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The Design of Space

I had two unusual experiences yesterday which got me thinking about space. Not space as in up above, but the space around us. Those invisible boundaries we have designed around ourselves to create a sense of privacy, of protection and of, well, a sense of self.

Unusual Experience Number One
I was riding the elevator up to the seventeenth floor of my office, which is in the Empire State Building. It is a bustling monolith, with people dashing about, and hoards of people taking pictures. I was happily able to snag an elevator by myself and was occupying my time avidly observing the groovy little video displays that had just been installed in our recently redesigned elevators.

The elevator stopped at the seventh floor and a man got in. Usually, when getting on an elevator, a very silent but pervasive series of behaviors set forth. People tend to retreat to a corner of their own and will actually move several feet from where they are to allow for a comfortable spatial distance to form around themselves. This seems to be done without even thinking about it. Well this particular gentleman did not retreat to a corner. He stood directly behind me, as if it were a crowded elevator. He wasn’t close enough to actually touch me—he wasn’t being offensive in any way—he was just spatially too close to me, given how much room was in the rest of the elevator. I got off on the seventeenth floor confused.

Unusual Experience Number Two
I was walking home from work and, as always, the streets were animated. Lots of people coming and going, racing home for dinner, the Olympics and that wonderful first glass of wine. Then, out of nowhere, a woman caught up with my pace, and started walking parallel to me. Not ahead of me by a few steps, not behind me by a foot or two, but right next to me, as if we were companions, walking together. She didn’t seem to be trying to pass me by, as is often the case when I am walking wearing heels. She just matched my step. I felt odd. And then relieved when I turned the corner and she didn’t.

According to a paper written by psychologists Allyn & Bacon in 2003, environmental psychology is the study of how physical settings affect human behavior. It also studies how people govern their environment. Environmental psychologists often act as consultants to governments, schools, hospitals, churches, and museums. They might improve museum layouts to create more dynamic displays. In many cases, these psychologists study environmental variables, like crowding and spatial density (the amount of space allocated to a fixed number of people), and how people can become apathetic or even hostile when they feel uncomfortable or encroached. Another noted psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, suggested that personal space is a mechanism by which people communicate with others, similar to verbal communication, body language and written or designed communication. He proposed that people adhere to norms of personal space in childhood—like language, etc. This is a very Western concept, that large personal space is insisted on, with proximity reserved for close friends. In some Arab and Eastern cultures, for example, there is a much smaller distance between strangers that is acceptable.

To explain personal space in the U.S., Hall classified four spatial zones:

—An intimate distance of zero to 18 inches is maintained between people who are highly familiar with one another
—A personal distance of 1.5 to 4 feet is acceptable between friends and acquaintances
—Social distance (4 to 12 feet) is used for business and interaction with strangers
—Public distance of 12 to 25 feet or more minimizes personal contact

So here we are on Speak Up, talking about the space between the K and the Mart and the letters U,P and S. What about the space between us, each other and the world? How do you design your space? Who do you let close? Who defines…and designs your boundaries? And who do you trust enough to get closer?

If this fascinates you as much as it does me, some books you might like:
Psychology and Life: Adjustment in the New Millennium by Spencer A. Rathus

In Search of Ancient North America: An Archaeological Journey to Forgotten Cultures
by Heather Pringle

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning
by Bradd Shore

Etiquette: Ups and downs around the office By Lydia Ramsey

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ARCHIVE ID 2051 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Aug.19.2004 BY debbie millman
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Arikawa’s comment is:

(Not so) Unusual, but still Uncomfortable Experience for me,

re: personal space.

I am walking a reasonable distance behind someone (let's say the public 12ft). If it is later at night -- especially if the person in front of me is a female -- I feel obliged to switch places with the person ahead of me. Showing that I mean them no harm and am not following them.

The confounding part comes when they are moving at the same pace as I and I physically have to exert more speed to make my passing maneuver. The increased speed behind the person in front causes them to wonder if they are about to be charged, further discomforting the situation.

On Aug.18.2004 at 11:31 AM
Petter Ringbom’s comment is:

Ones upon a time I was identified as an International Student and had to sit through a lecture on social interaction in the U.S. ...to teach me how to fit in. I was told that Americans don't like to be touched and they all smell like strawberries. Man, where do you hide all these sweet smellin people that keep their distance?

On Aug.19.2004 at 05:39 PM
Petter Ringbom’s comment is:

Once, not ones. ESL anyone?

On Aug.19.2004 at 05:45 PM
Kirsten’s comment is:

I also find it very interesting how we have these large personal space boundaries yet going to the chiropractor, massage therapist, dentist, doctor etc. where we are touched/prodded/poked by someone we barely know is suddenly okay. We don't even let our friends get as close to us as we let our massage therapist (well, not usually). We are strange beasts aren't we.

Very interesting topic Debbie.

On Aug.19.2004 at 05:48 PM
david e.’s comment is:

Back when I was in college, I had a job pasting up several community newspapers. The editor of one of these papers, who must have been in his late 60s, would stand right up next to me while he looked over the art boards at my work table before they went to press. If I stepped to one side, he would too. It bothered me so much that I started standing with all my weight on one foot and extending my other leg out as far as possible with my foot still on the floor, to keep him a few inches away. I really don't know why I found that to be so irritating. I don't think he even realized what he was doing.

I've had similar experiences with people standing too close to me while waiting in line —ï¿œusually people from other countries. People coming from places with very dense populations seem to have a different sense of personal space than people born here.

