to avoid them!


People feel better when they are in control of their environment. If people can reconfigure furniture, adjust the temperature, change the lighting, choose where to sit, and have options to complete tasks, they experience a place more positively.

When completing a simple task, music can increase performance, but decrease performance when the task is complex. With control, individuals can create the musical environment that works best for them. (Research Design Connections (RDC) October 2002, "Background Music: Bane or Benefit")

Customers who feel more in control when dining, because, for example, they are able to stake out a "territory" for their group, have greater feelings of pleasure and involvement in the restaurant experience. (RDC April 2003, "Food for Thought: Restaurant Design")

In office environments, people prefer to control their ambient environments, and the presence of healthy, comfortable ambient conditions has been tied to workplace satisfaction and performance. (RDC October 2003, "The Office Environment: Designing for Success")

When creating environments for dementia patients and their families, a variety of seating options gives families appropriate places to interact based on their visiting style and loved one's condition. (RDC Winter 2004, "Dementia Design: Continuing to Make a Difference")


As good designers, we are all concerned about the experiences people have in the places we create. Unfortunately, we can forget how varied the people who will eventually inhabit and use our spaces actually are.

Acoustics is particularly important in elementary schools, because children have more difficulty differentiating words from background noise. But, did you know that children are also prone to temporary hearing loss because of middle ear infections, with some studies reporting that 13 - 15% of students in a classroom are affected by an ear infection at any one time, making great acoustics an even more important factor in school design? (RDC July 2002, "Enhanced Learning: School Acoustical Design")

Sometimes people who use buildings work in the background. Have you ever considered what truck and delivery drivers think of the design of the loading spaces and docks where they have to work? We covered building design from a truck driver's point of view. (RDC October 2002, "Truck Driver Design")

We all know about universally accessible play equipment, but what about designing play areas appropriate for young users' developmental stages? (RDC April and July 2003, "Fully Integrated, Universally Accessible Play Environments: The Next Paradigm Shift")

Different population segments have different design preferences. (RDC Winter 2004, "Generation Y��s Design Preferences")


Every designer brings their own preconceived notions to their design projects. But designers and users can experience places differently and in ways that may be inconsistent with established design practices.

Since most right-handed people turn right at a crossing, it makes sense to put the highest-price merchandise or most interesting features on the right, correct? Not if you are designing in Great Britain. In the United Kingdom where cars travel on the left side of the road, only 45% of right-handers turned right at action decision points. (RDC April 2003, "Right Turns, Left Turns")

Open-office plans are popular and can help people work in new and different ways. Yet, a study of 13,000 office workers found that the most important design feature in an office environment, from the workers' perspectives, was being able to concentrate without distractions -- something that's not possible in most open-office spaces. (RDC April 2003, "Supporting Concentration in Work Environments")

Adding a marked crosswalk will make crossing safer for pedestrians, but only in certain situations. If not properly placed, marked crosswalks can actually increase pedestrian accidents. (RDC Spring 2004, "Pedestrian Safety: Is the Simple Solution the Right One?")


Design of all types deals with the core of human experience. The fundamentals of human place experience are consistent across all sorts of spaces, and there are synergies between research done in each design field. Architects can learn from landscape architects, landscape architects can learn from architects, industrial designers can learn from interior designers, interior designers can learn from architects, and so on.

What researchers have learned about navigation can be applied indoors and outdoors. (RDC July 2002, "Wayfinding Principles: Indoors and Out")

Accessibility design does not begin or end at the building door. Creating accessible places means considering best-practices across disciplines, including designing functional approaches and entrances for a full range of weather conditions, even for those with mobility problems. (RDC, April 2003, "Welcoming Places for All: Thinking Beyond ADA Guidelines")

Interior and exterior place design can both have a significant impact on crime control. (RDC January 2003, "Controlling Crime Through Design")

Environmental psychologists and ergonomists have spent a lot of energy developing optimum operating room designs and other disciplines can learn from their experiences. (RDC July 2003, "Lessons from Operating Rooms")

Place experiences happen everywhere. Shopping malls are designed as entertainment destinations -- and so can parks, zoos, museums, and urban downtowns. (RDC Spring 2004, "Shopping as Entertainment: The Mall as a Happening Place")


We do not experience places one sense at a time, but holistically -- all of our sensory mechanisms are continuously employed. Each sense can be used to augment or reduce the impression being created by the other senses.

Scents and sounds can enhance a healing environment (RDC April 2003, "Hospital Designers Become 'Sense Aware'"; October 2002, "Lemon Scent Reduces Agitation") and scents can easily be introduced into a variety of environments with diffusers.

