Special Session Summary Incorporating Consumer Perspectives in the Architectural Design of Servicescapes

Mark Peterson, University of Texas at Arlington
[ to cite ]:
Mark Peterson (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Incorporating Consumer Perspectives in the Architectural Design of Servicescapes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 208-210.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 208-210



Mark Peterson, University of Texas at Arlington

The presentations of this session offered consumer researchers supporting and complementary views of how to incorporate consumer perspectives in the design of servicescapes. This was done by applying consumer theory and research methods in probing the psyche of architects, and then by showing consumer research being employed at the front-end and the back-end of design projects. Specifically, the presentations gave treatment to 1) architects’ concepts of work styles in their profession, 2) pre-design research with consumers, and 3) post-occupancy evaluations of architectural projects. Each of the presentations represented field research studies completed in 2001. Together, these presentations demonstrated how the field of consumer research is advancing in its ability to bring insights into the most abstract realms of servicescape development where art and building construction are jointly conceived.

The session proved to be interactive and lively. The presenters purposely compressed their presentations in order to hear from audience members, as well as from a specially-invited architect, Sean Slater, representing one of the US’ leading architectural firmsBThompson, Ventulett, Stainback and Associates (offices in Chicago and Atlanta).

Three presentations comprised the formal part of the session. Extended abstracts of these presentations accompany this overview. Dilene Crockett proposed a typology of architects in her presentation. Krittinee Nuttavuthisit and BenTt DeBerry-Spence explored retailing spaces with a dynamic aspect which can be changed readilyBfrequently with information proided by consumers. Finally, Mark Peterson presented an interpretive account of campus recreation facility usage focusing primarily upon the UT-Austin’s Gregory Gym.

Discussant John Sherry noted the recurrence of the idea artists express of "creative destruction"Bhaving to destroy part (or all) of their previous work to render a new creation. While noting that our culture has a visual bias, even though we apprehend in an embodied fashion, Sherry posed the question "In the body, we are there, but (paradoxically) not there. So where are we (psychically) when we are dwelling?"

Sherry then conducted an impromptu focus group with audience members using the conference hotelBthe Marriott MarquisBas a focal point for discussion. Many audience members reported negative affect toward hotel features such as the glass elevators in the expansive hotel atrium ("dizzying"), the sameness in the cramped rooms for individual guests ("prison-like"), the labyrinth of glass walls ("I actually walked into one."), the escalators and corridors expeditiously funneling hotel guests ("like the LA freeway"), the noisy air ducts ("the sonic dimension"), and the starkness of exposed concrete within the hotel interior ("brutalism in concrete").

Architect Sean Slater disclosed that modernist public buildings (such as the Mariott Marquis) like many designed by developer-architect John Portman attempted to capture "the big idea" (or corporate experience). Today, the trend among architects is to design "difference" within public buildings, such as malls. Slater described such an effect as discernible in architects’ use of different carpet patterns in various areas of a structure, or a unique fountain in one special spot. One intended outcome of designing such heterogeneity in public building interiors would be users’ increased intimacy with parts of the building in which they would work or shop.

After the session, Slater disclosed that the architecture firm now working on the plans for renovating the very same Mariott Marquis hotel is his ownBThompson, Ventulett, Stainback and Associates. Slater reported taking extensive notes during the session’s discussion time and indicated he will try to integrate these insights into the next version of the Mariott Marquis. Serendipitously then, this session might be the first academic conference session on record to directly influence the architectural redesign of the host facility for the conference. So in the end, the promise of the session was literally fulfilled, as consumer perspectives have now been incorporated in the architectural design of the Mariott Marquis servicescape.



Dilene Crockett, University of Texas at Arlington

Consumers of public spaces represent just one constituency of many with which practicing architects must comply. In fact, recent research suggests there are 33 classes of consultants, 15 regulatory and approval bodies, 7 groups of interested parties, 6 types of informal consultants and 10 categories of people having incidental influence on a typical building project (Cuff, 1991). Invariably, each of these constituents has a different metric by which to measure the "effectiveness" of the space or success of the building project. Some may be concerned about budgets, others about timelines; some may be interested in functionality and others in safety; some may prefer to create an inspiring space while others seek to improve the lives of the people who must use, look at and maintain the building (Fisher, 2000). Recently there has been debate in both the academic and practicing universes of architecture as to the effects consumers and the other constituents do and should have on the quality of architectural design.