On Aug.19.2004 at 07:15 PM
facelikedip’s comment is:

Here is an interesting article about a couple of empty-nesters who have redesigned their personal space at home. I guess the wife came home one day and found the husband - gasp! - watching television in the early evening, which she naturally found unnacceptable, and insisted they start work right away on remodeling their house into two separate apartments, with a connecting staircase on which he is not allowed to step foot without her permission.

On Aug.19.2004 at 07:41 PM
bryony’s comment is:

Interesting indeed. I am one who likes to experience and get to know other people’s spaces. When I walk into your office for example, I like to see who you are by the things on your shelves, what is hanging on the walls, the order/disorder of things… all of this from a safe and respectful distance. Not like a long gone coworker of mine, who had (hopefully it is gone by now) the need to walk into your office and touch EVERYTHING, ask questions about every object and then leave you baffled and disoriented a few minutes later. Needless to say, this I found irritating and bothersome.

I like to have people walk into my home and walk around, ask and touch as they please, but something important to note, is that I am inviting them in to do so.

Another thing I find fascinating, is how much space is OK around me (or you, or whomever), in different situations. In a movie theatre, in the subway, on the elevator, in the supermarket, in a department store, a dinner party, a business meeting, standing in line in Starbucks… each one of these have a unique “space around me where I feel good” to them. Why is that? Why can my face be 10 inches away from your neck in the subway, but no closer than 2 feet in a movie theatre?

On Aug.19.2004 at 09:13 PM
Su’s comment is:

Facelikedip: Er...isn't that a bit like cutting the baby in half to save the marriage? While the other couples' agreements seemed at least somewhat based in practicality, those two give me more of an impression of probably being too scared to admit they're tired of each other. Needing "a room of one's own" is fine, but drawing a line down the middle of the house seems too much.

Bryony: I'd say your distance question is pretty closely related to people looking around your house. You've accepted people into your place, and you've also accepted that the subway simply requires some cramming in to really work. In a movie theatre, you're given a standard amount of room(a chair), and maybe the armrest if you get there first, otherwise I don't think I've ever encountered someone asking for it after the fact.

On Aug.19.2004 at 11:50 PM
marian’s comment is:

This is undoubtedly related to the average shopper's aversion to going upstairs or into back rooms. It used to be common, I think, to have the men's clothes upstairs because it was the women's clothes they needed on street level display. But men, reluctant to shop at the best of times, wouldn't go up the stairs. Now it's usually switched, and many stores have the women's clothes upstairs. I've surprised myself at how reluctant I am to to go up there. And a smaller back room ... I'll peer in, but there would have to be something pretty compelling to get me to go in there.

I'm sure this is all very important to know for exhibit spaces: not creating areas of entrapment, escape routes visible at all times.

Nearly 3 years ago at one of the Whitney Biennials there was a dark room (one of several dark rooms, actually), with twinkly lights on the ceiling and strange ambient sound playing (as I remember it). You were to go in and sit on this outward-facing circular seating--right next to someone else. In the dark? With twinkly lights? It was intensely uncomfortable, and unless I missed the point of the art (quite likely), completely overrode any other experience. Most people's reaction seemed to be "get me outta here!".

For a long time I've been sortof window-shopping for a couch. I want an L-shaped couch because I really don't like to sit next to someone (other than my boyfriend) on one. Not only is it unnatural for conversation, it just feels weird. In such situations people tend to retreat to either end of the couch and turn to face each other. And at parties, even where seating is limited you'll see this extreme reluctance for anyone to take that space in the middle. So for social interaction, the linear couch is a bad design.

The business thing is interesting too. Y'know how you lean forward and reach across this great divide to shake hands and then retreat. Eventually, when you work together for a long time you might progess to a slap on the back, or stroke on the arm. Ah, the stroke on the arm ...

There is, of course that great Seinfeld episode about the hugging/kissing between apartment dwellers. Vancouver is a big hugging community, to the point of absurdity. I've been hugged by people I only just met, and it's bizarre. Then you get in a party situation and some people you're on hugging terms with and some you're not. Goodbyes take on this awkward dance ... I hugged this person, but should I hug you? It would only be polite ... but it's so uncomfortable. I was leaving a birthday party a week ago, and parted the hosts with a hug. We left with 2 other friends who we're on equally good terms with, but they're British and we have not yet touched each other. We walked up the road and I am certain we all pointedly drifted away from each other, saying "Well, goodnight ..." A little wave ... "See you!"

On Aug.20.2004 at 01:28 AM
justin m’s comment is:

I am with bryony on this. When I go to somebody's office or home, I like to look at the objects on the shelves, walls, tables, and all around the room. It gives you a feeling for who they are. I don't mind if people do the same in my space. I just don't like when people go through boxes or drawers of mine. For some reason that makes me uncomfortable.

The amount of space I require between me and another person also varies from time to time and by location. Most times I don't care how close somebody is to me, as long as they are not touching me or staring right into the side of my head I am okay. It does bother me though when somebody stands right next to me in the bathroom when I am the only person in there and there are more urinals or sinks available. It creeps me out.

On Aug.20.2004 at 07:37 AM
geeky’s comment is:

I had a stranger do the walking right next to me thing the other day. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one uncomfortable in that situation. And like Justin, I hate when people don't allow the standard amount of "as far away as possible" space when using public restrooms or choosing seats at a movie.

I guess some people just missed the memo on personal space.

On Aug.20.2004 at 07:52 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Just as interesting to me is the space of a blog. Some of y'all appear to be friends and I wonder who has met and how that goes. Do you hug? Do you feel closer in the flesh? Does having long, crazy discussions eliminate some of the physical space 'waiting period'? Is one's safe zone smaller after a heated debate?

And having recently gone under the knife with all kinds of doctors and nurses in very close proximity, I can tell you for sure... Americans do not all smell like strawberries.

