In our September newsletter, we put the spotlight on Dr. Sally Augustin, one of our Interdisciplinary Team members.  Here, we would like to elaborate on her work with us and the work she does as an environmental psychologist and how her work contributes to the efficacy of our Interdisciplinary team.  Sally has been long affiliated with the Center as a researcher and joined us as a full expert consultant in July 2016.  We recently had a chance to sit down and discuss her work in an interview.

Person-Centered Design

As the founder and a principal at Design With Science, Sally is concerned with the design of space and the objects in it.  As she put it, “I work with people who are designing spaces with objects or services.”  She is a practicing environmental psychologist and specializes in person-centered design.  Her work involves applying the most recent scientific research in psychology and other social and physical sciences to her practice.  She makes recommendations for design using either research that has been published or special project-specific research that she does with clients.  For example, she may explore design possibilities with clients and then search the literature on the known effects of blue color on mood, for instance, or how the placement of windows affects anxiety and perception of safety.

We asked about her clients and if they have similar needs.  Sally revealed that everyone she works with is interested in trying to use design to achieve a particular objective, though those objectives change from project to project.   Whether it’s about helping people to think creatively, keep calm in a stressful situation, sell houses, or maximize the return, design can help achieve those objectives.   “The ways in which people think and behave are similar,” she acknowledged.  Understanding this about basic human needs and behavior helps her to make design decisions which will reliably affect individuals who interact with the space she is designing.  This makes her a great fit with our Center, which holds the premise that workplaces should be designed and organized to positively affect workers by fulfilling their basic needs – including psychological needs like safety, meaning and purpose, autonomy, competence and mastery, and physical comfort and vitality, among others.

Teaming Up with HealthyWorkplaces

Sally teams well with HealthyWorkplaces as a contributor to our research and as an expert practitioner in environmental psychology.  Her role in our interdisciplinary research team is to provide expert knowledge on design research and applying it in practice.  We are extremely pleased to have her join our Center as an expert consultant and to help us and our interdisciplinary team weave together the research from environmental psychology with research in other and related fields.  Our success relies on the knowledge from many disciplines to create integrated solutions for workplace health.

Sally is involved with several ongoing and planned research projects, including a literature review of what is known in environmental design research in workplace health and well-being and has attended many meetings and conferences with the HealthyWorkplaces team, including our own mixers.

We asked Sally what she is most interested in about her work, and she said, “I’m really interested in people’s emotional response to space, because it drives how they think – and has repercussions.”  For example, space can have repercussions on problem solving, creative thinking, getting along with others, and even health.  She emphasized that “all the different elements of the space contribute to that.”  What amused Sally the most about her work over the years is that people spontaneously yet consistently asked about one thing in particular – surface color.  “The question I get asked amazingly frequently be it at a social event or conference is, ‘what color should I paint my home office?’  My answer is that I would choose a relaxing green because green has been linked to creative thinking, and most people in their job need to think creatively.”  It would be most like a light sage green, with lots of white color mixed in.

All of this is to say that Sally’s work is about sensory experiences, people’s personality, and people’s cultures, and a way to ultimately resolve a design issue.  But it’s not as simple as just “paint it green” — there are other things that come into play as well.  Light, noise, biophilia, shapes, art, and placement work to set the stage, but then she needs to understand people’s interactions in the space and the context of their work.  The research into the effects of all the various design elements is an important part in her success, and is an important contribution to HealthyWorkplaces.