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  • Shelly Kenny | 0000-0002-0996-1997

Importance of interior design

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Interior design perhaps has been around since there has been the need for shelter and the use of buildings (Caan: 2011; Pile and Gura: 2014). The term interior design has traditionally been used for all types of interior projects in the built environment. Interior design is the manipulation of space within the existing building structure to create atmosphere and identity through the use of construction, the treatment of surfaces and placement of furniture. Interior projects range from residential to retail, office and other public buildings (Waxman: 2004; Brooker and Stone: 2007).

The functions and purpose of interior spaces influence the users, because interior spaces are reflective of social, economic and political influences of the period of their time throughout history, those influences on the interiors of buildings would have offered a different experience to those that occupied them in the past, than to those who would occupy them in the present (Pile and Gura: 2014). Therefore, a prime aspect of the users’ experience of buildings, is knowing the user’s cultural context as well (Hall: 1959). However, the experience of the interior design of a particular space does not only stop at the social, economic, and political influences, but also extends to the actual physical design.

Whether or not we have consciously thought about the interior of a space, the design of it directly affects us. Only recently we have started to understand just how so, with studies such as Roger Ulrich’s research on hospital design and Derek Clements-Croome’s work on sick building syndrome and intelligent building design we are starting to see that interior design is not only about pretty scatter cushions and a lick of paint.

To elaborate further, the documentation on poor design, and a lack of understanding of how buildings influence their users, can contribute to making users physically sick (Behling: 2016). “Sick building syndrome” as defined by Clements-Croome (2011: 71) as “categorized as a situation when 20% of a building’s occupants experience a similar medical condition due to an unknown cause over a period of at least 2 weeks, while in the building.” Clements-Croome (2011) also goes onto explain that building sickness can be combated by intelligent building design, such as allowing for natural ventilation and daylight.

In addition to understanding sick building syndrome, there is a vast body of research into hospital design (Salonen et al.: 2013; Slavens: 2017), due to understanding that these buildings will serve their users for decades (Salonen et al.: 2013). There is also clear evidence that the physical environment impacts directly on the health care outcomes of patients and the efficiency of staff (Salonen et al.: 2013). Ulrich (2001:97) found that poorly designed hospital spaces, in particular those spaces that do not meet the psychological needs of the patient, contributed to “anxiety, delirium, elevated blood pressure and increased drug taking.” The hospital experience is one that is fraught with anxiety regardless of the design of the environment. Ulrich (2001) argues that patients can be set up to succeed in healing faster and better through the supportive design of hospitals, together with the medication they are given. Ulrich (ibid) complains that the typical approach to hospital design is about function, and the focus on function creates spaces that are physically and psychologically hard, therefore unsupportive of the well-being of patients and staff that use the space.

To illustrate the concept that space can bring about wellness to the user, hospital research started with designing for tuberculous wards (Ulrich: 2001; Day: 2014; Peters: 2017). It was found that, with the careful consideration of nature into the design of wards, some patients were assisted in their healing process. In 1910, for example, the recommended “cure” for tuberculous was sunlight and fresh air, which resulted in larger windows and “cure porches” (Day: 2014; Peters: 2017).

Research into the interior design of hospitals indicates the importance of considering the users of hospitals, in particular the patients and nurses. Interior design research informs choices that impact these users which then highlights the importance of a well-designed environment (Connellan et al.: 2013). A well-designed environment then impacts positively on all that use the place. Literature on hospital design (Connellan et al.: 2013; Salonen et al.: 2013) indicates the significance of specific design points that are used to reduce stress, improve staff performance, and thus positively impact patients and hospital staff; resulting in their improved health and overall well-being (Connellan et al.: 2013). In reports by both Connellan et al. (2013) and Salonen et al. (2013) on the merits of spatial layout, floor coverings, ventilation and air-conditioning, thermal environment and visual environment in hospitals; it is clear to see that considered interior design has merit. Not only does research into the interior design of a stressful environment such as the hospital ensure the patients’ well-being, it also enables good decision-making with regard to material choices and best layout practices. It also exhibits the priority of the designer to be involved from the beginning of the design phase. According to Ulrich (2001) this type of research gives the designer credibility with stakeholders and investors as design decisions are not based on gut instinct but on hard evidence. It stands to reason then, that the design of other interior spaces should also be based on research and hard evidence as these spaces are as equally significant for the user’s well being.


Behling, S. 2016. Architecture and the Science of the Senses; Stefan Behling; TEDxGoodenoughCollege: Youtube. Available: (Accessed 6 November 2017).

Brooker, G. and Stone, S. 2007. Form and Structure: the organisation of interior space. AVA Publishing SA.

Caan, S. 2011. Rethinking Design and Interiors : Human Beings in the Built Environment. London,: Laurence King Publishing.

Clements-Croome, D. 2011. Sustainable intelligent buildings for people: A review. Intelligent Buildings International, 3: 67-86.

Connellan, K., Gaardboe, M., Riggs, D., Due, C., Reinschmidt, A. and Mustillo, L. 2013. Stressed Spaces: Mental Health and Architecture. Health Environments Research and Design Journal, 6: 127-168.

Day, C. 2014. Places of the Soul: architecture and environmental design as healing. 3rd ed. USA: Routledge.

Hall, E. T. 1959. Space Speaks. In: The Silent Language. New York: Doublday and Company Inc.

Peters, T. 2017. Super-Architecture: Building Better Health. Architectural Design, March: p.24-31.

Pile, J. F. and Gura, J. 2014. A history of interior design. 4th ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Salonen, H., Lahtinen, M., Lappalainen, S., Nevala, N., Knibbs, L. D., Morawska, L. and Reijula, K. 2013. Design approaches for promoting beneficial indoor environments in healthcare facilities: a review. Intelligent Buildings International, 5 (1): 26-50.

Slavens, J. 2017. Six trends in healthcare architecture. Available: (Accessed 1 January 2018).

Ulrich, R. 2001. Effects of Healthcare Environmental Design on Medical Outcomes. Design and Health: Proceedings of the Second: 97-108.

Waxman, L. 2004. More Than Coffee: An Exploration of People, Place, and Community with Implications for Design. The Florida State University School of Visual Arts and Dance.

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