Facebook, the great good place: Exploring how virtual "places" relate to interior design

Presented by: Dr. Dana Vaux, Michael R. Langlais

Relevance/Problem This study analyzes the social media website Facebook and its relationship to interior design through the lens of social community literature and theories. Theories of social capital and sense of community fail to recognize or address current socializing trends occurring on the internet and need to be updated to represent the way people connect in twenty-first century culture (Soukup, 2006). Interior designers need to understand the impact of virtual spaces on the physical environments they design and how to better design for the potential interface of virtual spaces and physical places. Context Oldenburg (1989) argues that public gathering places are essential elements of social communities. "Great good places," as he refers to them, are necessary to nourish relationships and diversity in human connection and are lacking in present day American society. Looking to those social spaces successful in past generations, he argues that creating similar contemporary environments provides a viable present-day solution to loss of social connection. Despite the emerging technological facets of American culture, Oldenburg's theory harkens back to historic places of gathering as ideal third places such as the French Café and the English Pub, arguing that technology interferes with social connectivity. However, twenty-first century social gathering places appear to be multi-purpose with many activities, including access to and interaction with technology. Additionally, today’s social spaces appear to be appropriate for both socializing as well as being alone in a crowd, potentially to use social media networks like Facebook (Vaux, 2015). Method This study employed qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis through three theoretical frameworks that serve as samples of social connection and community: Oldenburg's third place theory (Oldenburg, 1989), social capital theory per Putnam and Feldstein (2003), and sense of community (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). The researchers collected and analyzed the data through observations, surveying, and conducting mean differences tests. Mean differences of motivations for using Facebook were calculated using repeated measures ANOVAs. Quantitative data for this study comes from 308 participants, ages 14 to 36 (65% female) and illustrated that the top three reasons individuals reported used Facebook was to seek information from one’s social network, to establish a sense of connection with others, and to communicate with others. The researchers then compared this data to established measures of social capital, third places, and sense of community. Outcomes Findings indicate that Facebook serves as a virtual third place for building social capital and a sense of community, a "place of sociability." This study reinforces the idea that present-day socializing trends represent a different paradigm than existing theories may suggest and highlights that in designing spaces for social gathering, interior designers may need to consider technology users of virtual third places as a factor. Advancement of Design Knowledge The results of this study suggest that technology plays an important role in twenty-first century socializing, and therefore access to technology may be an important criterion of contemporary third places. This research further raises the question of what new prescriptions or models interior designers might innovate as virtual space becomes further integrated into the realm of the material, man-made world and the fabric of place. This paper culminates with recommendations based on prototypes in existing interior design literature in light of the study findings. Future studies are needed to further explore these possibilities as well as connections between virtual and physical third places.


  • McMillan, D. & Chavis, D.M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6-23.
  • Oldenburg, Ray. (1989). The great good place: Cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons and other hangouts at the heart of the community. New York: Marlowe & Company.
  • Putnam, Robert D. and Lewis M. Feldstein. Better Together: Restoring American Community. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
  • Soukup, C. (2006). Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldenburg's great good places on the World Wide Web. New Media Society 8 (3): 421-440.
  • Vaux, D. (2015). Interior People Places: The Impact of the Built Environment on the Third Place Experience. In (eds.) J. Thompson and N. Blossom Handbook for Interior Design. 347-365. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
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