Designing Great Guest Experiences

Happy guests (and hosts) have control and privacy

Posted Dec 06, 2018

It’s the end of the year and wherever you live you’ve probably started to see more suitcases—in your neighborhood as they’re dragged into neighboring homes, on the sidewalk downtown as people travel to and from the airport, or in your own home, as you head out or guests head in.  

Guest time is a hard time of year, environmental psychology-wise. During guest season crowding becomes common and so does needing to deal at close range with people you moved away from as soon as you came of age—and “guesting” experiences make it clear that many of those relocations were probably a good idea.  

There are two major reasons, from an environmental psychology perspective, why being a guest or having a guest are difficult:  comfortable levels of environmental control and privacy.

Having some control over our physical world puts us in a better mood and that helps us think through challenges to solutions and to get along well with others, for instance.  It’s best when we can modify a few things in our environment—adjust the heat or light levels, shift the furniture a little bit—via these changes we claim a space and feel more positively powerful in it.  Hence the better mood.  Having to select from more than 5 or so choices can get to feel oppressive and, basically, like a big hassle, however, so options available for lights, etc., need to be drawn from a carefully curated, “desirable in expected situations” set of possibilities.  Similarly, we don’t need to be able to modify everything in our environment, having to consider options for too many things can be overpowering.  Again, providing just a few “control opportunities” is best—and practically, that’s all that are realistically possible in most situations.

What does this mean for the guest experience?  It means that you need to let your guests make a few changes in your home when they visit and, if you’re a guest, you need to know that if you feel tense while visiting it could be because you don’t have much control over your world (although this insight is useful solely as an explanation, you probably can’t demand some control without making the situation worse).  Let guests know how to adjust that heat or how the lighting or sound systems work.  Let them rearrange some of the items on the bathroom countertops.  Take them up on their suggestions on how to rearrange the living room furniture, at least until they leave.

Having privacy means being able to determine who can see and hear you—and both individuals and groups of people (think: parents) need privacy when they want it.  Privacy is actually a very specific sort of environmental control, but it’s one that’s not optional, it’s necessary.  When we have privacy, we have an opportunity to think through recent events in our lives (and make sense of them) and do other similar sorts of psychological housekeeping.  Privacy is fundamental for human wellbeing, not an optional nice to have.  If you find your guests (or find yourself) spending a really long time in the bathroom (and there wasn’t a problem with the holiday lunch) it could be because bathrooms are one of the few places where we definitely have privacy, at least in our society.  Build private time into the day when you’re a guest or hosting a guest (in other words, plan to spend some time separately), and, if possible, spend “separate time” in physical spaces with doors, walls, hedges, or other privacy supporting physical features.  If you’re a guest, and find yourself craving time out of visual and acoustic contact with your hosts, find a reason to drive or walk somewhere, the long way.

The keys to happy guests, and being a happy host, are comfortable levels of environmental control and privacy for both those visiting and hosting.  Build them into the space or the “program” for visits and all will be merry and bright.