Picture This!

Employing imagery to foster human connections within the built environment
Sponsored by Inpro
By Amanda C Voss, MPP
1 AIA LU/HSW; *1 ADA State Accessibility/Barrier-Free; 0.1 ICC CEU; 0.1 IACET CEU*; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss how signage has evolved to create more welcoming spaces in support of occupant well-being.
  2. Identify the latest signage material and manufacturing processes and their impact on occupant safety.
  3. Describe the liability exposure building owners face for noncompliance with ADA.
  4. Explain how ADA compliance leads to healthier, safer, and more welcoming environments.

This course is part of the ADA Academy

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Imagery speaks louder than words. It has the demonstrable power to elevate experience, spur creativity, promote productivity, and boost brand. In the built environment, architects and design professionals aren’t just designing a space, they are also inherently creating a connection and experience for those who encounter that space. With advances in graphic and product technology, designers can incorporate high-end, digital artwork and imagery optimized for spaces such as offices, hospitals, and retail, bringing vitality to areas that would otherwise be merely functional. Through critical design research into art and biophilia, imagery can be harnessed to “work” for the occupants in any commercial building. Art, printed on an architectural product, can bring a brand, an idea, or even a feeling to life.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

Bright colors, integrated artwork, and direct connections to the exterior are in high demand for the built environment.


Art is no longer confined to something in a frame that hangs on the wall. Art today can be ultimately functional, helping spaces work better for everyone. Like a real natural landscape, the whole of a building or design project is greater than the sum of its parts. Most of the public spaces through which people move, from offices and schools to hospitals and transport hubs, owe something to the “modern” movement and its penchant for no-frills, pared-down design. While modernism has been the ruling standard, unchallenged for a generation, there is a sudden and renewed interest in rich textures, patterns, and curves, the very features of classical architecture that modernists once avoided.

Those professionals thinking seriously about design and its human impacts have learned that natural forms, from the vein patterns in leaves to the curves of the human body, are based on fractals─a similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales─rather than grids. Human beings are drawn to fractals on a visual level and, on a deeper level, find these natural patterns emotionally restorative. Right angles, in contrast, are harsh and can even be exhausting for occupants. Through critical design research into art and biophilia, and from the inspiration that guides it, product manufacturers are increasingly looking add art for the occupants in any commercial building. This includes integrating art throughout a space and across various architectural products.

For architects seeking to populate their designs with natural forms and to capture both the visual and visceral response to fractals, manufacturers are providing new, high-tech solutions through common architectural products. Designers can now incorporate high-end, digital artwork optimized for spaces such as offices, schools, hospitals, and more. Materials such as protective wall coatings can be transformed to host art and designs that bring vitality to spaces.

“The possibilities are exponential when using imagery on printed wall protection relating to experiential design and biophilia. Your wall can not only take an impact, but also make an impact,” says Ryan Roessler, Product Manager of Door and Wall Protection at Inpro.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

The natural world evokes a powerful response from people. Harnessing biophilic elements elevates the built environment.

The Possibilities of Art in Design

Using art within a building creates inspiration, fosters education, promotes wayfinding, and can bolster branding. Beauty in architecture nourishes the human emotional brain argues Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at University College London. Zeki goes further, suggesting beauty should be a quality in all buildings and that humanity has the ability to recognize this beauty across all cultural divides. Zeki’s research posits that the appreciation of beauty is hardwired into the human brain. People seek the beautiful to nourish the emotional brain since, from a neurobiological point of view, all areas of the brain must be continually nourished in a way that corresponds to their specific functions. “One reaches the inevitable conclusion that beauty must be a guiding characteristic in all designs that aim to enhance human experience,” writes Zeki.1 He concludes that, whatever other demands go into architectural design, beauty must be a central element. Its experience adds to the health of its individuals and hence to society’s well-being. “It is not a luxury but an essential ingredient in nourishing the emotional brain.”2

The artistic possibilities for a design are limited only by the designer's imagination. New technologies and materials have grasped and transformed the once-limited palette of products available to signage and protective wall cladding, offering an incredible range of design choices. No longer limited to boring beige or grim grays, these materials can display any work of art desired and integrate easily into design goals.

Art can generate inspiration for occupants. Engaging with art is essential to the human experience, write Brian Kisida and Daniel H. Bowen. “Almost as soon as motor skills are developed, children communicate through artistic expression. The arts challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with ‘others,’ and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition. Empirical evidence supports these claims: Among adults, arts participation is related to behaviors that contribute to the health of civil society, such as increased civic engagement, greater social tolerance, and reductions in other-regarding behavior.”3 The new diversity of colors, material, and textures of impact-resistance products offer designers and facility staff limitless options to enhance the aesthetics of a facility’s interior.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

Using distinctive combinations of artwork and color enables wayfinding for occupants navigating buildings and campuses.

