Last night I was sitting at my computer ready to finalize my entry for today but I was struggling with its content and presentation. The topic is about integrating the human and social aspect to space.
Interesting however it needed some story to make it real.
I decided to take a break and watch The Voice instead.
They are getting down to the top 6 in the competition and what competition it is. Each participant is strong, unique and has the chops to make it all the way. I have my personal favourite and I am sure if you watch the show you have yours. The thing that got me was the strong sense of story that is a big part of what these artists use to engage the audience. Sure, a singer needs to bring passion and connection in order to engage with their audience and emotion is a huge part of that journey but the story of how they get there each time, what their song choices mean to them and how different each singer interprets the song’s meaning was what made the connection to the artist for me.
I recently saw a performance by Adele where she took the time between her songs to talk to her audience and share some of the story behind her music. Something as simple as telling a story allows us to connect with the artist just a little bit. Considering these artists sometimes have millions of fans it seems a little unrealistic to think that you can have a personal connection to them but then there is that feeling that connects their creation to something in your life. The passion, the pain, the joy, the emotion, the love, whatever it may be.
What can a designer take away from an experience like that?
The analogy of creating connection with an audience is not the same for a designer when they create space or is it? Imagine the people who use the place you create on a daily basis. If it is a place that the public can access then the notion that many, many people can engage with it and feel something is not so farfetched even if you cannot or will ever have a personal connection to them.
What’s the story you want to convey that connects your design to your audience; the people who occupy and use that space?
Last week I attended the IDC (Interior Designers of Canada) yearly roundtable presentation at Construct Canada where an interesting, thought provoking discussion occurred around story and how the story behind design can address some key issues in today’s design world.
Research was at the forefront of discussion and the presentations demonstrated how research can play an integral role to inform and affect the design of space. What became apparent is through the ease of access to information in today’s world design thinking is quickly evolving beyond the notion of space solutions being based solely on known planning standards alone.
It was exciting to see the level of innovation that exists in the Interior Design profession and the diversity of experience that the speakers brought to their presentations was exceptional. The projects demonstrated a connection to the public, a passion for solving design problems for people and making space that is based on the connection between community and its use of space.
The strength of the work and its connection to community really hit home with me.
We are big on story around here and we were not disappointed when it came to each of the presentations. The story behind each project gave these projects real personality and the work demonstrated what space design can do to influence and engage a community.
Without a story it would have been difficult to demonstrate the strength of the social aspect of the work.
The idea that spaces need to fundamentally support community was a driving influence in these presentations. Technology weighed heavily into many of the projects as a way to articulate the issues of the communities where the projects resided but also was conspicuously vacant when the design dictated. In some cases the absence of technology was the catalyst for building community as a way to tear down some of the barriers technology can create between human interactions.
Enticing play through direct human contact was more important to some of the solutions than using technology as a driver to engage people. There was a strong push to create a connection by the community to itself as a way for people to connect to the place and to each other instead of the connection to technology as a way to create social engagement.
One on one connection between place and its occupants is not unlike the feeling you get when a songwriter’s story is speaking directly to you.
Can a story somehow help change the design process?
It was clear that the story, as a catalyst for change, behind these projects also helped with engaging the community to accept and participate in the design process. Through the use of a variety of tools and processes the community was engage directly to provide input encouraging active promotion for the inception of the physical design and in some cases participation in the construction process. The teams created opportunity for the community to engage the design process in order to get real life accounts of how their daily lives are affected by their surroundings and how the design solutions could affect their use of the space.
Urban planners have used the method of consensus building for centuries. As a method for interior design consensus building through community engagement was demonstrated as a very powerful tool to build social acceptance and gain the buy-in of the project’s stakeholders.
It all sounds so fun and enlightening but what about the elephant in the room?
Time is money and money trees are hard to come by these days.
How these firms were able to dedicate resources to soft metrics and detailed research while remaining competitive was something that we all were highly interested in hearing more about. There is certainly no single solution to deal with the complexity of factors to consider such as talent, time and cost each of which were the common challenges faced on each of the projects.
The common approach was one of reallocation of resources.
The idea that the more investigation, research and thinking that goes into a project in the front end the less re-work, change and value engineering goes into the later stages of the project was a common risk that each of these project teams were willing to take. It seemed to work as a common approach and was proven by 3 different firms across 3 distinct sectors of the design industry; hospitality, health care and education.
So, can community engagement work every time we need to solve a design problem? Does investing time in discovery lead to building a better mousetrap? Does discovering the underlying story, finding the passions and drivers of community allow a space to better respond to its users?
Can we as designers connect with the occupants of space in a similar way a songwriter connects with us?
Deep down in the places that we rarely visit when thinking about solving design problems.