Some architects claim that the collaboration that is involved in the development of a public space improves design by keeping in check architects who claim creative license when in truth are indulging in an adolescent avant-garde. Others say that collaboration leads to mediocrity through necessary compromise which dilutes the strength and quality of design by creating numbing constraints. Most architects seem to agree that a designer’s strength lies in his/her ability to turn constraints into assets focussed on exploring and discovering solutions to complex needs (Fisher, 2000).

This research sought to find deep meanings in the collaborative process of building design. A number of qualitative techniques were employed to elicit key words, images and concepts from practicing and teaching architects. The architects represented a cross section of the universe of architects based on their experience, gender, scope of work, size of firm and variety of portfolios. To address concerns about validity, data source triangulation was obtained by pursuing architects with differing orientations. These orientations fell into a simple typology: intellectuals, technicians, artisans and businessmen. These orientations seem to shape both the architect’s sense of creativity and purpose, but also his/her ideas of collaboration and success.

All architects expressed excitement about creating exceptional public "spaces" with space being the place where architects work imaginatively. Overall, architects are attracted to creative problem solving and complex challenges, just as they share an interest in making safe buildings and working well with clients and collaborators. However, the architects’ approaches to collaboration and success differ according to their types.

Intellectuals are first interested in consumer happiness and productivity and second in improving the site with the building. Businessmen do not hold social aspirations for their work and are only concerned about consumers to the extent that the paying client is concerned about consumers. They are first and foremost interested in the client’s opinion as client referrals bring in new and repeat business. Technicians’ concern for the consumer is in the form of safety and functionality, while artisans hope to make an additional emotional impact on consumers, community and clients alike.

This research, then, advises that the effect of servicescapes on consumer behavior in practice would benefit from being filtered first through the typology of the developer.



Krittinee Nuttavuthisit, Northwestern University

Benet DeBerry-Spence, Northwestern University

Previous research on retail settings has focused on consumers’ interpretations and experiences, with little attention given to producer (e.g. developer, designer) influences. This paper focuses on producer intentions and more specifically, their development of a new retail design that recognizes the freedom of consumers’ experiences.

From a historical perspective, Victor Gruen’s design (Southdale shopping center), as discussed by Csaba and Askegaard (1999), was the first retail development to emphasize catering to consumers’ desires for sociability rather than those directly related to making sales. His concept of mall failed, however, in its inability to accommodate social change (ibid). The mall was no longer "a place for people to bloom and grow and share" (GruenBquoted in Coady, 1987, p.683). Subsequent retail-entertainment complex designs such as the West Edmonton Mall (Alberta, Canada) and the Mall of America, translate themed fantasies to the built environments (The Imagineers, 1996) by implementing practices of theming (Gottdiener 1997), or "imagineering". In doing so, these approaches incorporate aspects of flexibility that are requisite in today’s image-driven, commodity-driven popular culture (Gottdiener 1998). Additionally, they position the producer in the role of codifying and assembling multi-layered symbolic motifs that purposively convey an underlying theme, as exemplified in the Mall of America, which ties a variety of decorative sign-vehicles to the unified theme of "America" (ibid. Questions remain, however, whether it is feasible within this dynamic epoch for producers to successfully encapsulate the essential and desirable themes of different consumers, whilst not conveying the oppressive structures of consumption often articulated in studies of political forms of resistance (Fiske 1987, Kellner 1995).

In this paper, phenomenological interviews with retail developers and designers reveal a new retail design development concept, that recognizes the freedom of consumers’ experiences. Producers shift from invoking an overarching theme to providing consumers with tools to create their own retail presentations. As one developer remarked, "We don’t try to paint the [single] picture saying, this is what your experience is going to be, because we may be wrong." Consumers are liberated as producers aim to invisibly facilitate rather than expressively dominate the way in which consumers experience retail environments. An architect in this research explained, "You don’t want to be obvious leaving room for things to happen is really how things happen because you don’t have control of everything." In this new role, producers begin by assuming consumers’ perspectives. Rather than making a unified theme to encompass a variety of consumer experiences, efforts are made to multiply these experiences by the diversity of times, places, and people (e.g. multiplying an individual experience with sequence and interaction with other people, or changing environments when s/he walks.) Producers then intertwine the network of multiplied experiences yielding options of environments. "We try to create these different spaces with the different images so that you can create your own fantasy, experiences" (architect). Within the architectural field, this approach to retail development is referred to as 'neighborhoods’ where retail surroundings are "not just focused on one spectrum" but spread throughout networks that encourage consumers to mix and match distinct experiences from different components in different districts. Overall, 'consumer tooling’ ideology is dynamic and flexible, leaving room for consumers to explore an array of retail presentations contextually related to a dominant theme.

