The Fragility of First Impressions

Author: Daniel Falinski
Partisan’s monthly EightyTwenty Social breakfast event is an opportunity for professionals connected to the built environment to meet informally and share thoughts and ideas over breakfast. The idea is also to enable people to make valuable connections and build new relationships.
When you gather a bunch of people in a room, some of whom may not have met previously, first impressions are important. Sometimes these first impressions are useful, but sometimes their fragility can cause later issues.   

This was the basis of a theme running through this month’s meet-up.
What Dictates Our Relationships?
First impressions matter, even if they should not be the thing that dictates our future relationships. This applies to people but also to our environment, including our relationships with urban spaces.
Work involves meetings, including meetings with potentially project-critical individuals for the very first time. In these instances, first impressions may help or hinder future developments. They can even be a deal-breaker if the chemistry in the room is not right.
If a first-impression feels too well-rehearsed it can make the other person impenetrable and impossible to read.
Openness is an important trait in business. Obviously you do not want to leave yourself too vulnerable, but it is about leaving space for something new.

Where people are quite guarded, they can have the capacity for surprise, when suddenly their guard drops and you see someone quite different underneath.

What about first impressions of places?
The Picture Postcard View
The idea of the postcard is to make somewhere look attractive, captured in a vivid image.

The danger is, however, that preconceptions can mean a lack of acceptance of new ideas, and a lack of progress when it comes to development.
How Do We Cope With Chaos?
People have differing perceptions of Manchester, for example, from it being a rainy northern city to the innovative hub of a northern urban revival.

Similarly, regeneration can be more challenging for other regions in Greater Manchester because the first impression many people have is that they are somewhat inferior satellites, feeding into the dominant centre.
Nature itself can appear, on first impression, chaotic when compared to the designed structures and designated spaces of the built environment.

Do we lose something in the process of translating those first sparks of creativity into something more manageable. Are these first impressions too fragile to survive the design process and the practical demands of construction?
Virtual Impressions
Technology is reshaping what first impressions look like, because now the first impression may not be real at all. We’re used to the traditional discrepancies between an artist’s depiction of future development and the reality of the thing itself.
But now, with augmented and virtual reality technology, these manufactured impressions are becoming more detailed and immersive. How will the virtual world of first impressions impact upon people’s expectations of their environment, and can those of us working in the built environment live up to these expectations?
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