a day in the life of naim: how casafekra designs for social interaction in public spaces

December 19, 2013

by william choukeir

social interaction levels

naim wakes up to the soft touch of his wife.
she whispers in his ear: ‘i love you.’

that’s the 1st of four levels of social interaction. physical and emotional interactions take place in this 1st level: our intimate space.

after having breakfast with his wife and two kids, naim takes the bus to work. his friend always joins him mid-way, and sits right next to him. ‘is your daughter doing better?’ naim asks. before naim could get an answer, he notices a head from behind listening closely. irritated, he turns around and gives the intruder a piercing look. the intruder backs away but it’s obvious he’s still listening.

that’s the 2nd level of social interaction: the personal space, where only select friends are allowed in, or if interaction is mandatory, as we’ll see later. the more intimate the space, the more people resist intrusion. just like naim resisted the intrusion on his personal conversation. people resist even more, intrusions on their intimate space, to the extent that society made these intrusions illegal (i.e. sexual harassment.)

when designing for a public project, ask: do i want to design for interactions within the personal space? if yes, how?

as soon as naim gets to work, he notices movement in his office. a thief-like shadow is searching through his desk. with an aggressive voice he shouts: ‘what do you think you’re doing!!’

the four levels of social interaction are affected by three supporting concepts. territoriality is one of these concepts. naim feels ownership over his office space. territoriality provides people with privileges, security, and identity. people define their territory by personalizing it.

ask: how can i use territoriality to make customers feel privileged? how do i invite them to personalize their space and define it? customers are often willing to pay a premium for this feeling of security, identity, and privilege.

naim and the thief are standing so close that they can hear each other’s breath. naim’s eyes are wide and his nostrils flared. with a mumbling voice, the thief explains herself: ‘it’s … my first day here, and i was just … looking for a stapler. i’m so…rry.’

this interaction takes place in the personal space, yet naim and the new employee aren’t friends. if interaction in the personal space is mandatory, people can tolerate interactions with non-friends.

ask: if i choose to invite personal interactions within my project, how do staff members interact with these customers with minimal intrusion on their personal space? customers hesitate coming back if their personal space feels intruded on repeatedly.

as time passes at the office, naim gets increasingly bored. as a distraction, he decides to browse content unsafe for work. when he was laying out his office years ago, he positioned his desk to observe the door, and also made sure that no one can watch him from behind. private browsing… check.

these are built-in measures that people use to feel safe. people naturally like to avoid being watched without being aware of who’s watching. it’s for this same reason that in restaurants, the seats along the walls are the first to go, and people in open spaces sit next to bushes or trees.

ask: how do i leverage this behavior to give customers a safer more pleasant environment?

finally, lunch-time comes and naim can stop pretending to work. he sits with 3 colleagues around a table in the cafeteria. a heated discussion starts about yesterday’s poker game.

that’s the 3rd level of social interaction: the social space allows purely social contact on a temporary basis. this is most common level of social interaction in the food and beverage industry.

ask: how can i maximize the spaces that invite this level of social interaction? do i also want to invite personal interaction, or just social interaction?

as the discussion intensifies, a co-worker visits the table to say hello. everyone tenses up from the inside, the conversation abruptly stops, but everyone acts nice with fake smiles.

this intrusion happened in the social space, and although it is tolerated, it’s still uncomfortable. everyone else in the cafeteria belongs to the public space, which is the 4th level of social interaction. in the public space, people don’t expect to have direct contact with others.

ask: how do i design to minimize staff intrusions into the social space of customers? how do i make groups of customers feel like everyone around them belongs to the public space?

after work, naim gets on a bus towards his favorite pub. this time the bus is too crowded. he’s standing up next to a sweaty guy who’s holding the rails above his head. everyone is constantly bumping into him as the bus keeps stopping. naim is cursing under his breath.

crowding is the second of the three supporting concepts. the first one was territoriality. crowding happens when personal space and territoriality are intruded on. although crowding is generally uncomfortable, there are special cases where it’s considered ‘part of the fun’.

ask: does crowding help or harm my concept?

naim gets to the pub, and his friends are already there. it’s too crowded. girls repeatedly brush past him as they dance. the air is thick, and the music is too loud. he has to sit too close to his friends to be able to talk. he’s having the time of his life.

crowding can be fun if it’s part of the expected experience. this is the third supporting concept: environmental expectations. what people expect from their environment shapes their experience. space, acoustics, and lighting can control group dynamics.

people tend to sit facing each other. if you want them to sit side by side, make the table bigger. if you want to them to sit closer to each other, make the space smaller, or dim the lights, or pump up the music. if you want them to spread out and talk louder, make the space bigger and the lights brighter.

people constantly expand or contract their own intimate, personal, social, and public spaces based on territoriality, crowding, and expectations. don’t leave these interactions to chance. now, you have the building blocks to intentionally design these interactions into your project or concept.

after having a wild time at the pub, naim gets home, takes off his clothes and gets into bed. he wraps his arms around his wife and whispers in her ear: ‘i love you.’

…my favorite level of interaction.


this post is from ‘edition 06’ of our ‘inspirations newsletter’. subscribe below to receive these regular editions by email. every edition also includes ACAD 3D models of chairs, stools, tables, and sofas, exclusive to our subscribers. subscribe below:


– Interviews with the casafekra design team
– Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Co., 1990)
– Leo A. Daly, Design Guide for Interiors (Washington, DC: US Army Corps of Engineers, 1997)
– Gautam Shah, Behavior in Interior spaces (Ahmedabad: CEPT University, 2013)

3 Responses to “a day in the life of naim: how casafekra designs for social interaction in public spaces”

  1. […] the world from the eyes of your audience helps you design the right emotional experience for them. so how do you start imagining? by understanding your audience and their worldview. here […]

  2. […] the world from the eyes of your audience helps you design the right emotional experience for them. so how do you start imagining? by understanding your audience and their worldview. here […]

  3. […] story is a dramatic way of expressing how we humans perceive crowded environments. when it comes to food & beverage (F&B) spaces, science reveals that crowding has the same […]

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