As society shifts towards an increasingly sustainable future, high-performance buildings can provide a means to meet sustainability and energy efficiency goals. Occupants in high-performance buildings are often expected to interact with building systems to maintain individual levels of comfort and productivity. However, the critical role of the human-building interface is often ignored (Day & Heschong, 2016). Too often, building controls are not intuitive and poorly understood by typical users. Conversely, some buildings rely on entirely automated building systems (e.g. lighting, shading, HVAC systems), which take control away from occupants. This approach is largely unpopular with building occupants. The literature suggests people desire and prefer control of their interior environments (e.g., Escuyer & Fontoynont, 2001). Designing a high-performance building that effectively engages users presents a more complex problem than most designers are prepared to handle.
Design teams require an ability to see the whole situation—from how the parts of the system work to how users will engage and adapt the system. This ability relies on systematic efforts to understand broad swaths of human behavior and design research, which go beyond computation or modeling (e.g., Huppatz, 2015; Rittel & Webber, 1973). In this context, design and design research supports third order (activities and processes) and fourth order (environments, organizations, and systems) design problems (Buchanan, 1999). Creating design teams, who can comprehend a whole situation, requires reframing how clients and designers understand design problems. This draft paper links theory about design problems with practical processes for using design research to improve the human-building interface.