One minute total strangers, next minute your guts are in their hands. Give it up for the life savers.

Now... what font was it I couldn't live without?

On Aug.20.2004 at 08:22 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> I was told that Americans don't like to be touched and they all smell like strawberries.

> Vancouver is a big hugging community, to the point of absurdity.

It is insane how averse Americans are to touching. In Mexico, it's a hugfest, you hug, shake hands, kiss (on the cheek), pat(s) on the back all day, every day. People I went to school with every single day, if I would see them at a bar or nightclub on Saturday we would hug like we hadn't seen each other in ages. My first week in Atlanta, under the corporate rubric of marchFIRST I was appalled that nobody shaked a fucking hand. Only when we were introduced and that was it. I was completely taken aback by this, as I was used to shaking every man's hand and kissing every woman's cheek in Mexico. One of the first times I went drinking with the "boys" at m1, I asked them about the hand-shaking and they were "What do you mean? Shake hands every day?".

Since then I am reluctant to touch, hug, or pat Americans. They (you) need to be proactive with me. You want a hug? I'll give you a hug, just let me know.

> Just as interesting to me is the space of a blog. Some of y'all appear to be friends and I wonder who has met and how that goes. Do you hug? Do you feel closer in the flesh? Does having long, crazy discussions eliminate some of the physical space 'waiting period'? Is one's safe zone smaller after a heated debate?

Steve, this is a truly weird situation — not weird bad, just really, really, sociologically weird. I didn't know anybody — except for Bryony, my dad and a couple other mfirsters — here until I started Speak Up. Over the past two years I have met quite a few of the authors as well as the regulars. Actually, I think I have met all the authors (except Brady, Jason and Kevin).

Anyway, the point I'm trying to get at is that unlike normal first-meetings where you meet a person face-to-face, make assumptions and judge them on how they look and then get to know how they think, here, it is the other way around. You know how people think, what they like, who they hate before you ever get to meet them, so when you first see them, it's like "Aha!". I think there is a lot of awkwardness as well as space-relationship in that first meeting, but I can say that the ice breaks much more quickly.

Hugging? That's funny… I think I'm only — so far — on consistent hugging terms with Debbie, when it comes to men (that includes Tan, M Kingsley, David, Sam Potts, PS, etc.) it's different, it's not completely understood if we should hug or not. We do shake hands…

On Aug.20.2004 at 08:49 AM
parek’s comment is:

i'm not sure when this idea of 'environmental psychology' started, but anthropologists have been studying how humans affect the built environment and vice versa. this defines the term 'proxemics' coined by edward t. hall in the 50's and 60's in his book 'the hidden dimension'. he is the founder of proxemics and its study. it is amazing how architects design buildings but have no idea of the consequences of their decisions. one would think that by now, this area would have large quantities of research completed but as hall, rappoport, and others have written, research is difficult because of the inability to obtain quality data. the other problem is that since it is a relatively new field, there is no standard universal set of terms.

this is definitely an area that needs greater research and people need to be educated on the subject, especially those creating built environments. debbie's elevator setting has been discussed and looked at by anthropologists.

for the most part, i believe humans spend little time considering the layout of their built environments and the semi-fixed feature space. for those of you who are not anthropologists, semi-fixed feature space are those items that can be moved easily such as hanging pictures, mac workstations, and furniture. just as designers find the best ways to communicate certain messages visually to viewers, i believe architects and interior designers can do the same. they should be able to design a studio space that helps to foster creative thinking. they should be able to design restaurants that are inviting and make people want to go in for a meal. some may say this is occurring on some level today, but there needs to be a greater awareness obtained by the public and certainly by the designers of our built environments.

for more proxemic info, email me

On Aug.20.2004 at 08:55 AM
parek’s comment is:

I also find it very interesting how we have these large personal space boundaries yet going to the chiropractor, massage therapist, dentist, doctor etc. where we are touched/prodded/poked by someone we barely know is suddenly okay.

this, anthropologists would say, is because of control or perceived control of the touching action. if someone bumps into you on the street, you possibly feel offended because you didn't have control of the touching. when getting a massage, you have given someone permission to do so and so you do not feel offended.

On Aug.20.2004 at 09:04 AM
marian’s comment is:

Just as interesting to me is the space of a blog. Some of y'all appear to be friends and I wonder who has met and how that goes.

I've met Armin, Tan, Debbie and Eric (former author) and a few others I haven't seen around here in a while (actually, Jesse made a special trip to my island from Victoria, where he was visiting, just to meet me. This is several hours of driving and 2 ferries. I was completely impressed). And as Armin said it is weird, because you do know this person, but you've never laid eyes on them, and haven't established the boundaries yet. Mostly you just leapfrog over them.

Do you hug? Do you feel closer in the flesh? Does having long, crazy discussions eliminate some of the physical space 'waiting period'?

Yes (Armin!), yes and yes. Actually I have a long history of making friends, or cementing friendships through letters and email. And like I say, when you get together, you just skip all that physical formality.

Is one's safe zone smaller after a heated debate?

Hmmm. Well I don't know for sure, but I'd be inclined to think so. The weirdest part about the internet is that without the physical intricacies, things don't get started or finished properly. If you argue with someone in person there is usually some kind of denoument. You look each other in the eye, smile or touch each other to say "hey, we went at it, but we're still cool." or alternately, "I am not speaking to you, you bastard." But without that you kinda wonder. There's a few people on this blog, if i met them tomorrow I'd have no idea where we stand, or where, literally we should stand.

One minute total strangers, next minute your guts are in their hands. Give it up for the life savers.

