Engineering Visual Experience

When you walk into a facility—say, a grocery store, or a museum, or a factory—what do you see? When you walk through that facility, what have you seen? Or equivalently, what have you not seen? These are the questions we are addressing in an NSF-sponsored research project entitled, “A New Science of Visual Experience.”

Researchers have for decades considered the arrangement of “departments” in a facility to optimize some objective such as minimizing material handling distances or maximizing affinity between departments. Our research is concerned with more detailed questions of a different sort. Specifically, we are interested in how people experience their environments visually. That is, what can be seen? We cannot yet model what people actually see, which is a matter of focus and attention, among other things. We are investigating the intersection of human factors research, which provides models of a person’s field of vision, and spatial design to make statements about what can or cannot be seen in a space.

dynamic_newThe figure above shows a shopper in a retail environment along with her field of regard. Notice that as she moves through the aisle, some locations become visible and others disappear, either because of obstructions or because they drop out of the field of regard. The goal of our research is to describe what can be seen and for how long. Would a product with a label located on a certain shelf be readable? For how long? And on and on.

Thanks to the National Science Foundation for sponsoring this work through an EAGER grant. We also thank Pratik Parikh and his team at Wright State University for taking the lead on this project.


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