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.
Case studies are discussed, from Northumbria University’s practice-led Centre for Design Research (CfDR) that demonstrate how visualising concepts and designs through digital animation can enable effective communication of ideas and interactions, which in turn enables creative leaps in thinking, understanding and decision-making. Animation is a tool that can unlock the comprehension into what is and what could be. This paper reflects on a number of collaborative projects between the CfDR and several scientific communities, demonstrating and focusing in particular on the process of visualisation, designing digital animations to communicate complex processes, ideas and interactions. An approach and understanding has been developed about how to effectively communicate potentially complex, scientific and technical concepts for the benefit of the client and the end user, in particular the lay audience whose knowledge of the subject may be limited or non-existing.
Findings indicate that the process of constructing simple digital animated stories becomes a learning process for both designer and client. Critical discussions during collaborative meetings develop shared understandings: helping clients to think more creatively about communication (appreciating the benefits of manipulating a truth to position to waylay contextual confusion), and making implicit knowledge belonging to the client explicit to the designer. It is important to state that this negotiation is more effective when the designer is a layperson with respect to the complex implicit knowledge of the client. During these collaborative conditions the untangling of complex ideas have achieve the a-ha moments in the animations’ audiences.