No kidding! It's incredibly bizarre (to me) to shake hands across a desk with a person who will have or has recently had their hands in places inside my body that no-one else has ever seen. And oddly, that familiarity makes me feel more distant from them. Hug my surgeon? No way. I never want to see him again.

On Aug.20.2004 at 09:20 AM
marian’s comment is:

considering the layout of their built environments and the semi-fixed feature space.

When it comes to the office space, I have a thing about people being able to sneak up behind me while I'm working, and interestingly my 2 other designers felt the same. So I always park myself into a corner, so that anyone who comes into my space can be seen by me before they enter. I actually can't work if I think someone might be lurking over my shoulder.

At my former office we were constantly rearranging the space. It was comical, actually, how often we piled everything up and moved around. Mostly, because we were in a strangely proportioned space on 2 floors, we were constantly searching for the right combination of space to work for everyone. The designers needed to be close together (but with our backs to the wall!!), and we all liked to listen to music. The account manager/admin needed to be close by, but we hated their incessant chatter on the phones and they hated our music. But when they got too far away the office politics devolved into "us" and "them". The worst was when my partner, our account manager decided she needed to be alone on the other floor. We never knew where she was or when she'd be back. She missed all the comraderly, celebratory moments, and instead when she came into our office we barraged her with the questions and problems we'd been storing up all day. For that she became understandably resentful. It was amazing! She had to move back into our space.

But we never did find just the right configuration. Last time

I was in there, everything was different again.

On Aug.20.2004 at 09:38 AM
Tom B’s comment is:

Another interesting aspect of personal space is where on our bodies we feel comfortable being touched.

Most of the time, we touch people on the upper arms and accross the back. These are the places that would be exposed if we were to curl up into a ball.

Touching people on the front side of their bodies - the face, the chest/breasts, the abdomen and the lower body - is reserved only for lovers and close friends.

This is such an inbuilt behaviour that we rarely think about it. But try to remember the last time you placed your hand on the front of a stranger's body.

On Aug.20.2004 at 10:07 AM
Diane’s comment is:

I am another person who agrees with a designated personal space, and I too, get offended when someone violates my personal space. But the problem which is being presented is how is anyone supposed to know your designated distance? Is it 18 inches, is it 4 feet? Everyone has their preference, and mine is as far away as possible unless invited.

I've had experiences with people from italy, mexico, and many other countries and all are very different from americans. Sometimes it makes me feel bad but I like having my space. When I've greeted italian friends and (back then) soon to be family they would hug, kiss on the cheek, and other signs of affection. Now that I am no longer going to be apart of their family but see them on occasion it is very uncomfortable to going back to waving or shaking hands.

I think it has to do with a sign of repect as well. People feel disrespect when their personal space is violated (if American), but in other territories it is considered disrespect if you do not kiss on the cheek, or hug. It is confusing, but I guess you have to know who you are dealing with.

And one more comment, I have no clue who anyone is on here. But as I read posts, comments, visit websites, and so on I feel I get to know a slice of their personality. Noone has any clue what I look like, and I don't know what they look like. But yet we can still converse through these boards. Antoher oddity.

On Aug.20.2004 at 10:18 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Personal space is related to broader notions of privacy. Although not completely an arbitrary cultural trait, expectations of privacy of all sorts are largely based on, well, expectations. In a culture where people pat your butt every time you do something good, failure to have your butt patted is insulting. In other cultures having your butt patted is not welcome. Part of this is social uncertainty but part is simply objection to things not being done the way things are “supposed” to be done.

A similar situation exists with privacy. Certain conversations are private and others public because we expect them to be. Most objections to violations of privacy (spatial or otherwise) are the result of a violation of “the rules.” Changes in living conditions have required rewriting the space privacy rules. Technological changes now require rewriting the rules for other sorts of privacy.

It’s off the topics of design and personal space but we really need a dialog on and rethinking of our notions of privacy in light of technological change.

On Aug.20.2004 at 11:36 AM
jenny’s comment is:

> n Mexico, it's a hugfest, you hug, shake hands, kiss (on the cheek), pat(s) on the back all day, every day

Its the same in Chile when we go and visit my husband's family. When anyone walks into a room, they get a personal greeting from everyone in the room - usually, a hug, kiss, and handshake. The same is true when anyone leaves.

Its definitely expected there - a sign of respect. Ignoring someone was a high insult...

On Aug.20.2004 at 12:03 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

I am definitely intrigued by the politics of space--the bathroom being another place where we seem to try to leave as much room as possible between stalls when we find ourselves in public facilities.

Regarding touching--the stomach seems to be a universal area that is a "no touch zone"--even massage therapists avoid it. I asked one why, and she replied that the stomach is seen as the most vulnerable area of the body. But I do use touch for emphasis--a hand shake will often have me grabbing for a forearm and I do tend to touch people when I think they are sad or need some special attention.

As far as hugging--I am definitely a hugger. I don't mind a kiss hello or goodbye--but I prefer the European version, kiss kiss. I know someone that always kisses right on the lips and I find that utterly offensive. I am always trying to get my face out of the way when he kisses me, hoping he will get the hint and go for the cheek, but he always seems to follow my face and get me half way between my lips and cheek. It is a slobbering mess. No wonder I haven't seen him in over a year.

And as far as observing is concerned: I am a peeping tom. I love to look into other peoples windows in the city to see their decor, what they are doing and how they live. I especially like to do this in the winter. It is not like I stand in front of windows and actually peep, I just like to look as I am walking by. There is a townhouse on West 13th Street that has always intrigued me. I have an entire imaginary life that I think the family that lives there leads. I have been fascinated by that apartment for over 20 years. Scary.

