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How to Analyze an Environment

When you start to identify your design requirements, you already know what problem you are trying to solve. But what does "solving" your problem really mean? Your design requirements are the specific needs that must be met in order to call your design a "solution."

For designing an environment, your problem is likely related to how to use a space in a way that is successful to its users. An example is a school cafeteria. The problem statement is:

Students need a better place to eat their lunch, socialize, and relax during the school day, because the current cafeteria is overcrowded, stressful, and noisy.
  1. From the problem statement, you can start asking the right questions to create a list of design requirements. Pull the major need or needs of your solution from your problem statement.

    Example: The major needs of the new cafeteria design are to provide a place to:
    • Eat lunch
    • Socialize
    • Relax
  2. For each need, ask yourself: "What is absolutely essential to satisfy this need?" Right now, do not brainstorm. Instead, figure out what must happen to meet the need in your future solution. Your answers to these questions are your first design requirements. (Note: if you can remove your answer to the question and still meet the need, then your answer is not a design requirement.) The "Needs" table illustrates how to find the first design requirements for the cafeteria example.
Major Needs from Step 1
The cafeteria is a place to:
What is Essential to Meet the Need
(Possible Design Requirements)
Eat lunch
  • An eating surface
  • Somewhere to sit down
  • Group seating
  • Space for groups to gather
  • Quiet space available

These answers are all design requirements because they must be a part of your solution in order to meet the need. When you take away "space for groups to gather," then it is impossible to meet the need for socializing. Socializing means interacting with others. You cannot interact with others if there is no space to gather with those other people.

An answer to this same question that is not a design requirement is "a DJ at lunch." Even though a DJ playing music would allow for socializing, you can take away this answer and still meet the need. You don't have to have a DJ at lunch to be able to socialize.

  1. What are the physical requirements/limits of the specific space you are designing? The answers to this question are your next design requirements.

    Example: What are the physical requirements/limits of designing cafeteria?
    • Space for 200 students at a time
    • Indoors
    • Floors, seating, and eating surfaces that can be cleaned easily
    • An entrance and an exit for traffic flow between classes
  2. What are the conceptual requirements/limits of the specific space you are designing? These are requirements that are not related to the physical nature of the space, but still must be met in order to make your solution successful. Examples will often include cost and the timeline of the project.

    Example: What are the conceptual requirements/limits of designing cafeteria redesign?
    • The renovation must cost less than $5,000.
    • The new design must be ready by the start of next school year.
    • The renovation must be completed by 25 project volunteers.
  3. What other spaces currently exist that serve a similar purpose to your design project? Make a list of these spaces.

    Example: If designing a school cafeteria, other spaces to consider would include:
    • Work cafeterias
    • Hospital cafeterias
    • Restaurants
    • Faculty rooms (where your teachers eat lunch)
    • Hotel dining rooms
  4. Go out and observe these spaces first-hand. Take your design notebook with you, and write down everything that you see. Answer the following questions while you are observing each of the spaces:
    1. Who is using this space? What type of people are they, and why are they here?
    2. What objects are in the space? What purpose does each of the objects serve?
    3. Are there any objects in the space that are not being used?
  5. Analyze your answers to the questions in Step 5. In part a, you wrote down why the people in the space are there. What objects that you wrote down in part b are directly related to helping the people in the space do what they want to do? If these objects in part b are must-haves for your users as well, then they are design requirements.
  6. Think back to your problem statement. Is the environment that you are designing going to have to compete with the other spaces that you listed in Step 5? If the answer is "yes," look at the features that you listed in part c of Step 6. If you feel that your design needs to include the feature in order to keep up with these other spaces, then the feature becomes a design requirement. Otherwise, the objects and features you have listed in part c are NOT design requirements.
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