Armstrong Ceiling Solutions’ marketing communications manager Isabel Blanco reflects on life in the era of the experience economy: a time where every activity, every transaction and every surrounding is an experience.

We live in the era of the experience economy: a time when even the most commoditised space is subject to shared experiences and open feedback. A time where great experiences become the expectation, not the exception. And thanks to the democratisation of the internet and social media, for whatever space you find yourself in, you’ll find an online mirror of it.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It fosters competition and drives the creators and facilitators of these spaces to try harder and create positive experiences for the end-user. In every space within this experience economy, design and architecture must play their part in improving the experience. And the ceiling space is central to this ambition.

Elevating experiences through the ceiling

Ceilings can fundamentally shape people’s experience of a space. They bring in light, sculpt the soundscape and enhance air quality – transforming a simple, functional space into a world-class experience. Materials and design choices are crucial to achieving this.

Modern mineral tiles ceiling systems deliver cutting-edge performance in light reflectance. High-white finishes help bathe indoor spaces in natural daylight. This boosts occupants’ experience, in everything from increased productivity and concentration to happiness and general wellbeing.

Similarly, suspended ceiling solutions can create a more pleasing visual environment, some by concealing services above and some by creating a more vibrant sense of space, effectively shaping and directing sound. Providing a balance between acoustics and aesthetics, which helps ensure that teachers are heard in classrooms and students in lecture halls, means students can learn more effectively. They transform the wards of hospitals into welcoming spaces for healing to happen, or ensure office workers can concentrate on quiet working as much as they can collaborate.

It all combines to elevate experiences beyond the spatial element of the environment. But what part do regulations and standards play in this context?

The push for credits

BREEAM and green building certifications increasingly characterise our spaces – how they’re designed, built and function. These programmes are characterised by credit systems. That’s all that separates, for example, a BREEAM Outstanding project from one that is Good. Across every category, from energy and innovation to wellbeing and waste, there is a continual push for credits at every stage of the design and build process.

Here, the ceiling contributes again: visual, acoustic and thermal comfort, the minimisation of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), recycling and hygiene – all play their part in securing credits. This essentially improves the experience of the environment for everyone involved.

Behind the experience

Designers need to get the fundamentals right to score the essential points needed to create a great experience. Safety and hygiene are two examples.

In terms of safety, ceiling solutions must conform to all relevant fire resistance/reaction standards. Equally, the use of ‘anti-seismic’ solutions adds reassurance to projects in earthquake areas. These features do far more than simply safeguard lives. They also add reassurance to the overall experience.

In environments like hospitals, schools and public or retail spaces, bacteria and infections can also present risks. The use of passive inhibitors offers a first level of protection as well as contributing to the greater technical performance of a space. But over and above this, by inhibiting the growth and spread of bacteria, they enhance the experience of a space. It’s another example of how the technical performance behind a space can contribute to the experiential factors in people’s minds.

The experience economy coincides with a growing trend for responsible consumerism; for thinking beyond ourselves to our impact on the planet. By securing points in terms of sustainability, we can kindle that trend and align our spaces with a more positive eco-experience. Using Cradle to Cradle Certified™ solutions is one way that this can be achieved.

The symbiosis of environment and experience

User-centred design and keeping wellbeing front of mind are essential to creating great experiences. Just think about retail environments: supermarkets undergo regular in-store reshuffles as they seek to improve not simply the environment but the experience. By doing so, they transform these hubs into desirable destinations. The same applies for work environments and hospitals that are rated for comfort as much as capability.

Ultimately, every space is a shop window – how it appears, how it sounds, how it feels and how it performs, its impact on our planet, and its potential for future generations. All of this combines into how a space becomes an experience. And with this in mind, is how we need to design.