-Post by Gautam Shah
Seating arrangements influence the nature of interaction in a group. Space planning is key to design for social interactions. Circular seating provides a better environment for interaction. A hearth has been the focus of circular arrangement. However, in a circular seating arrangement individuals interact more with the person on opposite side rather than adjacent to them. That is why when a person conducts a group, or if there is a designated leader, the circular arrangement becomes a bow. It is observed that in four-person groups (or arrangements), favourable interaction occurs among persons seated closer together rather then facing one another. This could be the reason why young couples prefer to sit at right angle, compared to seasoned couples who prefer to sit opposite to each other.
It is found that when eye-contact is diffused, a side-by-side interaction is preferred to across-the-table interaction. The eye contact is diffused by distance, strong and focussed lighting below the eye levels, occlusion due to intervening objects like decorative food or flower vases. Diffusion may also happen when the opposite person is socially unknown or repugnant.
Very large group meeting tables (dining, conference, etc.) are designed to be of large width or with a well. Contrary to this tables are of very small width to provide intimacy, bonhomie and revelry, such as for picnics, outdoor eateries, and reunions. Coffee houses tables are small sized to encourage intimacy.
Three persons sharing a circular or triangle table is highly awkward arrangement. Similarly tables with a narrowing end create a clumsy situation unless at the wide end a leader (or presentation screen for slide show or video) holds the attention. Larry King live -the famous programme host used a table with tapered shape to position the guest (perhaps depending on the personality) at desired place and thereby control the distance of interaction.
Nature of interaction is defined by the spatial distancing. The spatial distancing could be the clear distance between the seats and one that can be manipulated by posturing. Seat distances such 450 mm are intimate, over 750 to 1200 mm are personal, over 1200 to 3500 allow social or eye contact, and over 3500 mm one has control over interaction, but beyond 15 mts one needs other enlargement means to achieve interaction. Though different cultures and contexts may elicit alternative expectations on distance of interaction.
The concept of spatial distancing and interaction have different connotations. Chat rooms, bulletin boards email, twitter and Skype etc. allow communication among strangers. Some of these mediums miss the personal feedback or a face-to-face context. Every media set has its own defined or expected culture, and anyone who do not abide by it is considered violating the spatial relationships. The person is considered less sociable than those who do not commit such violations.