11.22.2005

Signals for sitting

I've always been fascinated by the ways that space changes people's behavior. How your surroundings can subtly influence everyday aspects of your body like volume, posture, speed and awareness.

I was in Barnes and Noble the other day, and I noticed a very intriguing behavior. Around almost every corner, there was someone sitting on the floor.


Can you think of another public space where the floor looks inviting? Yeah...none spring to mind.

Now obviously, the nature of Barnes and Noble's business would point to a need for seating - lots of people like to read half the book before taking it home - and for this they provide couches, armchairs and an entire Starbucks cafe.


But yet, you have these floor dwellers.

So how to explain it? I feel that Barnes and Noble has designed spaces which, intentionally or not, signal to the weary that it's okay to sit. And the cues, oddly enough, seem to relate to childhood - a time when sitting on the floor happened every day.

A big part of this is the carpet. It's not super plush, but it's incredibly clean and consistent. Like the living rooms of childhood, or the floors of kindergarten. It doesn't exactly look cozy enough to lay on - but it sure looks good enough to be touched by your butt, legs and feet.

Next, there is a nice contrast between low, open spaces and tall bookshelf hallways. When we are little, we like to hide from grownups. When we are grownups, and hiding is socially inappropriate, we welcome the chance to go around a corner, lean against a wall, and slide down into our books. The tall aisles provide physical, visual, auditory and mental separation from the rest of the world.

And finally, Barnes and Noble emanates the design aesthetic of our local childhood favorite - the library. The stores have giant rolling ladders, lots of wood, stepstools in the stacks, employees with the knowledge of librarians, and an overall emphasis on reading to learn and grow. They feel hometown, they feel safe, they feel like one of the great pillars of democracy. They feel like the place where we used to crawl around during storytime.


I don't know if Barnes and Noble is happy with people sitting on its floors; perhaps they create traffic jams or look too casual. But I hope the company recognizes and celebrates the factors that make its stores so sit-worthy, because the more people sitting on the floor, the more people staying in the store.

3 comments:

Nancy said...

As a school librarian, I wish more people would spend as much time hanging around libraries as they do bookstores these days. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Two things:

First, I think that people sit on the floor in Barnes and Noble primarily because there aren't enough chairs for everyone who wants to sit, especially in cities on weekends (there will be enough chairs in the 'burbs on a Tuesday night, probably). They have already signalled that it's OK to sit by putting so much seating in the store, but prime seating gets sucked up quickly.

Second, to Nancy, I suggest that people spend so much time in bookstores because they're often open later than everything else, they tend to have the newest books on the shelves (which are snatched up for months at libraries), and because you're allowed to eat, drink, and converse in them (though some libraries are more open about this than others - my main local library has a coffee bar in the lobby). When I lived in a sub-suburban area, though, it was the hours that were the major attraction. Everything else closed by 9PM, and bookstores were open until 11.

Mario said...

Ditto to Comment#2, and I'll add one thing.
Their sofa chairs in SoCal aren't comfortable...you sink into them and either can't get back up or end up dozing off.