Feature Article

Design Strategies for Occupant Engagement—and Why They Boost Performance

Researchers reveal simple ways to empower occupants to reduce energy, water, and waste. It all starts with good design.

This Payette project at George Washington University is providing the firm with post-occupancy data for future use.

Photo: Robert Benson
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?

–Five Man Electrical Band

You’ve completed your models, installed low-flow toilets, and collected your LEED points. Yay! But for some reason, a year later, the building is using twice as much water as expected. Is it because the fixtures are faulty? Did the model miss something? Maybe the occupants just can’t be bothered to save the Earth.

Any of that could be true, but a growing body of social science research suggests the most obvious problem is likely to be bad signage—an issue so common in green buildings that you could probably pave the entire road to Hell with useless instructions for dual-flush toilets.

Consider this case: researchers studying occupant engagement (the art and science of enabling responsible use of building resources) found a bathroom stall in which the sign on the wall facing the toilet and the sign on the stall door directly contradicted one another. The instructions on the dual-flush handle were practically illegible, and there was no sign near the toilet handle itself (see photos). This mess of bad communication is a case study in occupant disengagement.

Published July 6, 2015