The right sort of background music can increase the money spent in restaurants (RDC October 2003, "Classical Music Increases Money Spent in Restaurants") and stores. (RDC Winter 2004, "Retail Design 1-2-3")

Just as scientists have shown that scents can relax, they have also been shown to affect task performance. (RDC Spring 2004, "Peppermint Odor Improves Performance of Tedious Tasks")

Colors of maximum saturation attract the most attention when paired with any background color and colors with maximum saturation and brightness are most preferred. (RDC Summer 2004, "Color: Attention-Getting and Emotional Responses")


People need to take mental breaks continuously during the course of the day. Positive distractions and access to nature can provide just the sort of refreshing nudge people need for optimum place experience and performance.

Housing complexes with more trees and grass present have been linked to lower violence levels (RDC January 2002, "Designing with Nature to Reduce Crime") and supportive environments with natural elements can be used to reduce attention deficit symptoms in children. (RDC April 2002, "ADD Children: Nature's Helping Hand")

Plants improve the health and comfort of office workers (RDC April 2002, "Plants Increasing Health and Well-Being") and leafy plants in indoor environments have been linked to increased creativity (RDC January 2003, "Leafy Plants May Enhance Creativity") as have outdoor views. (RDC October 2003, "Designing Laboratory Workplaces".)

Aquariums have repeatedly been shown to positively influence state of mind, with the general population and with special populations, such as Alzheimer's patients. (RDC October 2003, "More Evidence of the Positive Influence of Aquariums")

Sunlight has well publicized influences on human experience, but more subtle influences as well. (RDC Spring 2004. "Less Pain Medicine Required in Sunlit Spaces")

AND. . . designers can't ignore the value of learning from others' experience by reading post-occupancy evaluations and by keeping up with current research information.

Now, the question for this debate would be: do architects consider these as design mistakes? if they do? what efforts they make to avoid them?

Ashraf Salama
Top five design mistakes
Dear Dr. Salama,

Interesting subject for debate as usual, and also difficult to handle.

I don't really think that architects are always aware of these mistakes as you mentioned them until their projects are up and working, and most of the time the damage is done and they can't change it.

Mistake #3 draws our attention to certain design DISCRIMINATION that is present in many of the designs and the standards they were designed according to. It is when architects tend to look with one eye at the environment they are designing in and the consumers who use this built environment, maybe to be able to focus and not be lost in the possibilities, where both the action and its oppsite may be correct for different types of people.
This discrimination may come from the tendency to generalize, just like industry, the faster, the better. As a left handed student, I've had many inconveniences with equipment starting from chairs, music instruments, and ending up with architectural tools -- doing the same task with double the time -- and when designing a school I'm supposed to design a class where sunlight enters the classrooms from the left to avoid shadows, keeping me in the dark...

Mistake #5 is so interesting to me because I've tried to put on a few discussion subjects concerning sound and architecture, colour and architecture and other forms of experiencing the built environment... but there were very few responses, guess it's an indication that its not an important subject in some point of views.

I would like to ask your question again.. What are architects doing about it?
Nada Ishaq
Top five design mistakes
very interesting topic mr.salama,to me as designer ,all points represented as mistakes of designer some how difficult to accept,well once designer learns to establish contextuality in the expression and leaves marginalised adoptional vacum in functional aspect at given time/place ,most of things discribed as mistakes[in fact they are variable componants of the design] shall not arise.very very intersting sub.
Dushyant Nathwani
Top five design mistakes
Thanks Ms. Ishaq for your posting. It is really striking not to see responses on these issues by Archnet members.

A comment on your introductory statement: if architects think about these issues in the programming process of a project--as early as possible in the process of a project delivery, then they can avoid these mistakes (if they believe they are mistakes). If a mistake occurs in a project, rather than not doing anything about it, we need to see design as an endless process; a mistake can be fixed in an existing environment as part of the design process (the only problem would be at the expense of whom). Post occupancy evaluation is a key in this process; now people name it FPE facility performance evaluation that helps us see successes and failures of existing projects. If we could not fix a mistake in an existing environment/building --at least we can avoid it while designing for future environments.. The thing is that architects need to admit and declare their mistakes, but they never do!

As for discrimination; I recall a book that I read more than 10 years ago called "Descrimination by Design" by Leslie Wisemann-- a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology; I think it was published in 1993; it discusses some of the ideas you are talking about; how design addresses specific populations, how it addresses average males--only, how it addresses healthy people--only, might want to have a look at it.

I second your thoughs on color, sound, ... many in architecture still consider even discussing these factors is a luxury!

Other than that, the profession is fine and is going in the right direction...... (smiles).