On Aug.20.2004 at 12:10 PM
laura’s comment is:

Interesting topic. I feel my boundaries being bombarded everyday. And after reading this "Design of Space" story I became aware of something...

My bestfriend and I are exact opposite. She extroverted, me introverted. We were walking down the street yesterday and ran into a mutual good friend. They immediately hugged and then him and I waved hello to eachother. But both situations showed the same affection for each person, just in a different way. I think it's important to address each spaces/persons boundaries and make judgement from there.

On Aug.20.2004 at 12:24 PM
Kirsten’s comment is:

Touching people on the front side of their bodies - the face, the chest/breasts, the abdomen and the lower body - is reserved only for lovers and close friends.

I've never been pregnant, but many women who have been say that everyone and their dog touches their belly. Why is that okay? I would hate that. I do touch every dog I see though... Do dog owners hate that?

On Aug.20.2004 at 12:31 PM
Russel Q’s comment is:

Just to add on another observation on personal space. Being from India, I come from a similar background as Armin and jenny, where a hug, a kiss, a handshake is normal. Typically the women get more of the hugs/kiss and men get the handshakes (firm, yet not enough to crush). ...But I was also raised in the Middle East where it's somewhat normal for men to not have a problem with personal space. We had a family friend, almost like an uncle to me, who we would always greet with a handshake and 3 alternating kisses on the cheek. A common practice. Also, it's not uncommon to see men, who are just good friends, walk down the street hand in hand or arm around the others shoulders. ...and yes, they're straight. I always thought it odd, and I don't understand it, but it's normal.

I know this post talks more about physical personal space, so this may be off-topic, but there are lots of people out there with online blogs and diaries, which open up their boudaries to strangers, but not in a physical sense. If you draw the line at some point in the physical world, where/how do you define your boundaries in the digital world? Some people post all their personal details online, but may not be that open or receptive in person. (I guess this might relate to Steve Mock's comment)

On Aug.20.2004 at 12:57 PM
Aaron Kelly’s comment is:

It's definitely a judgement call on a case by case basis. I've experienced the same awkwardness on occasion when leaving/greeting a group of friends. Some of my friends (male or female) wanna hug the bejeezus out of me when they see me, and that's totatlly cool cuz I'm down with the huggin. However some prefer to keep their distance and just give a nod followed by 'Sup dood'. Interestingly, it's usually my closest friends, or friend's that I've known the longest, that are the anti-huggers. Acquaintances are typically the only people that receive handshakes.

As far as space at work, it drives me insane that anyone can sneak up on me, however the work space I use is better than many of the other options which offer bombardment from all directions. I find it especially annoying when I'm in the middle of composing an e-mail (even if it's work related) or posting here or elsewhere and a co-worker looks over my shoulder and blatantly stares at the screen to see what I'm doing. Arrrgh!

Speaking of Seinfeld, which I'm hopelessly devoted to, the 'close talker' episode comes to mind.

On Aug.20.2004 at 01:02 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

> I've never been pregnant, but many women who have been say that everyone and their dog touches their belly. Why is that okay? I would hate that. I do touch every dog I see though... Do dog owners hate that?

I have a friend that told me that when she was pregnant she hated when people just reached out and touched her belly. She felt that if people didn't do that when she wasn't pregnant, why should they feel that it was okay when she was. She found that even strangers felt it was okay to do that! As a result, I am always careful about just reaching out and touching a pregnant woman's stomach--now I ask first. As for dogs--I have two and never mind when people pet them. I usually ask if it is okay to pet somebody else's dogs--but I only do that to make sure they are friendly (that's what city living does to you!).

On Aug.20.2004 at 01:40 PM
krf’s comment is:

It looks like designers are a little critical of who's looking over their shoulder (myself included).

When I first started with my current employer, my boss would come in my office unannounced, look over my shoulder at my monitor and start critiquing. Drove me nuts! I finally said to him one day, "can I help you?" I think he got the message. I'm in a different office now where you'd have to come clear around the other side of my desk to see what I'm working on.

It would be interesting to find out how "nature" vs. upbringing vs. other local"isms" contributes to how we interact with people, not only with regards to "space", but to communication styles, oral vs. written preferences, etc.

This is an issue that isn't discussed much, but can reveal much about us. Thanks.

On Aug.20.2004 at 02:46 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Put me down with the "back into the corner - turn my desk around - don't look over my shoulder while i'm working on the computer" crowd.

But ya' know what... I have no problems with onlookers at life drawing or when I'm out in the garage banging on a piece of metal or working on a painting. And certainly not when I'm goofing around with a musical instrument.

What's the difference?

I think it's cuz' we don't use our whole bodies when we're clicking around a monitor. Not much 'performance' there, if you will. And usually (at least I am) in a near catatonic state using only the brain (most times) and a finger or two.

I've also noticed that most every designer I know uses completely different methods on the box and no two are alike, so the tendency to have back seat drivers is huge. i.e. "Not that way, you dope!"

On Aug.20.2004 at 03:46 PM
marian’s comment is:

I know someone that always kisses right on the lips and I find that utterly offensive.

Funny ... I involuntarily said, "Yuck!" when I read this.

And I've never understood why people touch pregnant women's bellies. Why on earth would anyone do that? And unasked?? It just seems completely insane.

I think the back-to-the wall don't-sneak-up-on-me thing is common because we're in the middle of a process. Someone who comes up behind us, not only invades our personal space, they invade our creative space. They walk into our thoughts uninvited. We're working stuff out, we're thinking visually, and most people don't welcome someone else's opinion or judgement on something we haven't finished formulating yet.

