Human Centric Homestead Design

While many human factors professionals work in technology or research fields, applying the same human factors techniques to less modern domains remains a worthwhile pursuit. Climate change, water shortages, and limited access to natural resources have highlighted the need for efficient housing, sustainable living arrangements, and even new forms of communities. Good design can help provide all of these, and possibly more. A community-based homestead is a good candidate for a human centric design. People are at the center of communities, and synomorphy theory suggests that spaces in which humans exist influence their behavior. For this element of my portfolio I worked with a unique community to combine human factors and ecological design to improve efficiency, group dynamics, and quality of life. The people there are pursuing a conscious way of life by living with the land. I used a participatory design process, working closely with the residents to refine and implement the changes that we agreed would be effective. I presented my ideas via correspondence and in person, guiding implementation of some of the ideas we generated together. I also created a presentation that can be used, and updated, to explain the solutions and rationale to new members or those who have come to learn from a functioning eco-community.
The ultimate products from the project were informed by user research, task analysis based on daily routines, and the ability of solutions to fit the ethos of the community. We identified important spaces and mapped functions and activities onto them to establish patterns. We established the goals to minimize human effort while maximizing yield from the yard and best using the resources available. We defined yield as food grown in the garden and harvested from animals, energetic savings, and happiness. One outcome from the project, for example, included the decision to keep chickens for eggs and potentially meat. Incorporating chickens was a multi-step design decision. First, we weighed the costs and benefits of keeping the fowl. We stepped through the requirements of the chickens – shelter, protection from predators, feed, and water. We also looked at the human activities required to take care of and harvest the chickens. We took stock of available materials to minimize cost, which helped us narrow the build-out options. Based on the available information, we collaborated on a design for a coop that would fit the patterns of use, constraints of the space, and accommodate both human and chicken ergonomic needs.
To test other aspects of the design, I created a 3D layout of the living space that allowed us to visualize the effects of with moving fixtures, changing room layouts, and even knocking down walls without starting a major project only to find it did not achieve the desired effect on the overall space. We used Google Earth and drone surveys to gather additional information about the property for design purposes. The community now has a multi-layered map that will be used to plan future gardens, construction projects, and even photovoltaic systems based on the trajectory of the sun at various times of the year.
My continuing efforts with the community have led to a shared understanding (mental model) for future solutions based on human factors design heuristics and a living document for reference and knowledge accumulation. It will be interesting to see the long term evolution of the community.