Included, at ease or enthused: the way spaces make their users feel was a key point of discussion during our latest Interiors of the Month live judging session. 

‘An intrinsic part of being a good designer is being able to design spaces that make people feel good – that take advantage of the climate, light and culture and are inclusive, entertaining or whatever they need to be,’ said Leni Popovici, founding director and partner at KAP Studios during our latest Interiors of the Month live judging session. Tina Norden, partner at Conran and Partners, agreed. Witnessing a change in the way wellness is defined, she said: ‘I think the focus on wellbeing has always been about physical, holistic elements such as spas and treatments, but increasingly we are realizing it’s about more than that. The past year and a half have made it a more important topic. We have all been so insular and away from each other that we had to look after ourselves. I think that made us start thinking more about the wellbeing of the world and of the people around us. It’s now a key factor in how we design and think about space. Creating people-centric spaces that feel good aids the wellbeing of their users and if people are feeling happy and comfortable, they are going to react to each other in a more positive way. It’s like a circular thing.’

The May winner, Social Harmony by Nosigner, poses an interactive, playful way of enforcing safe distancing requirements in public spaces utilizing the power of music.

House T, a Tokyo residence by Suppose Design Office, merges contemporary design and natural living. It earned second place.

May's second honourable mention went to a flower shop in Beijing. F.O.G. Architecture's Dresscode Concept Flower Shop is a gallery-like environment that immerses visitors.

Gudy Herder, founder of Eclectic Trends, saw a similar shift in the perception of the term wellbeing. As reflected by different consumer surveys, she said, wellbeing is not a siloed industry anymore and doesn’t solely relate to fitness, healthy foods and meditation apps. ‘Wellbeing is if something – a brand or a product for example – puts you in a positive frame of mind,’ she explained. ‘Why did the Nosigner-designed system Social Harmony win this month? Because it 100 per cent puts us in a positive frame of mind.  That very much has to do with the prevailing wellness trend.’ 

Another outcome of surveys that Herder pointed out is the fact that wellbeing is connected to feeling like you have made a good choice, which could have to do with anything from sustainability to inclusivity. Anne-Rachel Schiffmann, director and senior architect at Snøhetta, added to the conversation that it’s really about giving users a sense of agency – making them feel like they get to make the right choice. Her words corresponded with Norden’s ideas about people-centric design, which Thiemann followed with a slightly provocative question: If not the users, who had the panelists been designing for before? Was this principle, which popped up during many previous jury sessions, really so new? ‘You hit the nail on the head,’ said Popovici, agreeing it’s an approach that should be adopted from the moment aspiring designers and architects enter school. But what has changed, she explained, is that human-centric design is not just part of internal conversations anymore taking place amongst architects in closed, theoretical forums. ‘Users are becoming a lot more intelligent, self-aware and most importantly: design aware,’ she said. ‘From the fact that we have all had to spend so much more time in our homes, we’ve learned to use our spaces differently. Every person had become a little bit of a designer because they have had to redesign the way that they interact with their homes. The design bar is set higher when it comes to answering to user needs.’ 

Although small at 69-sq-m, our fourth place interior A Better Place (cover image) equips its residents with a peaceful, modular living set-up. Useful Workshop is the responsible studio.

Described as a 'cultural department store', Forum Groningen in the namesake Dutch city champions community engagement. NL Architects and DeMunnikDeJongSteinhauser Architectencollectief collaborated on the work.

Norden continued by saying that the architect’s job is not just about listening to the needs and requirements of clients and end users during the design process, but about curating them. ‘You get so many different viewpoints and angles. It’s about focusing down on where the various comments come from, what’s the motivation behind them,’ she explained. ‘Why is someone saying I don't like green? Is it actually because they don't like the colour or is it because they don't like the way that colour makes them feel? I think it's about drilling down and really trying to understand what your clients wants and what the the end user of a building wants, rather than keeping it on a more superficial level.’ 

Herder closed the session with some food for thought: ‘I think it's a good moment to put people and planet on the same level whenever we can. Therefore, I believe that the term people-centric design should shift to people planet design.'

Watch the full talk below:

Read more about the May winner and honourable mentions here.