“People ignore the design that ignores them”-Frank Chimero.
This image which does the rounds on social media from time to time explains where my book is coming from.
Elephant tracks, fox paths, pedestrian’s revenge, desire lines… Those human-made paths where people reject the formal routes laid out for them and take the quickest way from A to B instead. Desire lines, my preferred term, symbolise the endemic lack of thought by designers and planners given to how actual humans navigate their environment, and a lack of care in making environments as human-friendly as possible.
Why is this? One the main reasons is that is that architects and landscape designers aren’t normally taught how to find out what people want as part of their professional training. So they often don’t. Instead they design places that they hope people will like, or that they think are appropriate, but still working more or less in the dark. My book is intended to get designers of public space to actually find out what people want and need, and to design with them, not for them. So I’m calling it ‘Desire lines’.
My academic background is in social research, and I aim to inspire designers to think more like researchers. People-centred design needs to actually involve people – yes, really – and that requires meaningful processes to understand their needs and wants and behaviour, and to capture their knowledge and ideas. So here’s a Bumper Book of Meaningful Processes for them – how to collect useful information, and what to do with it, in order to create better designs and happier users. Simple.
It’s well established that the quality of public space can have a significant impact on community and personal well-being. Well-designed popular spaces create a feel-good factor in an area; poorly-designed unpopular spaces create a feel-bad factor and can blight an area socially and economically. Reading about usability testing and user experience in the tech and consumer research fields, it strikes me as extraordinary that something as ephemeral as an app or a website can be subjected to prolonged, rigorous user testing, until maximum appeal and ease of use have been achieved, and then and only is it released. Whereas a public space, with a lifespan of decades, that can significantly affect the fortunes of a local area, is built without any kind of testing or input from those who will use it, or insight as to whether it will succeed.
Does this seem right to you? No, me neither.