LPA’s research team created a ‘Human Experience App’ to develop a more informative workplace post-occupancy evaluation.
When LPA opened its San Diego studio in a converted Navy barracks in 2022, the firm’s Sustainability and Applied Research team wanted to explore ways to develop real-time data on the quality of the indoor experience. The firm frequently uses its six studios as “living labs” for workplace design (each is LEED Platinum or LEED Gold), and researchers were looking to create a more detailed understanding of occupants’ comfort and behavior in the new space.
“We wanted to see if we could get useful responses through passive engagement rather than trying to probe for responses,” says LPA research analyst Rachel Nasland. “The goal was to leverage technology for real-time data collection, without compromising privacy and anonymity of users’ responses.”
Working with the firm’s IT and graphics teams, researchers developed a desktop application — dubbed the “Human Experience App” — which would allow people to quickly respond to their current conditions. Using a small touchpad on the desk, staffers could respond to their current mental state and five qualities of their immediate environment: lighting quality, acoustic comfort, thermal comfort, air quality and furniture.
Analysis of building orientation and the sun was used to understand lighting quality and thermal comfort responses.
A Mixed-Method Approach
A mixed-method approach was developed, focused on combining the qualitative data generated by the app with quantitative data from the sensor readings to create a more robust view of the comfort levels and experience in the environment. The app was placed in 19 locations throughout the office, along with nine temperature and humidity sensors and three CO2 sensors. The technology was in place for six months from February 2023 to August 2023.
The Human Experience App offered several advantages over traditional post-occupancy evaluation (POE) surveys or focus groups. The app’s responses were focused on specific topics that influence workplace satisfaction, productivity and engagement, and were tied to the location, not the person. Occupants were able to provide immediate responses, unlike surveys and focus groups, which collect the perception of users’ satisfaction of indoor environmental qualities after the fact.
“We were able to then study trends that evolved throughout a period of time, rather than a user’s perceptions at one point in time,” Nasland says.
The “Human Experience Apps” received 1,200 responses across 19 locations in the studio.
The 19 apps collected 1,200 responses in six months. Engagement was strongest in the first month, with 562 responses being reported. Roughly 100 responses followed each month, which far exceeded the quantity and quality of information gathered from traditional sources alone.
“In a typical POE survey, as we did for our San Jose office, there are generally nine environmental quality questions regarding the spaces. With about 33 responses from that studio, we received about 300 data points,” Nasland says. “In comparison, the physical apps in the San Diego studio provided us four times as much data — and richer data at that.”
The results helped shed light on several key areas of the studio’s performance. People generally rated the spaces as comfortable, but the data collected over time helped designers fine-tune the spaces.
The correlation between qualitative responses and quantitative data, for example, found distinct trends in temperature responses, which was addressed through an improved mechanical system. Lighting responses spotlighted areas that could be improved and led to an exploration of sun glare on the spaces based on the path of the sun. Acoustic data pinpointed building zones that tend to be noisier from higher usage, providing insight and opportunities to influence behavior.
With the new technologies, researchers were also able to trial an original research study to coincide with the post-occupancy evaluation. Midway through the POE, plant walls were added to several areas of the studio. In comparing trends before and after the installation, the study found a slight decrease in CO2 levels in the office.
“Overall, people were comfortable in the spaces, but with such detailed data, we have been able to better refine our spaces and the user interaction,” Nasland says. “A lot of the time we assume individual differences account for the range of responses, but the overlay of quantitative data on user responses can highlight more substantive patterns.”
The project is ongoing, as the team is refining the app selections based on lessons learned from the study in San Diego. They’re also looking for ways to make the hardware more streamlined. But the experiment in the mixed-method approach was seen as a success, offering another tool to benchmark a building’s performance and help designers to test design decisions, rectify issues early after move-in, and learn from the space for future design.
Developed through LPA Sustainability & Applied Research, the firm’s in-house research group.