ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - 28

TECHNICAL FEATURE

How Building Interfaces
Affect Occupant
Experience
BY WILLIAM O'BRIEN, PH.D., P.ENG., ASSOCIATE MEMBER ASHRAE; JULIA DAY, PH.D., MEMBER ASHRAE; CONNOR BRACKLEY, STUDENT MEMBER ASHRAE

Building interfaces-from simple levers and knobs to Internet-connected, voice-activated smart thermostats-represent the critical link between people and buildings.
They are often the cause of major occupant-related discrepancies between expected
and real building performance (the " performance gap " ). Yet building interfaces have
received disproportionately little attention in design practice and research.
This article bridges the gap between the established
fields of building engineering and human factors to
shed new light on the critical topic of building interfaces. Backed by concrete examples, it borrows theory
from both fields to reveal the importance of interfaces
and propose improvements in their planning and
design.
While the fields of human factors, industrial design,
building science and building/architectural engineering
are established professions with a plethora of postsecondary educational programs, there is a major void at
their intersection-a void that routinely results in suboptimal building usability for occupants.
Furthermore, buildings are normally one-of-a-kind
creations involving numerous practitioners: manufacturers, architects, engineers and controls technicians
and other trades. Because buildings tend to be unique

rather than mass-produced, they do not undergo iterative design cycles with user testing, consumer reviews,
etc. In our experience, interfaces receive remarkably
little attention during building design, with no designated class of practitioners designing and advocating for
the occupant experience.
There is a largely untapped opportunity to close this
gap and improve usability by learning more about how
humans interact with building interfaces, abstracting
these findings and communicating them to designers
and decision makers.

From Human Input to System Response and Occupant
Feedback
What do we mean by " interface " ? The tendency is to
think immediately of digital devices such as thermostats and lighting controls, which are typically designed

William O'Brien, Ph.D., P.Eng., is an associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Julia Day is an assistant professor in
the School of Design and Construction at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. Connor Brackley is a Master of Applied Science student in Mechanical and Aerospace
Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
28

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ASHRAE Journal - January 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ASHRAE Journal - January 2021

Contents
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - Intro
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - Cover1
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - Cover2
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - 1
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - 1a
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - 1b
ASHRAE Journal - January 2021 - Contents
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