The human adaptation to nature’s fractals also influences many stages of the human visual system, from how the eye moves when acquiring the visual data of fractal patterns to how the brain responds when processing their characteristics, notes Professor Richard Taylor from the University of Oregon/ Fractals Research (USA) and ScienceDesignLab (SDL). Research at the SDL has led to the “fractal fluency” model, which asserts that human vision has become fluent in the visual language of nature’s fractals and can process their features efficiently, “creating an aesthetic experience accompanied by a decrease in the observer’s physiological stress levels.”4 By incorporating fractal patterns into the built environment, the well-being of occupants should be enhanced.

Art can educate and address social aspects of the built environment. Imagery is a highly effective strategy for increasing comprehension, reports The University of Kansas Department of Special Education. Imagery strategies involve activating the memory by taking what is to be learned and creating meaningful visual, auditory, or kinesthetic images of the information.5 Findings from Houston’s Arts Access Initiative provide strong evidence that arts educational experiences can produce significant positive impacts on academic and social development in children. School students exposed to art experienced a 3.6-percentage point reduction in disciplinary infractions, an improvement of 13 percent of a standard deviation in standardized writing scores, and an increase of 8 percent of a standard deviation in their compassion for others.6

Art is an effective method to create wayfinding. As defined by the Wayfinding Society for Experiential Graphic Design, wayfinding refers to information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of that space. “Wayfinding is particularly important in complex built environments, such as urban centers, healthcare settings, educational campuses, and transportation facilities. As architectural environments become more complicated, people need visual cues such as maps, directions, and symbols to help guide them to their destinations. In these often high-stress environments, effective wayfinding systems contribute to a sense of well-being, safety, and security.”7

Adding imagery throughout a design brings continuity throughout the building and guides how people interact with the space. For example, a building that selects nature as a theme can create variations on each floor within that theme to help people remember different locations and to change up the scenery.

Art can support and build the message of branding for a school, group, or business.Brand imagery is one tool within the kit of brand identity that defines the aesthetic appearance of a brand’s core messaging. Brand imagery comprises the visual, story-telling component of a brand identity.8 Mismatched visuals, or a space that is generic, can work to the detriment of a business’s brand. On the other hand, matching the design scheme of a brand within a building or space to invoke positive feelings for workers, occupants, clients, or patients heightens the experience, not only within the space but also, by association, for the brand. United visuals can further the messaging of the space. This type of cohesiveness in imagery will strengthen the brand or business and elevate the experience of clients or other visitors to the professional space.

The Possibilities of Printed Architectural Products

Through the careful selection of products and materials to carry forward their artistic vision, architects, designers, and facility managers can create an artistically integrated space. New digital imaging and printing techniques have enabled endless possibilities when it comes to adding art to architectural products, including wall coverings, panels, shades, and signage. Design professionals are no longer limited to solid colors or patterned wallpaper. Product design experts can work with clients to select imagery suited to their brand. Stock photography and curated artworks from artists can be showcased through architectural products.

Any image can find a place on a project’s walls, signage, or even window treatments. Art is no longer something relegated to hang on the wall as an ornament, it can be transformed into something that is ultimately functional. Complete customization enables architects and designers to create unique, one-of-a-kind products that produce an unforgettable experience for building occupants. The colors, material, textures, and impact-resistance levels of these products also offer designers and facility staff limitless options to enhance the aesthetics of a facility’s interior, while delivering much-needed protection to the edifice itself.

Walls are one of the largest elements of the interior. Adding design integrated throughout wall protection gives walls an additional purpose while expanding their longevity and enhancing protection against damage. Durable wall panels can be used in high-traffic spaces prone to damage and deterioration. Specifying printed wall protection provides a protective wallcovering that can be applied directly to the wall at virtually any size. When the graphic is back-printed onto clear sheet, like PETG, the custom artwork, photography, or image remains vivid and will not get scratched over time.

In areas that do not need enhanced protection, printed wall art offers completely customizable design options, enabling the professional to choose impactful photography, logos, or colors to align with the brand and continue the design scheme. Printed signage allows art to be integrated in creative ways throughout the space. Printed cubicle curtains, window treatments and shower curtains, made from fiberglass, polyester, vinyl, and acrylic, can help to block glare and unwanted heat while still allowing a degree of natural light. When combined with digital print capabilities, these fabrics create a perfect way to add and display art within commercial buildings.


Incorporating biophilia into a project’s design allows people to maintain their biological connection to nature, even indoors. Humans have an innate affinity for the life-supporting aspects of the natural world. This attraction to nature is referred to as biophilia, a term literally meaning "love of nature." Understanding this inherent attraction to the natural world has spurred innovation in the architectural community. Designers are starting to capture opportunities to reconnect occupants with nature by incorporating biophilic elements in their designs. Working through digital imagery or prints on an architectural product, art that features biophilia can play an impactful role.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

Adding artwork to walls, one of the largest elements of the interior, allows for expansive design opportunities.

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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2023


Picture This!
Buyer's Guide
Aspex® Printed Wall Protection
Durable. Custom. Vivid. Aspex Printed Wall Protection provides the high-impact durability of PETG paired with premiere printing capabilities—not sacrificing quality for performance. With the option to select a custom image or even have commissioned artwork backprinted onto our clear sheets, designers are able to protect their walls from damage while also having total design freedom.