Abstract The objective of this article is to review the scientific literature on airflow distribution systems and ventilation effectiveness to identify and assess the most suitable room air distribution methods for various spaces. In this study, different ventilation systems are classified according to specific requirements and assessment procedures. This study shows that eight ventilation methods have been employed in the built environment for different purposes and tasks. The investigation shows that numerous studies have been carried out on ventilation effectiveness but few studies have been done regarding other aspects of air distribution. Amongst existing types of ventilation systems, the performance of each ventilation methods varies from one case to another due to different usages of the ventilation system in a room and the different assessment indices used. This review shows that the assessment of ventilation effectiveness or efficiency should be determined according to each task of the ventilation system, such as removal of heat, removal of pollutant, supply fresh air to the breathing zone or protecting the occupant from cross infection. The analysis results form a basic framework regarding the application of airflow distribution for the benefit of designers, architects, engineers, installers and building owners.