On Aug.20.2004 at 04:30 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> the back-to-the wall don't-sneak-up-on-me thing

I'll add my name to the list… I feel totally vulnerable if anybody that walks by can see what I'm doing. And it's exactly what Marian said, I don't want people making judgments on something that is not done, if I'm swapping typefaces for a logo I don't want anybody seeing me try Cooper Black or something… I don't understand why many design firms have people's computers not facing a wall. I think it is extremely important to give a designer that privacy.

On Aug.20.2004 at 04:39 PM
krf’s comment is:

...if I'm swapping typefaces for a logo I don't want anybody seeing me try Cooper Black or something

Why is that? I mean understand it completely and do it also, but I wonder why that is or where it stems from? Stepping back a few paces from it, I think, "who cares, he's just looking for the 'right' thing".

But we don't want people watching us "do the process". Do we think if someone watches us we are less professional or may think that we don't know what we're doing? Yes, it is a vulnerability. Some of what we do is "play", professional play, that is, and maybe we were caught "playing" once too many times in our life and didn't like the way it felt.

Interesting to think about.

On Aug.20.2004 at 04:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> But we don't want people watching us "do the process". Do we think if someone watches us we are less professional or may think that we don't know what we're doing?

For me, it's more of a don't-fuck-with-me-while-I'm-working-OK?-thanks. I'm an introverted designer, that means that I need to retrieve to my own thoughts, my own way of moving stuff around (in the computer and in my brain), my own timing, etc. I don't take constant and unsolicited feedback well. But give me some space and then I'll take all the feedback you have. Many times when we are reviewing work and somebody says "have you tried putting this there?", and I can say "Yes I have and it doesn't work because so and so…", I can only tackle those questions until I have spent enough time — alone! — asking myself those very same questions.Whereas if somebody peeks over my shoulder on his/her way to the bathroom and says something I can't help but be annoyed.

On Aug.20.2004 at 07:52 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

It's the most annoying thing I can think of when someone comments on an incomplete process.

Design projects work in stages - discussing, thinking, experimenting, presenting, discussing, thinking, experimenting, presenting.... repeat until everyone is happy. However, if this process gets disturbed and the stages get mixed up it only causes unnecessary problems.

One of my clients insists on seing PDF updates at the end of each day. I can't tell you how much I hate this.

When i should be working on the experimenting stage, I have to think about presentation. The client then inevitably comes back with a list of pointless amends (many of which I was going to do anyway, others just responding badly to an unfininshed design). I then have to devote time to thinking about how to respond to these comments (when I should still be experimenting). I also have to spend time discussing why her comments don't apply.

When I finally reach a stage where I have something to present for discussion, we've wasted so much time with the daily updates that there's no time left for a proper, constructive discussion, or any time to think. So the end result isn't as good as it could have been.

I've tried to explain to the client that working like this is completely counter-productive, but she insists on 'quality control' AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!

So, the moral of the story is:

Our natural instinct to keep work-in-progess to ourselves is perfectly justified, and indeed very useful. It saves us wasting a lot of valuable time and effort - And keeps us sane.

On Aug.20.2004 at 08:42 PM
Gina’s comment is:

[My first post - been reading for way too long not to contribute at some point]

The amount of space I require between me and another person also varies from time to time and by location.

By how much time? For example:

Let's say you get on the bus (or train/subway) and it's very full so you're sitting in seat next to someone (aisle). A bunch of stops later the bus clears out and there are open single or double seats available. Should you move away and give the person next to you more space, or is that rude as if you're trying to escape them?

I'm new to city living, so I'm not really sure how to handle the situation. Usually I stay put because I don't want to be perceived as rude. But maybe it's more rude not to move?

On Aug.20.2004 at 09:51 PM
ps’s comment is:

don't come close to me before my first cup of coffee....

On Aug.20.2004 at 10:40 PM
Nary’s comment is:

Gina:

i don't know if you carry anything (briefcase, backpack, giant purse, whatever) with you on the bus, but my trick used to be that i would move to a seat with an empty one next to it and heave my "heavy" backpack on the seat next to me, take a deep breath, lean back, and stretch out my legs. that way, it's hopefully understood that it's not my neighbor i have a problem with, it's my legs getting crushed by having the bag on top of my lap that i have a problem with.

besides, unless that person's odd/insecure, they'd probably be relieved to get some room, too. i know i would.

On Aug.20.2004 at 11:12 PM
facelikedip’s comment is:

> But we don't want people watching us "do the process". Do we think if someone watches us we are less professional or may think that we don't know what we're doing?

In an office environment such as mine, where I am pretty much the only employee who is even remotely a designer, there's often a slight feeling of guilt associated with the "process," or the "playing," especially if I have been "playing" for six hours and still nothing seems to be coming together. Meanwhile my colleagues have created spreadsheets and processed data and all manner of "tangible" stuff. I cannot imagine the horror of Tom B's situation.

Can I hark back to pregnant ladies for just a second? Once, about six years ago, I violated every law of decency and touched a mother-to-be's bump without her permission. It was at an art show opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Much free Chardonnay had been consumed, needless to say. I cringe every time I think of it, especially since we were/are both British, which, as Marian will agree, made it 100x worse. That was the night my future wife and I had a lot of fun on Sol Le Witt's 123454321. Lor, we must have climbed onto and jumped off of that thing, like, nine times! In the dark! Fabulous days...

