The secret behind designing successful hospitality venues is predicting human behaviour, according to Founder of the Design Partnership, Callie van der Merwe.

He says when it comes to design people commonly talk about layers, volumes, textures and balance rather than focusing on the behaviour of the people who will use the space.

“Design is not a painting, design is for people,” he said

This signature approach of putting people’s predictive behaviour at the heart of hospitality design has seen Callie van der Merwe and his team create many award-winning commercial interior spaces across the world. 

Known as neuroarchitecture, this philosophy is based on actual information that speaks to the human condition. Van der Merwe said he posed the question, can we bank certain behaviours in the hospitality space? Are there things that we predictably and repeatedly do?

“We spent a lot of time on it and started observing. We looked at security footage we just spent more time in restaurants looking at what people do. We realised there are things people do 80% of the time and we were able to bank those behaviours. We know where people like to sit, how they like to move, how they like to be served,” he said

He said there are specific seating behaviours most people like in hospitality settings, such as sitting at bench seating along the perimeter of a restaurant or choosing slightly raised seating that allows them to scan the space and feel safer. They also discovered that the length of the stay in a venue is equal to the weight of the chair. If it’s a very light chair people stay for a shorter time, if it is a heavier chair they feel like it’s a better experience and tend to stay longer.

When it comes to nailing the right light, acoustics and proportions he said humans prefer lighting that has “almost a sunlight quality to it”, we avoid hollow and echoey spaces and feel most comfortable in a room with 1:1.618 proportions, a ratio found in nature. He said taking inspiration from nature plays an important role in this style of design because 99% of our evolution has been in nature. 

“Our connection to nature is much more than our connection to walls and glass and carpet,” he said. 

“We are all wired in a very similar way so if you get that right every single time then you make the space the kind of space where you want to linger longer and a space you go back to repeatedly.”

“A building or a space that you create understanding the human condition first can last for 10, 20, 30 years as opposed to a space or place with a short shelf life”.

While van der Merwe and his team can predict many human behaviours in the hospitality space, he admits the science is always evolving.

“Every single restaurant we learn something new and we bank it”.