Getting under the(ir) skin: Applying personas and scenarios with body-environment research for improved understanding of users’ perspective in architectural design

Tenna Doktor Olsen Tvedebrink, Andrea Jelić


The aim of this paper is to move established positions in architectural design by discussing a more refined user perspective. The motivation is threefold. Firstly, fields like environmental psychology and cognitive science for architecture have in recent years brought novel insights on the embodied nature of human spatial experience, and the extensive effects of the built environment on people’s psychosomatic health and behaviour that are not well-captured by existing building standardization systems. Secondly, while the fast growing trends of user-centred and research-based design in architecture have showed that users’ experience is a valuable source of design knowledge, the methods for incorporating this wealth of new insights in the architectural design process are still underdeveloped. Finally, the example of the newly built psychiatric department in Aabenraa, Denmark, whose interior, despite an international architectural award in 2016, had to be re-designed one year after construction due to poor understanding of the users, indicates existing discrepancies in the current approaches to translating research information in user-centred design.


To address these issues, we discuss the experiences from a new masters’ course in ‘Architecture, Health, and Well-being’ and propose that user-centred methods like ‘personas’ and ‘scenarios’ used in IT, marketing, and product development also have a potential to develop more in-depth research-informed user perspectives. As well as, to help students envision and strengthen the architectural quality of the programming and building design throughout the architectural design process, by supporting a ‘design empathic’ understanding and immersion in user perspectives. 


User perspective; Architecture and health; Research-informed design; Personas; Scenarios

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