> the back-to-the wall don't-sneak-up-on-me thing

If you are forced to have your front-to-the-wall, so to speak, this problem can easily be solved by purchasing one of those little round convex mirrors (intended for improvement of standard rear-view mirrors, I believe) and sticking it up on your computer monitor. (Don't do it if one of these is your monitor, obv.) That way you can not only see who is coming up behind you, but you can also ascertain which of your colleagues tries to sneak a surreptitious glance at your screen every time they happen to walk past - something which I find even more annoying than the ones who come up and go "Hey, what are you working on?" when I am busy designing a graduation card for my sister. Plus, there is the added benefit that you don't have to go all the way to the bathroom to check there's nothing stuck in your teeth.

On Aug.21.2004 at 02:43 AM
law’s comment is:

[ahem—first time poster, long time reader]

anyway, to jump right in…

years ago, while waiting tables, i noticed that people, when given a choice, would usually prefer to sit with their back to a wall (or a plant, if no wall spaces was available) over sitting in the center of the room. even more telling was the fact that people preferred boothes over tables just about 100% of the time. in fact, most people seemed a little put out when told no boothes were available.

i theorized then (and still hold to this) that people do this because of some age old instinct that said,'keep your guard up, or you might get eaten by something bigger.' now, i don't have facts to back this up, other than my own, off-the-cuff research, but i saw it happen again and again over the years. given the topic at hand, i wonder how others feel about seating arrangements while eating?

speaking as one who would prefer their back to a wall when dining — eating, designing, etc. are all fairly personal tasks that require you to focus on the job at hand and lower your guard. too, i am a jumpy designer and HATE when people sneak up on me. i find that this is the case because in some way, i have lowered my defenses and left my self open…to be eaten, as it were.

On Aug.21.2004 at 11:37 AM
Jerry’s comment is:

I find it interesting that many people are supposedly so sanitary. But let's think about the public realm this way:

1) You take a bus or train, and you sit in a seat that was urinated on last week or just farted on. You grab onto a pole that Jenny Homeless just held a minute prior right after sneezing into her hand.

2) You finally meet someone you've been looking to meet and you shake his or her hands. People let me tell you, the amount of guys that take a wizz, touch their schlong and walk right out is appalling. I’ve heard that some women do the same.

So no, we are not as clean as we like to think, and we haven't died or caught some horrible disease yet, but don't get so worked up about it either. You can get OCD or something.

One of my biggest unsettling socio-spatial moments is when I am walking on the sidewalk and another person or group of people are walking towards you — and they don't move over, not slightly. Usually I end up walking on the grass or moving my bag out of the way. This should be 50/50. Some people have even been so dumb as to move into my side of the sidewalk and push me to the other, as if to say, "Move, now I want this side." It's happened 3 times, does it say anything that it was women all times, and white, or maybe it was the neighborhoods I was in? I'm obviously Latino and dress street casual most days. So I can only start to wonder about the race thing.

I have usually been very considerate to the space of others. Bodies do speak, and when walking I usually try to find a good distance behind people, especially girls. I know how uncomfortable it can be to have a guy closely behind you. Although I do look forward to those inevitable moments on a crowded elevator where a gorgeous woman is so close I am engulfed in her perfume and body heat.

On Aug.21.2004 at 11:59 AM
Nary’s comment is:

i wonder how others feel about seating arrangements while eating?

If I can’t get my back to the wall, I always have to face the entrance. I know, crazy. My boyfriend ’s such a sweethaert since he puts up with me shamelessly diving for a particular chair.

One of my biggest unsettling socio-spatial moments is when I am walking on the sidewalk and another person or group of people are walking towards you — and they don't move over, not slightly.

Gods, I hate that. Just to fuck with them, I walk right into the middle of the group so they have to split up. If it’s super crowded, I let my bag bump into them and go “excuse me” which makes it ok that I bump into them even though I just wanted to slug them, right? I know, I’m evil. That’s me on a bad day.

As for the women that switch sides, Jerry, do they usually switch so that they are walking closer to the buildings instead of the edge of the street? Because you know, it’s been ingrained in some people that gentlemen walk on the outside and ladies walk on the inside of the sidewalk (which harkens way back in the days…) so maybe it’s because of your gender and not your race?

Although I do look forward to those inevitable moments on a crowded elevator where a gorgeous woman is so close I am engulfed in her perfume and body heat.

And then there are days when you get squished up against a huge guy who just finished a good two-hour game of basketball on his way to the shower. :)

On Aug.21.2004 at 01:28 PM
Ricardo’s comment is:

This is such a great topic, Debbie!

I hadn't heard of G. Stanley Hall, but at the University one of my professors once recommended a book by Edward T. Hall called The Hidden Dimension, in which the author examines the concept of personal space in different cultures...

On Aug.21.2004 at 05:52 PM
.sara’s comment is:

At work, we have a new Usability Manager, T, who also teaches Environmental Psychology. One day last week at lunch, she told us about an interview she had recently at a company over in Pasadena.

The entire staff at this place is situated in one room. It's not a cube farm with pretend offices for the VPs; it's one giant room. 3-4 people share a desk, which is rather large and curvy, but when you look up from the keyboard, hey! there's Co-Worker B whom you suspect of stealing your cookies last week.

When the recruiter, or whoever was interviewing her, asked T what she thought of the place, T's "This is awful! No one has any privacy, any sense of territory; what must your productivity levels be like?" didn't go over very well. She didn't take the job.

Ick. I can't imagine trying to work in an environment like that.

i wonder how others feel about seating arrangements while eating?

In a restaurant, given a choice: booth, facing the door. The facing the door tic I got from my Mom, who in turn got it -- I think -- from a cop she used to know.

On Aug.22.2004 at 09:29 PM
Jerry’s comment is:

As for the women that switch sides, Jerry, do they usually switch so that they are walking closer to the buildings instead of the edge of the street?

Twice I was on the street side and she forced me over to the building side. So, who knows.