Ashraf Salama
Top five design mistakes
Hello Dr salama,
You've pointed out very sensitive issues of designers. I think we all are somehow aware of these mistakes but unfortunately not much bothered about them.
Sometimes the design did not deliver what the user wanted becsuse of the lacking in the context as mistake#5 quotes.When a designer creates a product, one has to study what needs to be done��and come to an understanding about the end result. The designer and the user must come to a common understanding about what the end-result will look like. Or in the other way, the design shoud be 'user driven'.
The design assumed that since the approach worked for 5 users it would work for 50 or 500 or 5000. This is what mistake#3 says, the design belongs to the user and should follow their needs, demands and aspirations.
There are ways to work the things out, we just need to realize them. Though the profession is running well till now, but it would really change the whole scenario if we experience it in a better way after realizing our 'mistakes'.

Abhinav Tiwari
Abhinav Tiwari
Top five design mistakes
Dear Ashraf,

A thought provoking posting, indeed!

Common to all the five points is the human element. With the obsession for the material or physical form of architectural design, architects tend to underestimate the importance of human element: age groups, gender, human condition, values, traditions, aspirations, experiences, habits, needs, abilities, skills, imagination, deep rooted feelings, emotions, relations, social groups and communities.No wonder then that what we generally see as architectural products, are physical forms and assemblages rather places for people or habitats for humanbeings.

There is a tremendous scope for evolving architecture for the people: humane architecture, community architecture, sustainable architecture, truly innovative architecture, if one can focus on the issues rather than forms. These mistakes also reflect on the way architecture students are trained or guided during their studies, the way they learn from their peer groups, seniors, magazines and the profession! There is a need for more enlightened approaches which address the key issues in learning, communicating and evolving design. Shall we learn from our mistakes?

There are many lessons which one can learn from your posting about the way forward in evolving humane, sustainable and yet innovative architecture.

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
Top five design mistakes
I beleive there is an arisen awareness of the neglect for the human experience and interaction with the built context, especially in the west, but on the level of urban design and community planning, not single building architecture.
That may be the case for many reasons.One of them is the ability to change and power of the community forces on the open public spaces. Another reason is the variety of users that cannot be overlooked, and the contribution of these people in raising funds, implementing plans, enrolling in different activities, and maintaining all that or sometimes improving it.

In The middle east, however, the vision is still foggy and unclear, especiially in the less developed less wealthy countries.

How can this awareness be shifted from the usually public awareness to the private one? and how can we raise awareness in our countries when there are still many other mistakes ahead of us?

I don't see a bright picture here...
Nada Ishaq
Top five design mistakes
Thank you all for the contributions. It would appear that we are all in the same wave length. Would like to second some of the thoughts raised.

Mr. Tiwari is raising a very important point: I think it is a good business to think of architecture as a commodity and direct efforts to people, socieities, those are our real (customers - consumers). Product and industrial designers can be taken as a good example in this context. However, the tendency to emphasize one elemtent over others is I guess the problem, while some emphasize the human element, others place empahsis on form/aesthetics or structural issues, or go to the extreme and place mphasis on pure efficiency. It is not a matter of either or, it is about all of that! Just to clarify my point about commodity: A study conducted by Diekmann and Nelson (1985) to examine 500 construction claims in the Courts of United States, the study shows that 46% of the cases in US Courts were to due to design errors (mistakes). All were similar to the ones posted in this topic. The study is published in an article in Journal of Construction, Engineering, and Management (1985), Vol 3, Issue 1, and entitled "Construction Claims: Frequency and Severity"

My dear friend Professor Akhtar is eloquently summing it all by introducing the "human element" as a key word. The issue you raise Akhtar about the training of architects is also very critical. I personally surveyed 100 design instructors in over 30 schools of architecture world-wide. Again, results were very frustrating were educators imbibe students form manipulation skills, negative competition at the expense of many other issues including communicating with people, addressing people needs, by introducing projects that are hypothetical in nature! Perhaps, it will be a good idea to introduce a session in the forthcoming ICHH-2005 conference on this issue.

I believe Ms Ishaq one has to keep trying to introduce what he/she believes in. Margaret Mead (1901-78) taught thousands about the value complexities of being human. She said "Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." The future will be bright if we keep trying.
Ashraf Salama
Top five design mistakes
Can Isuggest shifting the path of the discussion ot highlighting the importance of the 5 mistakes mentioned above? If we really come to believe that these are MISTAKES in desingn, then we can take steps forward to change our design methods and ways of thinking.
We can start with our traditional buildings and cities, as an example of creating an architecture that envelopes the human beings and allows space for their different social, economical, activities to take place.

Can we start with scale, and it's relation to the human body. When and how to make a person feel tiny and overscaled and, in other circumstances feel in scale to the interior and exterior space.

If we take into consideration the fact that the now available are new building materials and methods, how can they be human friendly when their thermal and environmental reactions are poor compared to those traditional ones?
Nada Ishaq


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