With its emphasis on producer motivations, this paper interrelates aspects of both production and consumption to enhance our understanding of retail experiences and thus provides new insight into studies of planned experiential production.



Mark Peterson, University of Texas at Arlington

In the 1960’s, a movement began to incorporate user perspectives in the design of buildings. Based on the principles of survey research in the social sciences, this movement was brief in its duration and soon died out in the 1970’s. Artistic freedom and architecture schools’ emphasis on aesthetic elements in design are two reasons cited for architecture’s lack of adopting and developing deliberate methods to integrate the perspectives of the eventual users of buildings and spaces into architectural designs (Wright, 2001).

Recently, architects have begun considering returning to designed environments to document "what worked, what didn’t, and why?" (Fisher, 2000). This is in striking opposition to the rare discussion about clients and users in the practice of architecture. This indifference to consumer preferences has been cited as a legacy of modern architecture’s roots in nineteenth-century French rationalism and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. As the Ecole des Beaux-Arts produced architects primarily for the French bureaucracy, clients and users were not included in conceptualizing or evaluating designed spaces. Instead, the critic was given unquestioned authority. Today’s design studio carries forward many of these 150-year-old traditions, including the long hours, and the focus on schematic solutions.

While te traditional role of the architectural critic is suited best to address the aesthetic dimension of a designed environment, the critic is limited in addressing the other two essential dimensionsBsafety (non-negotiable), and usability.

The emergence of post-occupancy evaluations suggests an opportunity for consumer research to provide architects and developers with insights on not just the usability dimension, but also on the aesthetic dimension, as well. Holbrook (1999) has investigated the nature of differences between popular appeal and expert judgment of cinematic art. His findings suggest ordinary consumers’ opinions overlap with those of critics in many ways. While no research is extant about popular appeal and critics’ judgments about architectural designs, Holbrook’s findings suggest that consumer judgments could overlap those of experts in important ways.

Since the first attempts to integrate consumer research into architecture practice more than thirty years ago, the methods used in consumer research have matured. In particular, innovative methods of qualitative research have enabled marketers to understand and enhance the experiential dimension of their offerings (Sherry and Kozinets 2001). The experiential nature of designed environments implies the need for holistic perspectives on the complexity of designed spaces. Complexity, here, emerges from the boundless possibilities for the building exteriorBthe "skin of the building", as well as for building interiorsBincluding the elements of lighting, wall and floor coverings, temperature control, color schemes, sound quality, and spatial arrangement. Qualitative methods could offer researchers the potential for such holistic insights on these experiential dimensions.

To explore the effectiveness of qualitative research methods in the context of post-occupancy evaluations, two parallel studies were undertaken to better understand the "deep meaning" consumers associate with recreational sports facilities. The first study focused upon users of a 30-year-old recreational facility at the University of Texas at Arlington (now being considered for renovation). The second study focused upon users of a five-year-old major renovation of the University of Texas at Austin’s Gregory Gym. In both studies, researchers used a variety of qualitative research techniques including focus groups, participant observation, consumer biography and in-depth interviews. The in-depth interviews included projective tasks or photo-elicitation similar to the ZMET technique (Zaltman, 1996). Together, these studies included qualitative inputs from 61 respondents on the two campuses

A comparison of the interpretations of the deep meaning of the respective recreation facilities showed both the usability and aesthetic dimensions were addressed using these qualitative techniques. In addition, this comparison also disclosed patterns similar to the four dimensions proposed for the "millennial consumer" by Holbrook (2000)B1) experience, 2) entertainment, 3) exhibitionism, and 4) evangelizing. However, an achievement motivation also emerged in both studies.

Such findings suggest opportunities for applying consumer research theory and innovative qualitative research methods in order to provide valuable elements for discussion among all parties directly or indirectly involved in any architectural designBthe architects, the developers, the users, and society.


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