And then there are days when you get squished up against a huge guy who just finished a good two-hour game of basketball on his way to the shower. :)

That's a good one. So, are you saying you look forward to that? ;)

On Aug.23.2004 at 12:53 PM
Nary’s comment is:

:D

On Aug.24.2004 at 12:42 AM
heather’s comment is:

In an office environment such as mine, where I am pretty much the only employee who is even remotely a designer, there's often a slight feeling of guilt associated with the "process," or the "playing," especially if I have been "playing" for six hours and still nothing seems to be coming together.

facelikedip: boy can i sympathize. i have a fairly large office, and my back used to face the wall, but i hated that because beyond my computer was the rest of the space, and the distraction of people walking by in the hall (windows to the hall is horrible). so i now face out the windows (floor to ceiling) with the sunshine, trees, and blue sky outside. although i hate my back to the door, i find i can concentrate and sink into creative thought much easier with the uplifting scenery...

once someone enters the office, i minimize my project immediately. i can never understand why i do this. probably along the same lines as armin: i'm-working-don't-watch-me. i always hate when people watch me draw as well... extreme introvert designer. that's me.

On Aug.24.2004 at 10:31 AM
szkat’s comment is:

(virgin blogger giving it up for you fine folks)

it's amazing the difference that ranges from person to person. in my italian family everyone kisses hello and goodbye (cheek kiss, to be specific) and at Christmas, etc we're sitting elbow to elbow at the dinner table. even when there are five or six people in the kitchen, we're feeding each other, or during a joke will give a slap on the arm for emphasis. it's just so lovely and comfortable.

in contrast, i was on a business trip with a few people i'd just met - this was my first weekend on a new job - and a man and i walked back to the hotel after dinner. now, he walks like there's a soldier shoved up his ass, and soon enough he was walking six feet in front of me on a dark street in a strange neighborhood. after asking him to slow down for the third time, i took his arm and said, "seriously. i can't keep up with you."

a week later, as i was going through my benefits package with my new boss, i placed the sexual harassment page in the "done" pile - my boss picks it back up and tells me this man said i made him feel "uncomfortable on your little walk last weekend."

maybe it's city life, maybe it's fear, it's probably just being pissed at all the people i have to be nervous around for reasons i didn't have before meeting them, but i've learned not to touch anyone without permission. i mean, seriously. this guy thought i was hitting on him. it was more than humiliating to tell my boss that i would never hit on a married man - with four kids - who was a lawyer - who was fifteen years my senior (i'm 23) - the first time i meet him. who, without any of these other details, just isn't my type anyway.

i sure quit that job and now work at an architectural firm, facing the wall of my cubicle with my back and monitor exposed. and i'm okay with that :)

On Aug.24.2004 at 05:00 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>I am definitely intrigued by the politics of space--the bathroom being another place where we seem to try to leave as much room as possible between stalls when we find ourselves in public facilities.

You've no idea. Men have an unspoken code of conduct for urinal use in public bathrooms. First, never use a urinal right next to someone else unless you have to. Secondly, eyes only to the front, always, eyes front. Talking is allowed, but only between friends, never strangers.

When I was in college I had a professor that had this theory that he needed to "touch" every student at least once a year. Nothing sexual or weird, just a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back kind of casual touching. The purpose of this "touching" was to ease stress and build a more informal relationship between mentor and student. It's a theory that adapts well to some levels of management as well.

At the end of the day, we're all human. There are degrees of personal contact that lie between sexual intimacy and unwanted groping.

On Aug.24.2004 at 07:16 PM
Wonderlane’s comment is:

I hearby give you

The space of this universe and all other universes

that ever were, are now, and are yet to form,

and without exception all the spaces they contain,

both within them and outside of them,

between each and every molecule,

all atoms,

peculiar to particles,

stuck between sub-particles,

antithetical to antimatter,

and all the undiscovered space there is,

might be,

was ever imagined, thought of, or never considered

or exists unwound;

further I give you all the space between all universes appearing,

and the eons of time that stretches between their placement or creation.

I give you

The space between the states of being,

awake and asleep,

in love with then hating the same person,

attached to anything and renouncing it all,

from all beings that ever assumed form,

and those who live in the formless regions, their idea of space;

that precious longing space betwixt all the lovers

that ever lived or will live when for some reasons

they could not see each other or be in one another's presence,

all the space of all hearts of their beloved one seen, touched or felt for the last time,

the space in time and emotion between this side of the hangman's trap door and when it opens,

death's needle and that last light glimmer of life,

the space between a mistake and recognition of it,

the space between an event and its last laugh,

the big space between starvation and death,

the space between the rustling of feathers

and the shapeshifting dances of shadows,

the space in mirrors placed face to face:

the very emptiness of space,

the very space of space,

the very what not of space;

all the space any child has ever or will ever perceive when looking at the stars,

or listening to a transmission from a distance of any kind,

any space between the asking of a question and understanding the answer,

I give you the gracious idea of transcendental space,

and the space of time it would take a worm to advance

then aspire to become absolutely enlightened

and achieve it.

I give you

All the space on this page,

and on all Web pages,

books,

cave paintings,

white papers,

thesis,

photographs,

proofs,

magazines,

pulp novels,

clay tablets,

computer screens,

xerox copies,

holographs,

tv sets,

reflections on car windows,

maps,

video monitors,

watches,

and film screens;

in fact I hereby give you all

the precious nature of space of all the kinds

there are or have been or ever will be,

so much space, that from now on,

you must always contact me first,

because I miss you my friend,

and so I give you that space too.

p.s. yes, I give you the Space Needle.

On Sep.15.2004 at 04:30 AM